- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2013

Do not play with fire, unless contained within Apple’s portable tablet in the imaginative experience Little Inferno (Tomorrow Corporation, Rated 12+, reviewed for the iPad 2, $4.99).

From the developers who brought World of Goo to life comes this bizarre twist to casual gaming for pyromaniacs in the family that requires an owner to burn objects in his new fireplace.

The action could not be more deceptively simple or empowering. Take your finger and touch it around the firebox area and a flame appears at its tip, ready to burn everything it touches — wooden blocks, oil painting, plush toy, etc.

A navigation bar at the bottom of the screen offers access to a catalog of items to burn and slots to hold them. Owners order items from the catalog using coins accumulating from torching objects and tiny, one-eyed spiders that crawl around the fireplace.

Objectives of this artistic exercise are mostly vague. No points, no score and no time limit means no pressure, but a few goals do bubble to the top as an owner gets deeper into the burn.

New catalogs of stuff are available for purchase if the player burns the right combination of items. For example, fire up 23 correct combinations to open up Miss Nancy’s Guide to Stylish Living, allowing access to items such as a modern lamp, Russian nesting doll and balloons.

Clues to those 99 total groupings reveal themselves through clever wordplay hints such as “Watching You” (place a television and camera in the fireplace), “Zombie Garden” (use an undead rag doll and seed packet) or “Wake Up!” (an alarm clock and cup of coffee).

Objects are always delivered in crates that can get cracked open only after a certain amount of time, offering a bit of strategy when trying to keep a fire roaring.

However, owners who have a stash of bonus Tomorrow Stamps (a bonus triggered by certain combinations and items) can access the consumables immediately by trading in a certain number of them.

The experience approaches Tim Burton levels of disturbing after about 30 minutes upon realizing the fireplace is marketed as a toy for the youngsters in the family to burn their favorite memories and play things. A twisted commercial for the product will elicit a nervous giggle.

Cryptic messages and interplay with the mysterious Miss Nancy, Sugar Plumps and a weatherman through correspondence, gifts and deliveries offers a bit of a story tied to living in an industrialized town in a perpetual state of winter and polluted with chimney stacks. Come to think of it, sounds like New Jersey.

Overall, the mooted visual design of the retro brick fireplace, with an odd iron face staring back at the owner, contrasted by flames acting as a living entity, bouncing around and consuming all in its path is really mesmerizing.

Of course, various objects react differently as they burn. Some may explode (batteries), change the flame’s color (zesty beetles), pop (corn cobs), gush (oil tanker), spew dollar bills (credit cards) or even act as a gravitational force to pull other objects around (tiny galaxies and a mini moon).

Developers also get very clever with iPad interaction, even allowing an owner to select a photo from his camera roll collection to burn.

When the last fat lady sings — you can actually burn a Valkyrie doll belting out an operatic ditty as red petals fall from the sky — Little Inferno is a searing time-waster of an addiction, impossible to not appreciate its beauty and forever burns a place in an owner’s iPad.