A flame-boyant game you shouldn't miss.
"Conflicting ideas" describes Little Inferno perfectly.
That description doesn't carry the same connotation as it would when scrawled atop a college essay. Developer Tomorrow Corporation’s carefully crafted experience is equal parts melancholy and joy, a Wii U eShop game that plays in ways you may expect, but with enough twists and surprises to make it something entirely new.
Even a cursory glance at the game inspires mixed emotions. The visuals are goofy, but the unassuming items you choose to place inside your Little Inferno quickly become off-putting when set ablaze. A school bus toy smolders as the "children" inside scream, until the bus is nothing more than ash.
Using your Wii Remote (standard or MotionPlus variety), you purchase items from a catalog to place within your Little Inferno. The game's narrative implies a frigid world where your only heat comes from a children's toy called the Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace. You can't stay warm from the sacrifice of your own belongings, of course—you'll need to buy new ones. Things don't seem so much about fun when you know you're poking the flames that keep a child alive while a conglomerate profits from your suffering, though you can dull the hurt by playing the game elsewhere—Off-TV Play is possible on the GamePad's touch screen.
The largest question surrounding Little Inferno is if it's a “game” at all. I'd prefer to avoid the question of what makes a game, and instead affirm what makes Little Inferno fun. Little Inferno requires you come at it with an imagination, and the ability to experiment. You can never get stuck (the game always doles out coins), but that's just to avoid frustration. The real fun comes from mixing and matching what goes up in flames. You're presented with a combo list early on, where you'll find names such as Generations Combo and Movie Night Combo. Discovering what items these recipes require is on you.
Now you're reading the unsettling descriptions of the items, testing them to see how they react to your flames. The fun comes from discovering how to create these combinations. As you progress, new catalogs open up, and new recipes for disaster are born. Throughout it all, there is no penalty or time restrictions, just you and your improvised kindling. In this way, Little Inferno is a genuine sandbox, and you'll only get out what you put in. The official Miiverse Community of the title (known as the Little Inferno Community) proves this concept, as you and others gather to discuss findings and ask for help.
Little Inferno's narrative is delivered in a literal sense; everything arrives via in-game mail. The more you play, the more you get. As disheartening as it sounds, it's enjoyable witnessing the minds of the senders descend into madness with each passing letter. Sometimes you're asked to share items for use in their own Little Inferno, which result in disturbing replies that detail their findings. It's a joy to have this odd world fleshed out, and it ties into how you play quite nicely.
So is Little Inferno a game? I'd wager that it doesn't even matter. Adopting the rigid structure of a more traditional game would do more harm than good in its case. Little Inferno is terrific the way it is, and doesn't need to conform just to fit inside a box. In the end, it’s enough to just snuggle up around the fire and keep it well fed.