Flipping Death Review – How the Other Side Lives (PS4)
I first became enamored with Zoink when they released the hilarious, yet flawed, Stick it to the Man. The flat stylized visuals reminded me of all the best and weirdest Saturday morning cartoons from the 90s. The heaps of character dialogue supported that feeling, and I could tell that Zoink would be a studio to watch. Their latest, Flipping Death, brings back writer Ryan North who originally worked on Stick it to the Man. His portfolio includes Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Adventure Time comics, so you know he’s well versed in strange humor and hilariously confident dialogue.
Flipping Death is, in many ways, a successor to Stick it to the Man. While I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a sequel, the visual style calls back to Zoink’s first console game (as well as Zombie Vikings). Main character Penny Doewood shares the same last name as Stick it to the Man’s lead, and some clever Easter eggs that I won’t spoil connect the two games. If you missed Ray Doewood’s mind reading adventure, don’t worry. Flipping Death is plenty enjoyable on its own.
When Penny gets fired from her job at the mortuary for trying to liven things up a bit, she decides to make a day of it with her boyfriend. That excursion quickly leads to Penny’s death where she ends up meeting the man himself. This incarnation of Death isn’t the fearsome reaper you might expect (Really? You were expecting fearsome reaper in a game like this?). He’s just an overworked bag of bones that wants to take a vacation to the moon while a temp fills his role for a while.
Being in the wrong place at the right time, Penny is quickly handed Death’s scythe and given free reign of the other side. The side of the dead is much more about platforming. Penny can toss the scythe around and teleport to it to reach areas she couldn’t otherwise or avoid malicious beings. Silhouettes of the living show Penny where she can perform a possession, taking over a person’s body and inhabiting their mind with them. Possession is crucial to solving puzzles and helping the ghosts in the afterlife finish their unfinished business. He excursion to the other side soon reveals a more sinister plot and a dark secret about the town she lives (lived?) in, so she’ll have plenty more to do than just helping find Lady Elderdough’s murderer or retrieving a Santa skeleton from a chimney.
Stick it to the Man suffered an imbalance of dialogue and gameplay, something that Flipping Death does repeat to some extent. There’s more than 10 hours of recorded dialogue to listen to as Penny can converse with the people she is possessing, and most all of that happens while stationary and not actually getting to play the game. Games have recently tried to fix this issue of bridging exposition with gameplay (God of War is a great example). Perhaps because Flipping Death’s gameplay is more compelling and some character arcs more interesting, it was a less noticeable problem than in Stick it to the Man.
Flipping Death has fewer characters to juggle than its predecessor, proving that more is not always better. Getting to know each character for their unique quirks is actually key to solving many of the environmental puzzles. One character who may seem useless early on could end up being a pivotal linchpin in a later scene. Ryan North’s writing here is less about creating some funny one liners and more about building a bizarre and weird town full of community and history. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still quite funny. It just made me care a little bit more. Unlike Stick it to the Man, where I ended up speeding up the voice lines near the end, I genuinely wanted to hear all of Flipping Death’s dialogue as it related to each character arc and the broader story. And, of course, the humor.
Despite being witty and entertaining, the main campaign of Flipping Death never really challenged me. Every puzzle was pretty easy to solve, with most of the characters quite literally just telling you where to go or what to do next. Fortunately a little box labeled “challenges” provided plenty of optional, well, challenges, and these were exactly what I needed to provide a better balance of gameplay to the 10+ hours of dialogue recorded for the game.
Challenges aren’t explicitly spelled out for the player. Cryptic titles rooted in pop culture hint at what these tasks might require. “There is No Cow Challenge” is a clear reference to Diablo’s cow level (which, like this challenge, absolutely does not exist). Another might have you racing Granny’s wheelchair across the town or pooping on the heads of other people as a seagull. Finishing each challenge unlocks a Ghost Card, collectibles that offer some humorous insight into the residents of the town, both living and dead. Completing challenges and collecting Ghost Cards was where I found most of the replay value, tucked away, and a chapter select system allows you to easily go back and clean up any that you might have missed to earn that sweet Platinum Trophy.
Zoink has been branching out on their styling a little bit. Both the recently released Fe and upcoming VR game Ghost Giant are a bit of a departure, but their flat, cardboard-styled worlds and laugh-out-loud writing are what I will always know the studio for. Flipping Death is Zoink continuing to polish that formula and correct the balance of compelling gameplay and dialogue. It’s visually striking, earns its laughs, and gives plenty of reasons to re-explore both the living and dead sides of Penny Doewood’s little town. It might still lean a little heavily on its dialogue, but it never does so in a way that feels like it takes away from the game being played. You might just find Zoink’s latest to be worth dying for.
Flipping Death review code provided by developer. Version 1.00 reviewed on a standard PS4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.