FlipSide // XBL Indie Games
March 28, 2010
Despite loving blockbuster games from big-name developers as much as the next person, infinitecontinues also likes to champion the cause of the proverbial ‘little guy’, the one-man-band outfits whose love of videogaming inspires them to put together their own creations. In the first of a new series of reviews of titles available on the Xbox Live Indie Games platform, we check out FlipSide, a pure skill-based game that’s as sadistic as it is addictive.
The basic premise of FlipSide is brutally simple. The player controls two spaceships on each side of the screen, the left one controlled with the left analogue stick, and the right ship controlled with the right analogue stick. Both ships are controlled simultaneously. The sole purpose is to guide each spaceship through gates in the walls that move from the top of the screen to the bottom, which are essentially just gaps in two lines of contrasting pixels. And that’s it. No, really.
It’s an astonishingly easy premise to pick up but an almost impossible one to master. After a brief tutorial introduces you to the single, solitary game mechanic, the game’s designer tests you immediately and, if you are anything like me, will find you wanting. FlipSide is punishingly hard but never unfairly so; as with any worthwhile endeavour, practice ultimately makes perfect. In the game’s Challenge mode, gates appear in scripted patterns, always in the same place on every play. Reflexes and memory are put through their paces, but each death and instant restart will achieve new progress. There are five Challenge levels in total, but anyone who feels short-changed by such a number (despite the incredibly low price of FlipSide) should be encouraged that after over an hour of play, this reviewer only just scraped through Challenge level 2 before being humbled all over again by the very first gates of level 3.
But what a thrill completing that level was! Echoing the magnificent minimal art direction of the game, rendered only in black and white, it is the pared-down goal of continual self-improvement that is FlipSide’s greatest achievement. Stripped of extraneous gameplay additions or meaningless collectibles and, most refreshingly, the absence of weapons, means that FlipSide boils down to just one motivation for restarting it over and over again – to get better at it. It’s a notion that harks back to the golden age of videogaming, when all that mattered was achieving the highest score, a goal that is oftentimes lost in the embellished productions of gaming’s current crop.
Nowhere is this desire for self-improvement at FlipSide’s monstrous challenge more evident than in the game’s Endless mode, which gives the game its greatest shot of longevity. Here the gates are produced at random, ensuring that no Endless mode game is ever the same. Each gate successfully navigated by either ship adds a point to an ever-increasing tally displayed at the top centre of the screen. There are no bonuses or multipliers; one gate successfully navigated equals one point. Only the occassional “Ridiculous” or “Slammin'” remark briefly flashed across the top of the screen gives you any indication of how well you are doing, but you’ll barely notice that as you get into the zone. I’ve written about flow in videogames before (see my review of The Beatles: Rock Band for more); FlipSide is surely the purest distillation of it.
At a time when games have become bloated and bogged down by meaningless fluff and non-sensical noise, FlipSide eschews all that in favour of the timeless edict of less is more. It’s a pure, simple game; one which despite its insane difficulty never angers (contrary to the expression of the furious zebra that adorns FlipSide’s digital box art) because of its insistence that you give it just one more try with an instant restart option. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but as an exploration of a gamer’s desire to be the best, with the promise of beating his own accomplishments as his only reward, it’s worth every penny, and many more besides, of it’s 80 MSP price tag.