The lights are on
I find it rather difficult to refer to Little Inferno as a "game" in the contemporary sense. This interesting puzzle title, brought to us by developer Tomorrow Corporation, sets aside many of the mainstay elements of gaming in order to further a thematic narrative that feeds off the gameplay itself in a way that I have rarely seen in gaming. It forces nothing on the player, yet rewards those willing to think about and spend time with the game with a very engrossing intellectual experience.
As with most stories that involve setting toys on fire, Little Inferno proves to be fairly dark in its tone and delivery.
One could easily make the argument that Little Inferno is not truly a "game". It rid's itself of many aspects of the medium that many would consider rather integral to what makes a game a game; enemies, a chance of failure, and even required objectives. Rather than force the player to perform some task to advance in the experience (complete a level, kill a boss, solve a puzzle, etc.), Little Inferno chooses to present it's challenge in the form of optional puzzles to the player. There is absolutely nothing forcing the player to complete even a single one of these puzzles; a player can run through the entire story without ever completing a challenge. This will make the game very individual-based for its potential enjoyment factor: those who are completionist will probably find a lot of enjoyment in the game's clever riddles, while those who are less motivated to complete non-essential task will probably rush through the latter stages of the game, and therefor wind up with a shortened and incomplete experience.
Gameplay-wise, Little Inferno is extremely simplistic on the surface. You buy an item from the in-game catalog, wait for it to be delivered to you, burn it, collect the money that the item drops, and move on to the next item. If they so choose, a player can simply purchase and burn every item in the game, with no opposition, and watch the narrative unfold. The challenge of the game comes in the form of optional combo riddles: a short 1 or 2 word message that requires you to burn 2 or 3 items simultaneously. Completing said riddles rewards the player with a ticket that can be used to cut the wait time between ordering an item from the catalog and having it be delivered for burning. These riddles range from extremely easy in the earlier levels, when you only have one or 2 catalogs worth of items to chose from (for example, the hint might be "easter bunny", which would require you to simultaneously burn a toy rabbit and an egg in order to solve), to fairly difficult towards the endgame, when the 6th and 7th catalog are unlocked. The riddles can be fun and engaging for a while, and burning the items actually has a sort of calming nature to it, and many players will enjoy seeing all the unique and interesting effects each item has when burned: some items distort gravity, others freeze surrounding items solid, some explode(violently), some change the colors of the flames, some spawn other items, so on so forth. Though interesting and engaging for a bit, most players will probably tire of the game's lack of variety and challenge as they approach the end of the game.
Story-wise, the game excels by presenting itself as a thematic allegory. It uses the simplistic nature of the gameplay as a catalyst to drive home it's message, which ultimately proves to be a very interesting and thought-provoking endeavor, and personally forced me to consider said message with regards to myself. In this regards, the game can be compared to titles such as Journey: presenting subtle narrative messages and using the makeup of the game to weave them together into an impactful message, and also like Journey, it is in the narrative in which Little Inferno truly shines.
Any game should take being called "like Journey" as very high praise
In terms of visuals and sound design, the game looks good, but has a limited range of artistic designs available, nearly the entirety of the game takes place staring at a fireplace. The game also has quite a lack of music, but what is there is very good, so on the music and art front the only criticism I can make is "I wish there was more of it".
The game sports a unique blend of cartoony and realistic art styles that serve it's allegorical nature perfectly.
Unfortunately, this is where the similarities to Journey start to end, and the flaws start to appear. The majority of the game is spent staring into your fireplace, which only serves to increase the game's feeling of monotony and repetitiveness. The game is short (roughly 6 hours if every challenge is completed), and far too much of that time is spent waiting on packages to be delivered rather than burning things. This combination of monotony and extensive wait times only serve to exponentiate each other, and could easily make the experience feel too drawn-out and boring to many gamers: something a 6-hour game should never make it's audience feel. Interjections of some rather dark humor throughout the experience helps break up the otherwise monotonous tone of the experience, but overall the game's thematic usage of a simplistic game design serves to be a hamper on the game in terms of available variety.
You will be looking at this screen for nearly the entire game.
Overall, the level of enjoyment one can expect from Little Inferno will be completely dependent upon the individual playing the game. If you are looking for a title filled with non-stop action and varied environments, if you quickly tire of repetitive gameplay, if you have little appreciation for story beyond it's base entertainment value, or you are not intrinsically motivated to complete optional challenges, your money and your time would be far better spent on another title. However, if you are looking for a thought-provoking narrative piece with simplistic-yet-intriguing gameplay mechanics, you will probably find a good amount of enjoyment nestled within Little Inferno's clever riddles and deep, intelligent, and allegorical narrative.
The flame beckons, but not all will appreciate the light it cast.
P.S. If you like burning things, ignore everything else written and go buy this game. It's like a pyromaniac's dream come true.
For the blood/guts/action game crowd: 2/10
For the artsy/intellectual/indy game fan crowd: 9/10
For pyromaniacs: You can light a mini-nuke on fire/10
This sounds like just the game for me, aside from those minor gameplay annoyances you point out, which don't sound like a big deal anyway. The art style reminds me of World of Goo (probably because it's the same dev) and the comparison to Journey is another plus.