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DS  header logo

Flipper Critters

For: DS

A nudge above the average

Product: Flipper Critters | Developer: Zen Studios | Publisher: Conspiracy Entertainment | Format: DS | Genre: Casual, Pub Sports | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (adhoc) | Version: Europe
Flipper Critters DS, thumbnail 1
It's said that video killed the radio star so it doesn't seem unreasonable to suggest that video games must have done away with the pinball wizard.

Interesting, then, to find there seems to be something of a resurrection of the ballbearing-based pursuit on DS at the moment. Nintendo's finally got around to releasing Metroid Prime Pinball, Oxygen's hard at work on Powershot Pinball Constructor and Conspiracy has this, Flipper Critters – an attempt to integrate pinball into the sort of colourful, cartoon world normally associated with Mario and his chums.

Fundamentally, it's a likeable creature. Simply by rendering pinball into a three dimensional world, developer Zen Studios has done DS gamers a service.

Yet, the appeal of physical pinball is its frantic pace combined with the pressure of being down to your last £1. Attempts to emulate this on consoles seem indulgent and lightweight but it's precisely this excitement that Flipper Critters attempts to balance with platformer-inspired exploration.

In this way, the most hackneyed staples of the pinball genre are transformed. Bumpers become bridges or floating frogs, while the flippers themselves map neatly to the DS' shoulder buttons. Table design is also revitalised, consisting of elaborate multi-layered concoctions of turrets, goats, water features and massive revolving helmets – in lesser hands you'd fear it becoming unwieldy and confusing.

Flipper Critters avoids this fate with aplomb, while also managing the even trickier task of ensuring the pinball bounces as it truly ought to. The split-screen and roaming camera extend table length, too, and pleasingly exaggerate any genius/fluke-ridden combos you manage to rack up.

Borrowings from Nintendo are less successful, however. Like too many platform titles, Flipper Critters offers the sort of story that would struggle to engage a six-year-old. It all revolves around a young tiger and a monkey, who spout platitudes, drink tea and eventually save their world through the medium of pinball. Generally, it's harmless stuff, with some irony thrown in for good measure (although we were a little unsure about the double entendres).

Of course, the only reason the plot matters is because it introduces a linear backbone – to progress through the game's tables you need to complete tasks. For instance, to move on from the first level (The Town of Alendor), you have to use the pinball to flatten a wall and thus open up the path to Ywitch.

Hitting certain areas of the table also opens up shortcuts, of sorts. On one table, a bird can be made to pick up your ball and fly it further up the playfield, for instance. And there are also sub-games, all of which are good and include a particularly pleasing R-Type clone. Better still, once-unlocked the sub-games can be played against a DS owning-friend.

So there's no doubt Flipper Critters is a fundamentally well-intentioned beast. On that level, it seems churlish to criticise something that dares to be different when there is too much else in the gaming universe that is soul-suckingly predictable. But from a purely gaming perspective, we also can't ignore the fact that despite its admirable ethos, it fundamentally fails to raise the pulse.

The truth is that playing on a physical pinball table may be a limited adrenaline thrash but it offers all-consuming pleasure while it lasts. Flipper Critters is remarkably disposable, however. Too often, it rolls between serving up sedate pinball, clever-clever pinball and 'so what' pinball.

Similarly, while it's very easy to label a certain platformer as hugely derivative, it doesn't explain the fact that you can't stop playing it or even thinking about playing it. Engage in Flipper Critters for an extended period of time and, at best, you'll find yourself looking forward to the sub-games. Say what you like about the Mario games – a series which Flipper Critters pokes fun at – but they rarely fill you with the urge to find something else to load up.

The nub of the situation boils down to this: by bulking up console pinball with certain characteristics of platform games you certainly get to pilfer nice ideas, but you also lose some of the essence of the best of both genres.

Technically, Flipper Critters is solid. Well presented, it has responsive and intuitive controls and offers you six tables to get stuck into. But gaming – especially pinball gaming – is about more than technical accomplishment.

Ultimately, the overwhelming feeling here is that it's three-quarters an interesting – if problematic – pinball sim, and one-quarter below an average platformer. An unusual concoction, then, and while enjoyable, one that's far from essential.
Flipper Critters
Reviewer photo
Scott Anthony | 18 August 2007
Combining a colourful cartoon world with the pinball table, Flipper Critters provides an interesting – if unspectacular – mixture of gameplay
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