Collecting Skull and Bones—no, not the 2001 Cypress Hill album—is part of the October/November Halloween fun. Flipping Death, a 2018 game from Zoink, a Swedish developer I never heard of before, perfectly fits your autumny morbid craving. Zoink is related to Image & From, well known for the SteamWorld games. Flipping Death is hard to describe and categorize: it’s weird, in a loving way—until you take control of the main character and have to move about to solve puzzles.
In Flipping Death, you take control of Penny—and others—as the temp of Death himself, who decides to go on a holiday to the moon. Penny’s job is to… reap souls? By possessing someone on “the other/flipped side” (the living, that is), you can jerk around and let the poor souls do the dirty work for you. The core of the gameplay involves manipulating various poor sods in certain orders, having them push buttons, paint stuff, shoot meatballs at dogs, pop balloons, extinguish or spread fire, and so forth. These puzzles are neatly sewn together in several different chapters, where in-between the narrator does a good and funny job at telling you the latest situation. Only, that loading screen, which you’ll see a lot and a long time, gets old fast.
Each chapter, you’re given assignments from dead souls. Paint my boat, I died before I could. Fetch my significant other, I still want to say sorry. Revenge me, I somehow got killed before being able to marry. The trouble is, these tasks are dealt by ghosts after talking to them, and after a while, the task list gets confusing: you know you’re supposed to press that button, but you can’t precisely remember anymore which ghost asked you to do that, or in what chain of events it’s supposed to facilitate progress.
The game, of course built with Unity, is very charming. The boney figures with large thin legs and arms seem to somehow fit in this strange world, every conversation is fully voiced, and when NPCs “talk”, their jaws almost drop, on the brink of turning into a skull. Seeing that Death is part of the title, this is somehow very fitting. The game largely takes place in the outskirts of a single village, where during every chapter new buildings can be entered and souls can be possessed. The first chapter, your goal is to throw a murderer in jail. The next one, the convicted still is in jail—a nice touch—but no longer relevant to the story. Even the flashback chapters revisit ancestors of the same NPCs, making it easier for the player to remember which guy/gal gives what power.
Now, is this an adventure game? Not really. Is it a puzzle game? Not really. Is it a platform game? Ah. Everything but, except there are timed platforming sections that are simply horrible. The jerky controls and floatiness of the characters make it very difficult to succeed in those platform-dependent tasks.
Speaking of controls, who thought it was a good idea to map the
A button to the map screen? And worse yet, who decided it would be a good idea to use
B to activate things there, or to only use left/right to navigate when you can clearly see you should use up/down instead? I just can’t get over the clunky and awkward control scheme on the Nintendo Switch. It’s just horrible. Every five minutes I’d curse because I possessed the wrong body by accident or navigated to the wrong side of the village. And this should be an “easy to navigate” 2D game.
Flipping Death is short: in about five hours, you’ll be staring at the credits screen. I didn’t care: it was a nice diversion from “real games”. Although this game is very real, and judging from the credits, a lot of people were involved, it still feels like a filler game, which is a bit of a shame. Puzzles are over quickly and too easy. Once you’re used to the layout of the village, you quickly know what to do. The only thing that drags you down are the frustratingly bad controls.
In a world filled with instant-gratification gimmicks (achievement unlocked!), Flipping Death dutifully takes part: there are tiny “sidetasks” (I don’t think quest is the right word for this game, it’s barely a task) that have you unlock ghost cards with cool art and another portion of optional backstory. The text side of the cards were very hard to read, even on our TV. We regularly had to squint in order to read the task list.
Overall though, we bought and played it during Halloween for a hefty discount, and even at
€10 or so, you can’t go wrong with this charming macabre game that oozes with charm. Don’t expect a full-fledged puzzle or adventure game, because it’s not. The reviews are quite positive overall, praising the sassy humor and accessible puzzles. It’s just a shame that the control scheme ruined so many funny moments. The game tries to be funny and largely succeeds, if only I was able to precisely control the actions I wanted to pull off…
Final verdict: 2/5 It was OK.