Platform: Nintendo DS , DSI
Developer – Zen Studios
Publisher – Ignition Entertainment
Wireless DS Multicard Play (1-2 players)
When Flipper Critters was put on my desk for review I honestly didn't know what I was getting into. I took a look at the back of the game’s box, and from the screenshots that were available it looked like it was a new pinball game. However, after reading the game's premise on back of the same box it also seemed like I was getting an adventure or platform game of sorts. Well after finally playing the game I found that I got an experience which was mixed with a few different styles of gaming. So does it work? Read on.
The visuals in Flipper Critters are actually one of the strong points of the game. The cartoony look does the game justice as the colors are bright and vibrant and all the scenery manages to jump off the screen. The game's 3D engine is actually quite impressive and manages to provide some pretty good looking landscapes as the visuals stretch across both screens of the DS giving each level a sense of depth and size. The on-screen action can get pretty crazy for a pinball game and the framerate manages to handle everything with relative ease. There is not an overabundant use of special effects, but then why would there be as this is a game that does not require such. Overall I would say that a lot of work went into the graphics engine for Flipper Critters given that there are very little graphic anomalies that occur during gameplay, and the work pays off when you watch all the action on both the screens.
The audio found in Flipper Critters is a good compliment to the solid visuals. The game’s music is can easily be summed up as ‘happy go lucky cute’ as it matches the on-screen action. As for the rest of the sound effects, the best way to describe them would be to be cartoony. As the graphics take on a non-realistic look to them, and manage to convey a cartoon like appearance, the sound effects of everything in the game manage to match the visual look of the game. I think that this was a smart decision given that it really adds to the overall experience of the game itself.
Flipper Critters is game that attempts to mix a few different gameplay styles into the mix. You have a pinball game, an adventure/platform game and even some 'shooter' aspects to the game. Now in theory a well done mix of gameplay like this could make for a great game, but in Flipper Critter's case all the aspects don't meld as well as one would hope. You have a basic adventure/platform that is carried by an innovative and somewhat creative pinball game. Some of it works well while some of it does not. The story is not as important as one would hope either, and given that the game does have some adventure aspects to it this is a little surprising. As far as the story goes you have a young tiger and monkey (two critters) who venture out to save their friend bull – or so they seem to think that is all they are going to do. To do so their adventure is played through the medium of pinball. I found that story was pretty weak, and almost seemed secondary to the rest of the game. However given by the look of everything about this game, from the box art to the graphics, it really does seem aimed at a younger audience, hence why the story may seem so simple.
The game is played in linear fashion, making it one that you have to do certain things before you can continue on. This is quite evident from the get-go. In the first level, the Town of Alendor, you have to use a pinball to flatten a wall which opens up a path to the next level, Ywitch and you cannot progress until you do so. You will find yourself having to solve various quests while going from level to level. If you haven't completed a particular task in the current level you won't proceed to the next. This is a very basic gameplay experience but it does work for this game as it does not make is a complicated affair. If anything, the only complication you may come across during your adventure is that you may have some difficulty actually knowing what your objectives are. Although frustrating at times, and it may take some trial and error, you will come across what you need to do to continue on.
You have definitely heard the term "pinball game" in this review quite a bit. Well, the mainstay of the game is that is a pinball based experience wrapped up in the premise of an adventure/platform game. So that being said it is only fair that I speak about the pinball play of the game. Developer Zen Studios actually made a pretty good pinball game, and the added creativity helps. Standard pinball items are, for the lack of a better word, assigned real-life items. For example bumpers become bridges or floating frogs. You will find a lot of creativity in the table (level) designs as each has animals, water features and even vegetation (e.g. trees). To take the premise of pinball and give each table real-life items is pretty ingenious if you ask me.
Playing each table is also quite fun. I found that although the whole pinball experience can seem limited (e.g. no ability to shake the table(s)) I really enjoyed what was offered. I found that I was able to make some pretty neat shots, and that each table offered its' own features like hitting certain areas that open up shortcuts. An example of this is that on one of the tables found the game has a bird can be made to pick up your ball and fly it to an area further up the level. During my playtime with Flipper Critters I also had the chance to play various sub-games, which were pretty interesting given that it changed up the overall experience. That being said, not all the sub-games are as well implemented as I had hoped. The shooter game is what particularly comes to mind here. Playing this was somewhat of a chore as control was not as smooth as it could have been. You can use the touch screen to control your ship but this control scheme seems to favor 'south-paws' as the action buttons are only assigned to the touch buttons, and not the d-pad, so if you are right handed you will find this awkward and somewhat unforgiving. I think that the developers should have just left the game to what is was, an adventure/pinball hybrid, as adding the sub-games just didn't do the overall gameplay justice.
Although Flipper Critters is not a great game, it is by no means a bad one. The 3D graphics engine is solid, and the sound matches the on-screen action to a tee. Where this game stutters now and then is in the gameplay department. Although the pinball aspect of the game is well implemented, the sub-games have some issues and objectives on each table (level) can be hard to figure out now and then. At the end of the day it is really hard to categorize who this game is targeted at, but it is my honest opinion that hardcore gamers will want to stay away from this title and only those young or casual gamers on the go may find interest in it. Regardless, kudos to developer Zen Studios for trying to do something different and I hope they can improve on this first effort.