What happens when you die? Well, in the case of Flipping Death, Zoink Games’ newest 2D puzzle-platformer, you’re hired as death incarnate. For Penny Doewood, death is only the start of the career ladder, as Death decides to take a vacation upon her arrival. The game revolves around logic puzzles, reading the minds of the living, putting them in the right positions and performing the right actions. With a hilarious set of reoccurring characters, an engaging plot and Zoink Games’ distinct world and sound design, each moment feels engaging and fresh, albeit with the game becoming only slightly predictable towards the end.
Shortly after arriving upon the plane of the dead, Penny is gifted with Death’s scythe, providing her with the game’s core mechanics – using the scythe as a throwing object which you can teleport to, as well as swapping between playing as Penny within the world of the dead, and collecting souls so you can possess individuals within the world of the living. Each of these worlds are a mirror image of one another, with the buildings and staircases of the living world reflected in a macabre fashion in the world of the dead. The game has you problem-solving by flipping between these worlds, reading individuals’ minds, possessing their bodies and working out precisely which tools to use in specific situations. This can range from the simple, such as using a noticeably long-armed man to poke certain buttons and levers, to more obscure solutions, such as requiring you to figure out how to go from seagull droppings, an angry chef and a hungry dog, to persuading a cat to open a gate.
Flipping Death’s logic puzzles are oftentimes flat-out zany and wild, but there’s an endearing nature to the plot and characters. With an episodic structure, the characters and the world around you develop as you interact with them. In Penny’s personal quest to enjoy her newfound career and to, hopefully, get back to this “living” business, puzzles initially start out incredibly unclear – whilst the game provides some hints, you’re more likely to solve things via trial and error, something the game encourages with its optional side quests. Its lack of clarity can make progressing through this game difficult and slow, but if you can get around to how the game wants you to think, it makes living as a member of the undead much simpler. If you can’t, and admittedly it takes a lot of time and effort to do, this game becomes largely unapproachable. Alongside this, the scythe’s throw seems rather unpredictable. I should note that I’m playing this on Xbox One and I’m unsure as to whether this would be better on other platforms. I’m particularly thinking this would be much better on the Switch, but for me, the scythe’s throwing arc took a long time to perfect.
Thankfully, the game’s art and sound design are both more than enough to make you keep trying. This game is a spiritual successor to their prior platformer Stick It To The Man!, sharing a similar mind-reading mechanic alongside its platforming. It also shares its paper-thin, 2.5D art style, with a winding and intersecting 2D environment creating a landscape worth exploring. Its distinct, Burton-esque art style (especially within the world of the dead) can appear quite unsettling at first, but quickly settles into having a more unique feel. Movement between both worlds feels smooth, whether you’re controlling Penny or possessing a living being. Thanks to the 2D, almost elastic character design, their flicking and bouncing around feels natural – even when the movements of those being possessed are very much unnatural. The detail in both worlds is staggering, with the world of the dead making best use of Penny’s enhanced mobility but forcing you to adopt new strategies when controlling a living person on the flip-side.
Flipping Death’s sound design is without a doubt its strongest asset. With each character having their own distinct voice and developing personality across episodes, it’s always a pleasure to get into their heads (literally) and find out what they have to say. To expand further, I had to pause the game solely to laugh after possessing a seagull and reading its mind, only for it to announce, “HI! I’M SALLY! I LIKE TO POOP!” on repeat. The game’s collectables, core game mechanics and voice acting all sound distinct and clear. The true gems are within the sounds of movement – which sound as janky as one might expect when you’re being possessed and flung about by Death herself – and the distinct, simplistic Jazz soundtrack. Using piano, slap bass and the occasional muted trumpet, Flipping Death develops an atmosphere unlike any other game I’ve played, and the sound design alone keeps bringing me back to replay levels.
Each level provides you with a series of side quests that push you to your logical limits, like managing to possess the right character at the right time to play the trumpet to every single person, or to get someone with “perfect teeth” to go bite something incredibly specific. This level of specificity is always entertaining to try and work out. Once you’ve played a level once, however, it does become a matter of memory rather than one of deduction. Whilst you’re not going to be able to repeat that “eureka” moment when you finally solve a problem, it’s always going to be a ridiculous and entertaining solution.
Flipping Death is a refreshing experience, harkening back to the heyday of Lucasarts’ story-based 2D puzzle games, combining outright ridiculous logic with two very different environments in every level. Solving the puzzles one by one is more than satisfying, and there’s an undeniable sense of achievement in working out a chain of puzzles and solving the mysteries of the dead. Penny’s new workplace is entertaining, but I can definitely see why, for Death, it might get tiring after millions of years without a break. It’s a complex game, not one to complete in one sitting, but one that’s inviting and entertaining throughout.