Flipping Death Review: A Not so Grim Reaper
A not so grim reaper.
What happens when Death goes on vacation? Well, in Flipping Death he mistakenly leaves the job to a recently deceased woman named Penny, who learns she can help restless spirits with their unfinished business by jumping between the land of the dead and the land of the living. It’s a cool premise, and executed very much like a more action-centric spiritual successor to the point-and-click adventure comedies of classic LucasArts. Flipping Death’s vibrant presentation, quirky characters and fun plot ensured I was in for the whole ride, even if the gameplay felt a bit haphazard at times.
Anyone who played developer Zoink Games’ excellent Stick it to the Man! from 2013 will be right at home here. Flipping Death has a similar emphasis on getting inside people’s heads and solving scenarios using suitably bizarre lines of logic, but this time around you’re physically possessing them to help you do it. Need something poked? There’s a guy for that. Need to open a can of paint? Maybe that drill-wielding dentist can help. Want to crap on the heads of every character in the level just for the fun of it? Take control of the seagull. It’s a fun take on the traditional inventory and item systems.
From the murky, mysterious world of the dead, living characters who can be possessed – be they human, mermaid, cat, etc. – appear as highlighted silhouettes, but once you’re inside them the entire map flips to a mirror version of itself, revealing quaint streets, ramshackle buildings and literally fleshed out characters. It’s a cool transition – if a little disorientating, as landmarks to the left are now to the right and vice versa – and you’ll hop back and forth a lot. There are significant differences, too – platforms and paths in one world often don’t exist in the other. And while Penny can use her reaper’s scythe like a grappling hook to leap around in death, she’s bound to the movement abilities of her hosts in life. It’s interesting to use the two movement systems together to solve puzzles and find the path forward. I also love how everyday objects like houses and cars are transformed into beastly creatures when in the spirit world.
I loved hearing Penny strike up a conversation with each character she spirit-jumps into.
Like any classic point-and-click adventure, Flipping Death’s design is built around finding the right tools to solve the zany problems its characters throw at you. These are often quite surreal, but I was never really frustrated; particularly as a small amount of trial and error always got me to the correct solution. I actually found the main obstacles to completing puzzles were mechanical in nature, due to the slightly sluggish feel to platforming and occasionally finicky positioning required, leaving me wondering whether I was doing the right thing or not. Thankfully, there’s an image-based hint system that you can always fall back on should you need to.
The solutions are creative and fun, but they’re largely a means to an end – an excuse for the comedic sensibility that ultimately drives Flipping Death and makes it worthwhile despite its minor foibles. Writer Ryan North has taken full advantage of the characters and scenarios, and there’s plenty of amusing dialogue to savour. One highlight is the hilarious interactive flashback to “history times” which serves to provide backstory and introduce ye olde versions of many of the characters. I also loved hearing Penny strike up a conversation with each character she spirit-jumps into; some think she’s their conscience, or god, or creeping dementia. One particularly lonely crab was simply stoked to have some company.
Penny herself is a likeable lead who has a lot of fun with the bizarre predicament she finds herself in, and her broader story anchors Flipping Death – it’s pure absurdity, but nonetheless has some heart. It also helps to have a relatable character in amongst the chainsaw-obsessed mermaids, British serial killers and police officers who become elite hackers in their sleep. I also really enjoyed the grizzled old narrator who pops up on the loading screens to recap events, provide irreverent flavour, and routinely break the fourth wall. He’s well-acted, as are most of the characters.
Penny is a likeable lead who has a lot of fun with the bizarre predicament she finds herself in…
Flipping Death’s story clocks in at around six or seven hours, which is about what I want from a game like this. Most of the chapters are set across the same basic map with a handful of changes to keep things interesting. A little more variety wouldn’t have gone astray, but ultimately, it’s the characters that drive the experience, and the overall visual design is great – this pop-up picture book fever dream world really is gorgeous. One minor downside of the map is that you can sometimes circumvent the logical order of events, so you’ll ask a character to help you with something that hasn’t been set up yet, but that only happened a handful of times in my playthrough.