Penny might not consider herself a goth, but the fact she dresses up as a demon and works at a funeral parlour has the rest of Flatwood Peaks thinking otherwise. When her over-the-top antics get her fired, she reacts just like any other person would - and drives to a local cemetery to hang out in a crypt with her boyfriend. You know, as you do.
Unfortunately, said crypt collapses beneath her feet and the sharp-tongued heroine plunges to her none-too-ironic death. Luckily for her (if you can call it ‘luck’) she awakens in the underworld to find Death himself has decided to go on vacation, mistaking Penny for the temporary replacement he’s been waiting an eternity to arrive. Now with a black cloak and a magical scythe to her name, it’s up to our Pen to help settle the unfinished business of the local dead.
So yes, Flipping Death basically Mort (one of the brilliant Discworld novels from the late Sir Terry Pratchett) in all but name, but as a premise for a game, it makes for a deliciously intriguing setup - especially in the hands of a quirky developer like Zoink Games. With the power to possess the living (because, why not), Penny can ‘flip’ her 2.5D world to return to the land of the not-yet-dead. Pressing ‘L’ enables you to read the thoughts of her current host, revealing clues for quests, while moving the right analog stick will enable you to control them and use each citizen’s unique traits to solve all manner of puzzles.
You’ll need to control an unhinged dentist in order to open a giant can of paint, use the poking powers of would-be supervillain Pokeman and even control a whale who needs to unblock the skeletons stuck in their blowhole. It’s all very weird in a black-humoured Double Fine sort of way, but there’s a surreal pleasure to exploring Flatwood Peaks from the perspective of the underworld and using each of the townsfolk like a fleshy collectable.
If you’ve played Stick it to the Man! already, you’ll instantly recognise its nightmarishly comedic art style - in fact, Flipping Death shares a lot of common features with 2014’s memorable platformer. Both games use an open-plan approach to exploring its open-ended environment, but this new instalment ensures you never get lost by adding in a map filled with points of interest and a pictorial hint system that always points you in the right direction. It can make solving its puzzles a little too easy, but it helps avoid the game from falling into the pitfall of using over-obtuse quests.
You can also teleport to any characters you’ve possessed in that chapter, although these teleportation points reset after every chapter. Thankfully, the ghostly sprites that float around town in the world of the dead - which are used as a currency for possession - are more than abundant, although you’ll have to search a little harder to unlock some of the rarer variants (which in turn enable you to control mission-specific characters). It’s a cute feature that rewards exploration with the fuel you need to bother the living, although switching between both worlds (which quite literally flips the screen) can get a little disorientating for a game all about revisiting locations.
Most of the objectives you’re given by assisting various characters also fit together like one long quest-like puzzle, with one completed task unlocking the way for the next. For instance, you’ll need to use a trumpet-playing jazzman to help blow a whale back into a lake, but to do that you’ll need to get a dog currently bothering the local chef to chase a cat that works a nearby bridge. With its colourful cast of weirdos, misfits and downright rotters, the sheer silliness of Flipping Death’s surreal setting ensures these seemingly basic tasks never feel mundane thanks to the entertaining dialogue.
The addition of challenges hidden throughout the game (based mainly around getting certain controlled citizens to perform special tasks) adds extra replay value, as do the collectable Ghost Cards that reveal more about Flatwood Peaks’ oddball residents. It certainly makes Flipping Death a meatier prospect than the criminally-short Stick it to the Man!, and shows Zoink Games has taken the time to listen to the issues that stopped that first game from being the instant classic it almost was.
Flipping Death does share plenty of DNA with Stick it to the Man! - ranging from the floatiness of its platforming to the ability to read the minds of other characters - but that doesn’t stop it from being a far superior offering in almost every way. We’re still not quite sure why Death is possessing the souls of the living and sorting out the loose ends of the dead, but it makes for a memorable black-humoured adventure that deserves to haunt your Nintendo Switch immediately.