When Zoink Games said they would be returning with Adventure Time writer Ryan North for Flipping Death, the spiritual successor to Stick It To The Man!, I just knew it was a match made in purgatory. Stick It To The Man! was daring, grossly hilarious, pleasantly animated, and fun to play. Still, knowing little before going into Flipping Death and setting my only expectations to at least match or hover around Stick It To The Man!’s quality, it’s safe to say that Flipping Death is as good in originality, but also improved upon greatly. Zoink Games has pushed the puzzle-adventure genre in a meaningful direction.
Taking similar cues to Stick It To The Man!, the introduction wastes no time in getting the
head ball rolling having players take control of the main protagonist, Penny Doewood, as the story is already being set in motion in the town of Flatwood Peaks. It’s getting late and after finishing work she’s happily looking forward to kicking back with her boyfriend afterwards to “chill”. It is after a series of lucky and not-so-lucky events that Penny is confronted with Death himself, only to find that he’s ready to take a looooong deserved break to a vacation resort perfectly suited for him. Penny, supposedly now dead, certainly didn’t plan for this kind of chill and actually finds herself in the position where there’s no chill at all. Flatwood Peaks is full of mysterious beings as well as ghosts who have predicaments needing taken care of. They desire some fulfillment in order to move onto the next realm. Here, it’s up to Penny Doewood to use her newfound dark powers to be the cold hand on the shoulder that Flatwood Peaks needs.
Flipping Death retains the same visual art direction from its predecessor and is animated just as pretty. The same level of witty writing is present and the spoken dialogue is as top-notch as what was given before. The talented artists who’ve truly put personality into pen work only to create fluid animation being accompanied by voice actors who sell the characters really make this a quality interactive cartoon. Flipping Death plays as devilishly creative as it looks. Gameplay remains on a 2D plane. Everything is constructed with set pieces that resemble cardboard cut-outs which were drawn on and then used to create a believable 3D world and present Flatwood Peaks with its inhabitants in the same manner. One thing that Flipping Death does not do the same as Stick It To The Man! is being able to move along the z-axis (inward & outward) on 2D planes, although it wasn’t pronounced and didn’t affect gameplay dramatically before. What Flipping Death does do is 1-up it in a new way. While there are no platforms set on separate planes, there are alternate platforms in a different plane altogether; the plane of reality. Penny is able to immediately and precisely flip death by possessing any character from the Ghost world and the result is switching to a completely mirrored, vivid and seemingly peaceful world of Flatwood Peaks.
The possession feature applies to more than just being a gameplay mechanic as the personality found in Flipping Death applies to just about everything. Cleverly designed, you’ll wonder about a monster desperately wanting to chase you in the ghost world only to find out that it’s nothing but a gumball machine on the other side which also serves as a means to gameplay progress. Many of the designs for characters and objects take the liberty to be outlandish because that’s the kind of weird thing you’d expect when you’re watching a cartoon. And being in cartoon world to play in means that facto-de-weirdo carries into gameplay. That same gumball machine can give a young girl with braces who loves to chomp away at things the ability to blow bubbles and temporarily fly. As with our Stick It To The Man! review last year, characters and their situations are best experienced first-hand from the player instead of revealing them. In fact, being able to possess any character improves on many aspects from Stick It To The Man! for the better.
Both Stick It To The Man! and Flipping Death are puzzle-platformers on open, non-linear levels set in separate chapters. Consisting of jumping and puzzle solving, there’s a certain adventure element to the entire narrative-driven, puzzle-platforming gameplay. These two games take the point & click adventure genre and apply that go-at-your-own-pace mentality to a fully controllable character you’d expect to have in a traditional platformer. Environmental and character dilemmas are the puzzles needing to be solved, much in the same vein as a point & click adventure, only without the screen-by-screen confinement of a point & click adventure game. What you get instead is a large open level with more freedom. In essence, it might introduce someone who turns themselves away from that classic computer adventure game experience to a more streamlined version, but also a polished one.
Players move Penny and the others around with the left analog while using B to jump. Pressing A will bring up the map which displays current characters/points of interest. Characters you’ve yet to possess are displayed as question marks, but the one’s who’ve already been possessed will display their picture instead and will also allow you to quickly travel to them by confirming the character you’ve highlighted in-case you don’t want to platform your way back and quickly get to the area. It’s a convenience worth having. Pressing R will bring up the current progress of objectives and sidequests on-screen before fading away. Possessing is done by pressing X at the expense of currency. Once a character has been possessed they’re permanently available at all times afterward.
3 types of currency exist in levels and two of them can only be acquired once and they’re all forms of souls. The common currency which respawns in areas can be collected as many times as needed. These are tiny skull-like entities flying in groups and try to avoid you. Collecting one group can be enough for possessing 1 or 2 characters generally. You’ll often have more of these souls than necessary. The other two also have their own identity and can only be obtained once, but solely for the purpose of completing the objectives. The neat twist here is they often come in two types of mini-game segments on the screen. One will require the player to collect all of the pieces before time runs out, which only then will a set amount be given to the player. Time is quite generous, though. Another will require the player to avoid a Metroid-like creature for a period of time before it explodes. Touching it will reset the counter. These aren’t extravagant breaks in gameplay, but they do variety per chapter.
Flipping Death’s possession mechanic has refined the flow of progression and improved upon two elements from Stick It To The Man!. Both share identical mechanics: mind-reading and right-analog aiming. Previously, players would have to use the right-analog on an NPC and hold it steady in one area to hear their thoughts. Flipping Death greatly breaks away those chains allowing players to hear the thoughts of any character they are currently possessing just by tapping L. In turn, being able to play as these characters while engaging with their inner thoughts means you can maneuver as you please while the dialogue is taking place. Interestingly, the HD rumble effect returns from Stick It To The Man! providing that hypnotizing feedback not only in vibration, but in the sound coming from the controller as well! Another improvement is players can often move certain characters across the level to a desired spot, although releasing them and returning to ghost world will cause some characters to walk back to a specific location or their original location instead of being lost to the player.
The right analog serves as a stronger function this time around. Previously, the right analog could only be used on specific bullet pins on the levels as a platforming device carrying the main character to that side. Here, as Penny’s scythe can be aimed around with the right analog, pressing ZR will throw the scythe anywhere and at all times. This can be used for navigating levels much faster using the momentum to catch up to the scythe. This make navigating levels, both horizontally and vertically, a more active experience than before. Being able to throw your scythe upwards and lift yourself into the air and onto another platform and repeating the process is rewarding and a quicker way to get around this time. Useful and often necessary to catching those pesky and basic soul currencies floating about. The scythe is tethered to Penny and it will get stuck to any platform it gets thrown at. This allows a somewhat strategic -even in the slightest way- planning to zip to your scythe depending on where you are at. Pressing ZL will return the scythe in case you’ve misjudged your throw.
So those are Penny’s abilities, but what about the characters she’s possessed? This is one area where Flipping Death excels compared to its predecessor. Every character has their own unique trait and ability. Animals can be possessed, allowing players to control a seagull to constantly drop poop bomb on everyone at will and in necessary situations. The same inputs used for Penny are applied to characters which behave differently from each other. These mechanics are used to solve the puzzles found in each chapter. When possessing each character, it can be easy to forget to mind-read during this time. Even when you’ve accomplished a certain task a character was meant to do, they might have even more dialogue worth listening to. Complimenting the gameplay, the more dialogue the better. Although the main story is intriguing and certainly a good one, it’d be like missing out on character development on individual characters even if most of the chatter is downright silly, cynical or perverted. Thanks to the writing and voice cast, it’s an animated feature worth your time while you play.
The amount of clever ideas put into each chapter feel right for this game’s tonal direction. Often bizarre, there are scenarios touching on known trends, bringing to light certain oddities or pathological traits of people. It’s dark humor in its finest form yet remains charming throughout all of it. Extra objectives can be found within each chapter and completing them will result in an unlockable card, called Ghost Cards. Solving particular puzzles or doing some light milestone for that chapter will earn you a ghost card along with a humorous description of the character. For the completionist, these are worth seeking out if you like that extra challenge and to feel like you’ve seen all the characters. It adds to the sense of exploration Flipping Death offers to a degree. There is also a hint system in the pause menu for when you are stuck and only the hints needed to advance will be selected. The hint are only images showing what a character should be doing. Completely optional, but a nice addition.
Where Stick It To The Man! had Zoink Games’ often-used sound specialist and composer Joel Bille, he hasn’t returned in Flipping Death. Instead, three other individuals provided the music. The jazzy cartoonish flavor stays faithful to its predecessor and is a very similar followup that feels right at home here. Still catchy, groovy and never overplayed.
There is one thing I hope Zoink Games addresses in the near future and that is something missing from Stick It To The Man!. There are no noticeable checkpoints or save feature as the game only does it automatically. This is a problem for when you quit a chapter and want to come back later, only to find out that your currency is much lower or your current status is different than where you thought it might have saved. A situation that happened actually hindered my progress and made me restart chapters. Loading a chapter is also long. Thankfully, a narrator who provides a summary of the currently story progress keeps it interesting.
An example of this is obtaining the soul currency that does not respawn on levels, as the game assumes you already have the required amount needed. After possessing a character that required said currency, doing an objective and quitting the game after a point I thought was a checkpoint or saved automatically, I returned to the game later only to find out that the character I possessed previously had yet to be possessed even when other events were kept track of. The bad news was since that particular currency does not respawn the mini-game to obtain it, the bug in which I’ve encountered this problem didn’t allow me to possess a character needed to advance since I didn’t have the required amount. There are also occasional wonky physics where characters get stuck, like a coma patient on a hospital bed rolling down platforms, only having me try possess different characters to manage getting it unstuck instead of restarting the chapter. It’s doubtful it will happen at all, but a little experimentation or just playing naturally can result in some weird behavior. It’s nothing too major and it can be avoided, but it’s worth noting.