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If there's one thing so essential to satire it's an appreciation for subtlety. Work the two together just right and you strike with far more force than any amount of long drawn-out rhetoric can ever hope for. Blur the line too far the wrong way though, and you're just another angry man shouting at the television in the pub.
The message of Little Inferno is unambiguous. You're presented with an open fire, and are capable of creating gentle flames with a touch of the screen which will slowly light any objects you place near them. Once consumed, the objects spit out a handful of coins which are used to purchase new items from a series of catalogs. The more valuable the objects you burn, the more currency you'll receive to invest back into new fuel types.
There's a wonderful guilty pleasure to be had from this fiery thrill. Objects pop and spit in the grate as you drag them around
the fireplace to spread the flames further. The physics engine in the game is spot-on, and you can create some delicious towering infernos out of the clocks, blocks, photos and so many other objects available from the catalogs. Amusingly, you can even toss your own iPad photos in their too.
In order to access new catalogs and new objects, you need to earn special tokens by burning items in tandem with each other, and the game provides subtle hints of how to form these combinations. It's never particularly challenging to deduce the solutions, but the process does add some much-needed direction to what would otherwise have been a rather short-lived sandbox affair with a message.
In case you haven't cottoned-on to that message, Little Inferno is littered with references to the perceived perils of the business model. You'll be interrupted by messages from fake friends who need certain items for their own fire. Toys selected from the catalog are provided on cooldowns, and you'll always be chasing greater currency rewards so that you can buy the next big thing. It goes without saying that you can speed up those delivery times with rare tokens too.
Does it work? To a degree, although you're never left with any room to question freemium gaming beyond it being A Bad Thing. Concerns about in-app purchases and the new monetization models for mobile games are pretty established and self-evident in 2013, so are we just taking the game too seriously? When the game is the message, and the message the game, we think it's fair comment.
As a toy, rather than a game, there's no denying that Little Inferno's sandbox is a satisfying one that will entertain for a time. But in hammering home its message just a little too forcefully, it also lacks a certain amount of graceful bite, and as a result it doesn't quite touch the greatness it might otherwise have achieved.
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Download Little Inferno (iPad 2 and higher)
A great physics engine, stuffed with very pleasantly flammable objects and great art.
The sandbox may be a guilty pleasure, but it's also a short-lived one. The message tries just a little too hard.