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I really love pinball and it's one of those games that you can play without having to concentrate too hard - I mean it's just a matter of flipping a metal ball bearing around a table and not letting it go between your flippers and out of play - isn't it?
Enter the bizarre world of Flipper Creatures!
Published in 2007 by Ignition Entertainment the game meshes good old traditional pinball with a series of colourful landscapes and play areas where you progress through a hierarchy of levels through a combination of flipping flippers and tapping onscreen objects.
The game has two main modes of play - story play and fun play. There are 3 modes of play in fun play but these aren't instantly available so you need to play in story play mode to unlock them so I'll review that mode here.
The story is based around a couple of animals in an imaginary world. The game starts with two animals Tiger and Monkey and there quest to seek out adventures and help other inhabitants along the way.
The adventure starts in the town of Aldenor which is a very bright and colourful land that has a circular play area that is surrounded by houses and paths to other towns. The circular play area is split like a pie chart and each segment is a pinball play area and has individual challenges for you to progress. These challenges vary from launching rockets, knocking apples off trees, hitting ramps and other similar objects.
In the centre of the circular playfield and behind your flippers is a well. If the ball falls into this well then you lose one of your five lives. Once all five lives are diminished then it's game over.
Before the first ball is released into the play area Tiger and Monkey are introduced to Billy the Goat who is the towns old Mayor and we learn from him that Bull is ill. The conversation then gets a bit confused and it is unclear who Bull is and what you need to do to get him to feel better. Monkey mentions he wants bananas and then Tiger explains that you can get to the next town Ylwich by destroying some columns. It may sound like I am rambling aimlessly like a nutter here, but that is the sequence of events in the game, it's all unclear and pretty random!
Finally the ball is released from a house on the surrounding hill and it rolls down the path into the circular play area. The lower DS screen shows an overview of the play area whilst text explaining bonuses and power ups is shown in the upper screen.
The Gameplay is very responsive and sharp. You can flip your flippers using the top shoulder buttons or the more convenient "A" button and Left on the D-Pad.
If I made the purpose of Gameplay sound a little confused then get prepared for further confusion. After a few seconds of play . and building a good score I managed to knock my ball into a a shed and was told "It is good to rest", I was then told "Monkey enjoyed his food". Not understanding the relevance of these messages I was then greeted with a further message saying that I would get a bonus if I knocked the ball over the "Other" bridge. Where was the "Other" bridge? How do I get to it? Had I been over a previous bridge? Aaarghh!
I persevered with the game and managed to somehow hit my ball into an area that asked me if I wanted to visit the next village! As this current village's mission was clear as mud I decided that I might as well give it a try, and true to the games previous objectives the next set were equally as ambiguous and unclear.
Objectives aside, the differing playfields are fun to play and the way that they interconnect is good and they seem to flow together well and offer a good deal of variety; if you knew what you needed to do they would be much better. Your progression through each level and percentage completed can be viewed by hitting the select button. You can also save your progress too.
The lack of clarity in the game really lets it down as the graphics and animation are really well programmed. The characters are brightly coloured and well drawn, the 3d playfield is responsive and the dynamics of the balls movement are quite impressive.
One level that is worth a mention and is a redeeming feature of the game (though not pinball based at all) is a vertical scrolling shoot-em-up stage that reminded me of the old Bitmap Brothers classic game Xenon.
With regard to sound the background music is pleasant enough but can become a little repetitive. The flippers give a reassuring click and the power-ups sound like sounds from a cartoon and work well.
The usual options to alter sound levels, view high scores,save games and view developer credits are also available from the main menu.
So is it worth buying?
The game is similar in many ways to the older Gameboy Advance game Mario Pinball and the idea of mixing pinball and a storyline is good. I found that after a few repeat plays you do start to learn what each element does and progressing through the game becomes easier and if the storyline and objectives been clearer then I would have had no reservations in recommending this game.
I'll stick with Mario.
© M Jones (Otalgia) 2008
The entire game is set in a rich and engaging fantasy world, complete with strange characters, perilous quests and a host of challenging arcade mini-games. The entire game makes use of both screens on the Nintendo DS to show off every angle and aspect of the vibrant, cartoon world of Flipper Critters.