Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Touch Screen "Torch-er": Little Inferno Review

Something has gone terribly wrong with the world and now snow, wind, ice and chimney ash cover everything in a bleak haze—but don’t you worry about it because the Tomorrow Corporation has the perfect diversion!  You are now the proud owner of a genuine Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace; so burn all your toys, household goods, and cherished memories as you keep warm, and more importantly, distracted from the snowy world outside.  Little Inferno by Tomorrow Corporation feels every bit the spiritual successor to World of Goo it likely is meant to be.  There’s not much to the gameplay, as much of it simply involves dragging items or “burnables” as I like to call them, from a table in front of the fireplace to the fireplace itself.  You get money for each item burned, and you use the money to buy more items from the catalogs.  Random "passports" appear occasionally, and these are used to speed up the shipping of items if you don't want to wait for the item's "shipping time" to run out.  If it weren't for the puzzle aspect of trying to figure out what items to burn with one another for combo points in order to unlock more catalogs of “burnables,” this might not actually qualify as a game.  Rather, the game could just as easily be billed as a mere point-and-click novelty.  However, the team at Tomorrow Corporation has a rich storyline that not only is revealed by looking at the various “burnables,” but also through various letters from a mystery figure named Sugar Plumps and the fictional CEO of the in-game Tomorrow Corporation.  Thanks to the foreboding nature of the plot, you can easily find yourself sucked in and attempting to beat the game in one sitting as you try to learn your character’s fate. 

                Using the Wii U pad for Little Inferno never feels like a chore and never turns into an endurance marathon of bent necks and little use of the TV screen.  You can scroll through the combo list, browse the catalogs, and select items to purchase for burning from said catalogs with relative ease.  Occasionally when dragging an item from the table where “burnables” are stored to the fireplace itself, things seem to slip from your grasp, but this doesn’t happen often enough that it really feels like an issue.  When you set something alight from your “burnables” by dragging your seemingly eternal flame around the screen until the item catches fire, you get a real sense of interacting with the items in the fireplace.  Overall the control feels solid and simple as it should be.

Graphics and Style:
This too shall pass...or will it?
                Tomorrow Corporation employees Kyle Gabler and Allan Blomquist (formerly from 2D Boy) continue the dark tone and style started in World of Goo.  The characters and storytelling have a Tim Burton-esque feel, which perfectly suits the whimsical-yet-foreboding world of Little Inferno.  Marshmallows scream when burned, toy buses full of people yell when lit, and an assortment of other odd items will have you chuckling as you gleefully set each alight and await their reaction to an impending fiery demise.  There are nice visual touches that help remind you of the grim reality of a doomed world as well; suit-covered brick walls, worn out and patched up dolls for you to burn, weather reports in the mail that tell of ever-worsening snow, and occasional letters with pictures of a wide-eyed girl named Sugar Plumps who seems borderline insane.  It’s amazing for a game that largely remains on a single-screen you get a real sense of an expansive world facing a deep-freeze doomsday.  The vibrant red and gold hues of the flames as they incinerate everything and anything put before them really strike you on a visceral level.  You'll feel like a 10 year old kid who found an endless supply of matches with which to burn things consequence free.
Putting this here just so I don't sound all pyro-ee with that last comment...

Music and Sound:
Everybody Sing!

                This outing by the former team of 2D Boy does not have nearly the extensive soundtrack of its predecessor, World of Goo.  Certainly there’s some great atmospheric music here and there, like an overly cheery, 50’s sounding music loop whenever you go to buy something from the catalogs.  There’s also an incredibly catchy theme song about the “entertainment fireplace” which helps explain a little of the plot but has a sad undercurrent that further sells the bleak narrative and tone.  Not bad, but the lack of music will make you wish for the haunting tunes of World of Goo.  I wish there was more music here as I loved the Danny Elfman-like music from World of Goo.  However, if you do like the tunes from this game, they are available for download from Tomorrow Corporation's website. As far as the sound itself goes, every little crackle and pop of the flames not only feels authentic, but oddly pleasurable as well.  Sure I could go on and on about the hilarious marshmallow screams, popping, corn and exploding batteries--but let's face it, the flames are the star, and the sound team delivered.  Even if it weren't for the funny sounds made by the various "burnables," just the fire itself is soothing to hear.

Game Features of Note:
So much to burn, so little time to do it in...
                The combo system used to unlock more catalogs and progress the story line has a few minor flaws.  Had I the chance to do a minor edit on this, I might make it clearer to the player what catalogs they should look through to solve combo-burning puzzles.  Not that this made things too hard or less enjoyable, it just made sections of the game last a little longer than felt necessary.  Were I to play the game again, I would attempt to complete as many combos as possible early on so as to avoid confusion later.  That said, even if you decide to just goof around and burn random things together and see what happens, there’s still joy to have in seeing stuff quite literally go up in smoke.

Final Analysis:
Little Inferno was one of the downloadable games that drew me to the Wii U, and I was even more enthused when I learned that two of the guys from 2D Boy were working on the game.  Given the ending of World of Goo, it seems safe to say that this game takes place in that same universe, only farther down the timeline.  If ever I need cheering, I sometimes open this game and fill the whole fireplace with marshmallows just to watch them hop along and scream before they explode into gooey bits.  Does that sound a bit grim?  Well, it is, but I love every minute of it and I hope the development team decides to make either a sequel to this game or World of Goo.  Two games from these guys and now I feel invested in knowing what happens to this world they've created, even if the ending means a terrible fate for those who live in it.

Graphics/Visual Style: 10/10
Music: 8/10
Control: 9/10
Gameplay/Fun Factor: 10/10

Overall Rating:  9/10

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