IGN Review of Flipper Critters
In the three years of the Nintendo DS system's lifespan, there have only been a handful of pinball games released for the portable. A small handful, actually: Metroid Prime Pinball is still king of a very tiny mountain. Flipper Critters enters a barely tapped market and tries new things for the genre, and while the core pinball's solid with impressive visuals on a technical level, the surrounding presentation's a little messy and cluttered. Still, the price is definitely right as it's one of the first Nintendo DS games to debut with a price that cracks the 15 dollar barrier.
Flipper Critters is one of those games that probably would have made a much bigger splash if it hit the market much earlier than it did. Whatever the reason, the project missed its original release date by more than a year and a half. At that time, it was one of the first games on the Nintendo DS to not only use a 3D engine that displayed across both screens, but also to enable independent camera perspectives for each of the Nintendo DS screens. Now, it's sort of an old-hat "wow, neat" feature of the handheld system simply because it seems like everyone's figured out the trick. To be fair, the team's engine keeps everything moving smoothly and with a decent amount of detail, even if the tables look a little cluttered and the secondary camera never really helps following the action.
But even at standards today or two years ago, the game's biggest problem is its confusing and scattered presentation. The whole idea is to solve quests by going from realm to realm, but the goals are sometimes hard to understand simply due to the awful storytelling. Good pinball tables make it clear what the player objectives are, and the designers try to incorporate this direction in character dialogue
but the writing is just bad and confusing and work against the enjoyment of the single player experience.
Luckily the pinball itself isn't bad. The game features a creative use of the touch screen to let players manipulate portions of the world. Want to set up a jump to bounce the ball to the second tier of an area? Tap a boat to flip it over. Need to drop a gate to gain access? Tap it with your finger. There are cool little puzzle elements, like rotating a windmill around so you can hit each of the four prongs to activate a gateway to another table. Of course, self-proclaimed pinball wizards will cry foul at table designs that don't allow for flipper passing (quickly trapping and flipping the ball off the back bumper to switch to the other flipper) and there's no table nudging to slightly alter the ball's direction. But it is what it is and the developers made a set of tables that's a bit of fun knocking a ball around. And there are quite a few tables to knock around
you just have to find a way to gain access to each one.
The pinball may be somewhat decent, but then there are the "mini challenges" that just don't fit the design. The biggest culprit is the vertical shooter design that drags on forever. This is "Flipper Critters," not "pinball with a mediocre Shmup." It's a real drag trying to succeed at pinball with only a few balls in reserve, only to have these balls lost simply because you didn't do well in the shoot-em-up. And while we can certainly appreciate the game's optional use of the touch screen to drag your ship around, it's the first time we've seen a developer favor lefties in stylus control. Yep, the programmers forgot to put the action buttons to the D-pad for the right handed players.
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