Wed, 20 Feb 2013 Little Inferno for iPad review: Burn it all, because you can.
Buy lavish and expensive items, then burn them. Why would you do this? Because.
Little Inferno is a satire - a satire of consumerism, of games built around click-frenzy compulsion, and of the human urge to destroy things. Somehow it's good-natured despite essentially existing to raise a wry eyebrow at our scabrous urges.
There's very little to it, on the surface: you have a fireplace, you drag objects into it and watch them burn, all from a first-person perspective and a one-finger interface. There are no points, no objectives and no risk of failure. If the fire goes out, tap anywhere to start it up again. If the fire is waning, drag an object or series of objects into it to watch it hungrily devour them and leap in size. Immolating some objects will activate animations, pleasures in and of themselves: corn on the cob which sprays into a fountain of blackened popcorn, a wooden bicycle which pedals itself across the screen in something like panic, a toy bank which explodes into coins (these to be spent on buying new items). Darkly, there's also a family photo item which asks you to select a picture from your device's library: moments later, you're watching an image of your girlfriend, dog or grandparents go up in smoke.
As the game wears on, as you burn more objects and collect more coins, more elaborate, bizarre and expensive items become available. In another situation, you might love to own a giant plushie dinosaur or a big telly: in little Inferno, all you care about it is how well it burns and the often hilarious effects of this. It's one, extended exercise in futility, but between the Tim Burtonesque, twisted cartoon presentation and the compulsive entertainment of destruction, it's somehow joyful futility. And it's laughing with you, not at you.
Lest it all sound too vague, rest assured there are optional goals of a sort in there. Figuring out certain combinations of items unlocks achievements and bonus coins, while burning everything in the item catalogue means you can buy a new one, stuffed with extra weird, wonderful and vaguely sinister purchases to send to the great fire gods. For a one-screen game about turning things to ash, Little Inferno never feels short of things to do.
Whether there's any point to its cheerful scolding of our desire to shop and our desire to destroy winds up being all but moot: Little Inferno turns these things, no matter how unhealthy they might be, into entertainment and gorgeously-animated, upredictable spectacle. You might end your time with it feeling guilty and base, but you'll also find that its eternal fire has burned itself into your memory forever.