It’s very tempting to make the first game reviewed for a brand new system the game bundled with it. It’s free, it’s relatively good and it’s a good way of gauging what kind of experience you’ll have with the console as a whole. However, you’ve almost certainly heard enough about Nintendo Land, so I’m going to bring to the fore a game that, quite frankly, is far more deserving of your attention (and money).
Little Inferno comes to you courtesy of Tomorrow Corporation, a coming together of developers of the excellent World of Goo and Henry Hatsworth, and well-regarded for their incredibly polished independent games. This particular title is rather interesting in that it evokes at first sight a mobile game – perhaps one on the iPad or Android tablets. However, Little Inferno is more of a whistle-stop tour of the Wii U’s new features, and despite not being an exclusive, perhaps just as good a showcase as Nintendo Land.
The core gameplay (I say core – it’s all there really is to it) focuses on a fireplace in which the player can create flames with a touch of the GamePad stylus (or, if you’re so inclined, the Wii Remote). You must use your newfound pyrokinetic powers to cause conflagrations and help with heating the wintry world outside. This creates a rather cosy feeling of sitting with a roaring fire while snow falls outside, and it’s a feeling that works particularly well with the game around this time of year (unless of course you’re Australian, in which case screw you and your weather, you enviable southern hemisphere-dwelling gits).
You’ll certainly get quite the sense of immersion from playing Little Inferno, and it’s not just the appropriate weather conditions, as described in a series of letters from a weather man who scours the world for meteorological news in his hot air balloon. The fire physics are phenomenal, reacting to changing air currents caused by fans and the like, as well as other factors like cooling and motion. Objects don’t go for the video game standard of immediately bursting into flames when touched by something remotely warmer than Anne Robinson’s demeanour, oh no. Each object has different rates of catching light depending on the materials it’s constructed from, and different effects while aflame. It’s incredibly pleasing to see a line of letters crumbling to ash after transmitting fire to cracking ceramic plates, then on to a spectacular crescendo as the big stack of fireworks at the opposite end of the fireplace decides to detonate. Or perhaps I’m just a pyromaniac.
There are some hundred or so objects available, though to begin with you’ll only have access to around a dozen. Objects are bought with coins that are earned by burning other objects, creating a positive feedback loop that should keep you happy for quite some time. If you somehow manage to blow all your cash or simply want to earn a little more, consider frying some of the small creatures that occasionally scurry into the fireplace, unaware of your fiery wrath.
However, this isn’t simply a red-hot sandbox in which you can act out your destructive tendencies – at least, not at first. Extra catalogues full of flammable items become unlocked by completing combinations of items. There are 99 of these, and all of them follow a certain theme, hinted at in the title. Without giving too much away, one, entitled ‘Brains Ahoy Hiya!’ sees the player setting fire to a fireplace full of zombie, pirate and ninja plush toy all at once. The challenge of the game is figuring out what each combo involves and it’s quite the satisfying feeling when you finally get one without even glancing at the list – the designers have been very creative in their thinking, and it’s nice to know you can have the occasional stroke of genius as well.
The game’s graphics are brilliant without exception, and look just as fantastic on the TV as on the GamePad, so it’s really your choice how you want to play. Each item has a great model, as well as some humorous flavour text and ordinarily a special effect when lit, be it exploding, flying away or even having an effect on the flame, like the lovely powder keg item that makes your flame turn every colour of the rainbow.
If it sounds like I’m very affectionate towards this game, it’s because I am. Little Inferno is like a hot water bottle to cling to on a cold winter’s night, offering heartwarming gameplay with a genuinely excellent story and a soundtrack I can honestly describe as beautiful, haunting and incredibly varied at the same time, never once feeling out of place. It’s short, but all that means is it doesn’t outstay its welcome. It lasts as long as it needs to and what’s more, you’ll almost certainly find yourself coming back for more.
Little Inferno has the honour of being called the first great Wii U game. Inventive, moving and unrelentingly funny, you owe it to yourself to buy it. It’s on PC, Mac and Linux too. You have no excuse. 9.8/10.