Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Little Inferno: Ho Ho Holiday (DLC)

When Little Inferno first came out in 2012, I had a fun time, and on another playthrough 10 years later, I thought it still held up pretty well. Around the time of my second playthrough, a 10-year anniversary celebration was held by developer Tomorrow Corporation, which among other things included a brand new DLC campaign, Ho Ho Holiday, although I admit I did not realize the DLC existed until about a few weeks later. After playing $5 for said DLC, I found the price of admission to be worth it, though only really for fans of the original game.

The plot of Ho Ho Holiday is similar to that of the original game, where the world has gotten colder and the only solution is the Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace, in which people stay warm by burning their possessions. In the original game, there is a side character named Sugar Plumps, your next door neighbor who occasionally communicates with you through letters. In Ho Ho Holiday, she is replaced by another character, 8-Bit Nate, who gets into contact with you by mistake while trying to complain to Tomorrow Corporation. His side story involves a more disturbing take on A Christmas Carol, during which he refers to Little Inferno as a game and writes like an average internet user, complete with typos and occasional slang. Sugar Plumps is also still acknowledged during the story, albeit in a far more limited capacity, as a version of her side plot still happens. Although the general plot of the game is otherwise the same, taking the subplot in a different direction prevents it from feeling like a lazy retread of the original.

8-Bit Nate replaces Sugar Plumps.

The core gameplay loop is the same as the base game, but I will provide a recap due to the amount of time between releases.

To progress, you have to drag items from an inventory and burn them by holding the left mouse button to start a fire. Burning multiple objects at once creates a Combo, which earns larger currency drops and even Stamps. Burning items earns you currency known as Tomorrow Bucks, with more expensive items yielding a greater amount, which you can spend on additional items to burn from a selection of catalogs. Tomorrow Bucks are required to unlock additional catalogs, but only after buying everything in the previous catalog at least once and finding enough Combos. Tomorrow Bucks can additionally be used to increase your inventory space up to three times, with the cost increasing greatly each time.

One thing to keep in mind is that items take time to arrive once you purchase them, with more expensive items taking longer. Using Stamps can fast-track their delivery, however the amount required increases the longer the wait time is, and Stamps are not as easy to come by as Tomorrow Bucks, so it’s best to wait for the Stamps needed to go down to a more reasonable number, should you use any at all. Should you find yourself low on Tomorrow Bucks, spiders and flying creatures occasionally appear in your fireplace, which you can burn for more currency and sometimes Stamps.

As the story progresses, characters will communicate with you through letters or send special items, each of which you can freely burn for additional Tomorrow Bucks and/or Stamps. Without spoiling why, the one item you receive this way that you should consider not burning is the Free Hugs Coupon, as it rewards you with an extra scene during the ending.

While the general experience is the same, Ho Ho Holiday mixes things up by providing you with a new, predominantly Christmas-themed holiday catalog in the early game known as Naughty & Nice, which unlocks more items available for purchase as you unlock more catalogs from the base game. New combos involving said catalog have been added as well, replacing some from the original. One thing worth mentioning is that burning a late-game item, Yule Log Delivery Subscription, turns the fireplace into a yule log that periodically drops more wood to keep it burning, with options to toggle Christmas lights on either side of the fireplace or simply turn off the yule log and continue with the main gameplay. I will also mention that turning the yule log back on requires buying and waiting for the item again, costing 600 Tomorrow Bucks each time, which is something to keep in mind depending on your intent. Another addition is the introduction of Achievements, at least on the Steam version, some of which require Ho Ho Holiday to unlock.

The Naughty & Nice catalog adds a lot more replay value to the experience.
There is even a clever reference to Tomorrow Corporation's follow-up games,
Human Resource Machine and 7 Billion Humans.

While this gameplay loop is designed to be a satire of this type of game, which makes more sense when thinking about it, one can still find some genuine entertainment out of it, as it can be fun to see how different items work and how multiple items interact with one another. The satire really hits in when you buy all items at least three times each, though the Achievement you get for it is more of a motivator than anything due to how easy it can be to acquire. The story is minimal, however it has an interesting premise and some great world-building that makes you want to see what happens next, regardless of if its Sugar Plumps in the base game or 8-Bit Nate in the DLC, though the latter’s is certainly a lot more involved.

Because I could, one other thing I figured out is that the game is fully playable with a drawing tablet, in which case you need to double-tap or hold the stylus, or hold its button down depending on the model, to register a click or start a fire. Though this defeats the purpose, another way to register clicks this way is by using the stylus to aim and a mouse button to click, which is a lot easier to pull off while playing on a laptop. One advantage to playing through a drawing tablet is that you can use the stylus to more precisely drop items where you want them to, however this ultimately comes down to personal preference.

The cartoonish art style of the original game is retained, with the new items being drawn and animated in a way that they fit in well with the rest. That said, 8-Bit Nate’s storyline features photos taken in a much different visual style, looking more like practical effects, with their visuals coming off more eerie and disturbing. The design of the environment is also the same, except now there are Christmas lights on either side of the fireplace when not using the yule log. The sound design is also retained, with the new items having their own unique sound bites. Though minimal, the soundtrack is still good and memorable, with special mention to the Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace jingle.

For Little Inferno fans, the Ho Ho Holiday DLC is worth the $5 investment, coming off as a bargain for a new campaign when compared with the $15 base price. For those who have not played the original, I would suggest trying it out for yourself before seeing if you want to buy the DLC, in which case it may be worth waiting for it to go on sale.

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