Many years ago there were places outside of the home where people could play video games. Instead of sitting on a couch and playing console games, they would stand in front of bulky machines and put coins in them to play. Because these were large meeting places with many games, players could join one another for cooperative or competitive play face-to-face, not over an Internet connection. These places were called arcades, and today they’re all but extinct.
If you were born before say, 1982 or so, a good deal of your gaming youth was probably spent in arcades. You’d also be familiar with not only the game cabinets, but also another dying form of entertainment: pinball. Pinball’s history goes back as far as the 1930’s with the first electronic game released in 1975, just as video gaming was blossoming. This brings us to pinball video games, which Flipnic is in essence. But to simply call it a pinball game is a mistake; Capcom takes the physics of pinball, throws the rules out the window, and ends up with a quirky budget title, though not one to please everybody.
Since just about everyone is familiar with pinball, Flipnic is easy to pop in and get started. Hit the ball with the flippers to hit other stuff, that’s all there is to it, right? Yes and no. Capcom gives this game some legs by including several tables that must be unlocked, and to unlock them, missions that are as complex as any real world pinball table must be completed.
In fact, calling each level a “table” is misleading. The virtual space of Flipnic is taken advantage of, with each level consisting of multiple areas connected by labyrinthine systems of rails and secret goals. This game does things that no real pinball machine could ever do, and not only at the table level. There are areas where pressing a button makes the ball jump to reach coins or shoot lasers to defeat a UFO. There’s a grid puzzle and a block-breaking level, like Super Breakout. This is a true merger of video game and pinball, and the result is unique if nothing else.
The handful of levels have names like Biology and Metallurgy, each with a different theme. Biology is set in a sweltering rainforest with animals everywhere, while Optics is a futuristic, neon-lit tech haven. The levels are individualistic, but the design and flow of the game has its ups and downs. The very first level may be the most interesting, with colorful, active scenery and a variety of missions. Later levels feel more traditional and the missions get repetitive, up until the last table. The interest and fun level forms a kind of inverse bell curve, and many players may find the mid-game boring enough to shut the thing off.
What may keep Flipnic alive for some gamers is the two-player mode. Each level has an associated two-player table, and some are cooperative while others are competitive. This is a welcome break from the usual multiplayer pinball action, where players take turns and compare scores. If you can manage to convince some friends to actually play a pinball game on the PS2, you might just find in Flipnic a really compelling party game.
Being a bargain game, you might be expecting production values similar to Michael Jackson’s career: dated. You’d be surprised to find that, unlike Jacko, Flipnic feels fresh and looks great. The visuals are bright and vibrant, each table having its own distinctive look. There’s always plenty of action on the screen, and it’s smooth with no hints of slowdown. The music could be better, but the bumper and target sounds are dead-on replicas of real pinball audio, and the sound effects for jackpots and mission objectives evoke authentic pinball table action.
Flipnic’s biggest problem is that it’ll leave you asking that’s it? There’s really not much to this game, so the fact that it’ll only set you back $20 is fortunate. It’s also very difficult. If you’re not familiar with modern pinball machines and the complicated missions and goals involved, you’ll be lost for a little while. It’s probably more accurate to call this a pinball puzzle game, as it includes many non-pinball challenges and some of the missions are tricky to figure out, let alone complete. The casual gamer may find themselves out of their depth with such a hardcore approach to the game, so it will probably be enjoyed most by true pinball lovers.
All in all, Flipnic is a remarkably polished bargain title with limited scope. Like a visit from a distant relative, it’s fun for a while but tends to overstay its welcome. The two-player mode is a gem and pinball aficionados will certainly dig it, but for the rest of us a rental is in order. Capcom stuck their neck out on this one and it narrowly missed an unfortunate demise, but this isn’t a must-have game. If you lament the downfall of the arcade and the scarcity of pinball games, you’ll find what you’re looking for and more in Flipnic.