HIGH Chainsaw mermaids.
LOW The scythe controls.
WTF I said chainsaw mermaids, already didn’t I?
Other people smarter than me have pointed out that a good comedic game shouldn’t attempt the Zucker brothers approach (Airplane!, The Naked Gun) and inundate the audience with joke after joke. Due to the average runtime, trying it would be exhausting — see Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard. No, a classic example of game comedy done well imbues its lines with wit, warmth and light-heartedness, but does not expect every interaction to result in a punchline. Zoink! studios’ latest offering follows this playbook and does so successfully.
Flipping Death starts in a mortuary with the lead, Penny, trying to liven the place up and subsequently getting fired. Now unemployed and bored, things take a turn for the worse when she and her boyfriend decide to kill time messing around in a graveyard. She accidentally dies and finds herself in the afterlife, only to stumble into a new line of work as the inadvertent temp filling in for Death while he’s on vacation on the moon (because there are no dead people there). What follows is a lot of wisecracking in a tale delivered by an unreliable narrator that explores themes including dying, redemption, and time-travelling.
The game is a 2D puzzle platformer set in two realms — Penny can shift between the land of the dead and the land of the living by collecting souls and then ‘unlocking’ people to possess. All the puzzles involve finding objects or using specific skills of the possessed. There are simple ones like getting a fireman to put out a fire, and more elaborate ones that involve vultures, plastic surgery, tennis players, and bowling balls. I don’t want to say too much because a large part of the entertainment in Flipping Death is figuring out the solution to something and enjoying the payoff that comes afterward.
The art style is great, and reminds me of dark-hued, adult-themed Nickelodeon cartoon or the afterlife scenes in Beetlejuice with each character stretched and distorted, and the free-floating tops of their heads allowing for exaggerated talking animations.
The landscape is equally well-rendered. The living realm plays with perception by having everything be paper thin – cars snake around corners in the distance to disappear at certain angles, humans flip back and forth when going left-to-right, and so on. The underworld is a mirror of the living realm, but here the buildings grow inquisitive eyes or twist into misshapen spires as strange apparitions lurk in shadows. All of this is a continuation of Zoink!’s style seen in Stick it to the Man and Zombie Vikings, but it shows maturation with each new iteration. Also, the colors are unlike any other game out there with muddy greens, purples and yellows giving everything a personality of its own.
While the art style and script are solid, Flipping Death wouldn’t be nearly as good without the talented voice cast that infuses every line with enthusiasm. My guess is that the voice actor for Penny enjoys every line she delivers, and the supporting cast shows equal relish for theirs. The story jumps around a bit, and a murder mystery at the beginning soon gives way to a larger plot with distorted flashbacks explaining characters’ motivations. A mechanical/plot device that lets Penny read minds makes seemingly extraneous NPCs play bigger roles by the end, and nothing feels wasted.
Flipping Death is generally great, but I did have a few issues with one mechanical element. Traversal, other than jumping, requires shooting Death’s scythe out like a grappling hook and using it to pull Penny up to higher areas. It feels too loose, and in later areas some timed platforming sections require a fair bit of accuracy to get right. This looseness in the controls isn’t enough to derail the adventure and the devs make sure that it’s impossible to get stuck thanks to a built-in help system, but the need for accuracy with an inaccurate scythe can make some sections more frustrating than they need be.
However, Flipping Death’s slight mechanical complaints don’t detract from the strength of a great voice cast and an understanding that the audience should care about what happens next, not just that they should be laughing.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Zoink! and published by Zoink! It is currently available on PS4, Switch, Xbox One, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher code and reviewed on the XBO-X. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Teen and contains Crude Humor, Drug Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes, and Use of Alcohol. The Teen rating makes sense given that the main theme is death, but with that said, most pre-teens will have no problem with the kind of events that happen here as the cartoony violence aligns with the type of stuff seen on plenty of programming for young people.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is subtitled. There is one element that involves chasing for specific types of spirits on a timer and there is no visual indication for when that timer is up. This may cause some difficulties for some players. There is no option to resize the text.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no screenshot of the controls. The left stick is used for moving the character, the A button is used for jumping, X executes specific actions, the Right stick is used for manipulating the Scythe or for directing certain characters abilities and the Right Trigger executes them, Y button is used for possessing people, the B button opens the map.