Very much a game where humor and a unique visual style dominate the experience, Zoink Games' Flipping Death seems like a natural sibling to the developer's prior titles, Zombie Vikings and Stick It to the Man. Like these earlier games, Flipping Death has a strong central conceit and enough quality writing, offbeat humor, and voice acting to pull the player through some occasionally frustrating mechanical and control issues.
Flipping Death focuses on Penny, an irreverent and troublemaking employee of the local funeral home who accidentally dies and is soon surprised to find herself assuming the role of the happily vacationing Grim Reaper. For the next six to seven hours of gameplay, Penny is tasked with solving puzzles by possessing human characters and flipping between the worlds of the living and the land of the dead. In the vast majority of cases, solutions lie in combinations of actions in the two worlds which are mutually unseen to each other. Early on, for instance, Penny must cajole a paint can in the spirit realm to move to a certain spot so that in the real world it can be filled with special blue paint, which is part of a puzzle in the ghostly world that will help her cross a bridge.
More often than not, the puzzles rely on controlling the right characters at the right time in the right world, and while the puzzles are in keeping with Flipping Death's goofy, weird tone and graveyard humor, they generally avoid the illogical and obtuse item combinations that can frustrate players. There's a lot of fun and potential problem solving to be had by reading the minds of the characters Penny jumps into and a hint system is there to help in those truly stuck moments of confusion.
While figuring out the solution to most of the puzzles is rarely frustrating, moving about in Flipping Death can be, as it "platforming" part of puzzle/platformer hasn't been as precisely tuned. Too many times the lack of really tight controls resulted in over-jumping or missed platforms and using Penny's grappling hook scythe - which also serves as an occasional weapon - is a slower and much more tedious solution, as it requires some careful aiming and multiple button presses. Often I found my irritation with the un-remappable controls started to outweigh my appreciation of Flipping Death's aesthetic.
The vivid color palette and highly stylized, pop-up book look of Flipping Death took a while to enjoy but eventually I really came to appreciate the game's imaginative parallel worlds and the way the lands of the living and dead interacted, reflected, and contrasted with one another and became integral to the gameplay. Often indie games skimp on the writing and voice acting but Zoink seems to appreciate how critical these elements are and hired outstanding actors who really got on board with the tone and made Penny and the other principals memorable. The jokes range from dry asides to outright slapstick and while the content is often macabre, there is an underlying goofy sensibility. Similar to Graveyard Keeper, the game's sense of humor about death is off-kilter instead of off putting.
A game like Flipping Death could easily outstay its welcome but Zoink seems to understand the limits of the genre. Aside from some frustrating controls - which might irk both super-precise and platformer-challenged gamers - Flipping Death has enough humor, cheeky irreverence and visual audacity to carry it through the tough spots. Played for the characters, story, puzzles and imaginative setting, Flipping Death is a good time.