I have fond memories of Beetlejuice, a surprisingly well-written yet dumb film from the 80s that poked fun at the afterlife. It showed a much lighter side of death, with the departed characters given the chance to try to win back their soul and return to earth — or at least die happier. The strange imagery, the catchy music and the memorable cast all combine to create an enjoyable story. While there were a few video games based on the film, they couldn’t capture the tone and flamboyance of the movie, instead focusing on the gross (boogers!) and the predictable.
Flipping Death is possibly everything I could have ever wanted out of a Beetlejuice game. It hits all of the notes of the film, with an emphasis on having heart as well as soul. Or, souls, rather.
Zoink’s latest game is more of an extension of the development DNA found in its Stick it to the Man! and Zombie Vikings releases than a whole new game. It emphasizes its art direction, with hand-painted visuals and vibrant subject matter allowing each screen to look like a piece of concept art. Flipping Death’s subject is, well, death, but it never feels too dark, angling towards a New Orleans style macabre instead. This is happy death, weirdly. The visuals are always nice to look at; using high contrast between light and dark, color and shadow, the game looks and feels like a pop-up storybook. The plot is equally intriguing. Penny, the game’s sarcastic goth protagonist, has been killed in a car accident with her boyfriend soon after quitting her job. Upon arriving in the “Otherside” to look for her bf, she’s mistaken for a temp for the Grim Reaper so that he could take a vacation. She’s handed his legendary scythe, and before she can explain herself her job becomes one of taking souls and killing off those who deserve it.
The scythe can be thrown around, mostly allowing Jenny to zip onto platforms and collect little floating souls. It’s a twist on platforming, serving mostly as a way to get around. One of her inherited powers is the ability to possess the living, which becomes the meat of the adventure experience. Though Jenny begins her journey on the Otherside, she can spend her collected souls to possess the bodies of the living that she “sees.” The people range from dentists and priests to wannabe superheroes and old ladies with shotguns.
Each of the characters has a special ability needed to resolve some puzzle in the game, whether it’s for advancing the narrative or plowing through some sidequests. Animals are even fair game, too, and in one of the chapters we can possess a seagull tasked with pooping on everyone for bonus points. The game’s structure involves one main puzzle per chapter, made up of solving several smaller groups of puzzles. These puzzles are generally based on fulfilling some bizarre task, or a chain of bizarre tasks. In one, a sailor asks us to paint his boat (named after his mistress) blue to help hide it from his wife. The paint can is itself a monster in the afterlife. The solution? Capture the monster, occupy the dentist’s body and use his tooth drill to open the can, possess the suave man and lap up the paint with his tongue, and then use the appendage to slather up the boat. Yuck. This is one of the more mundane tasks, too, as they get genuinely stranger as the chapters advance.
The controls to accomplish all of this are perhaps the only real issue. Being based on a sort of rag-doll physics, they’re a bit finicky, especially when trying to aim for some of the smaller targets. It can take a lot of precise and accurate movements to trigger solutions. While that would normally only require time to master, the game’s autosave can compound things. To complete one major puzzle, I had to force tongue-boy to lick a frozen corpse. I did it, advancing the plot and moving onto the next puzzle. Shutting down the game to to a break and play something else, my progress didn’t carry over correctly when I powered back up later. The autosave seemed to only catch the trigger that I had licked the corpse, not completed the puzzle. Because of that, I wasn’t able to “re-lick” the corpse to trigger the goal because the software thought I already did it. I was stuck, and had to restart the entire chapter all over again. Granted it was only about 10 minutes in (the game is fairly short) but the bug was enough to have me be more cautious when completing puzzles.
Flipping Death is incredibly charming. It feeds on our expectations of afterlife humor, mixes in satisfying puzzles and oddball gags, puns and dad jokes, and wraps it in eyeball pleasing art direction. It does its best to pair the platforming with the puzzles, making for a slower albeit familiar platform experience, and apart from a few bugs here and there it achieves a really nice balance. This is a good game to help sink away a night in, especially if we’ve ever wanted to experience what would happen after the third time we say the word “Beetleju—.”
This review is based on an eShop code for the Nintendo Switch sent to SideQuesting by the publisher.