Flip Out!

Oh boy. Where do I even begin to describe a game like Flip Out! - a puzzle game with one of the weirdest (and frankly unnecessary) plot lines you've most likely ever encountered. Here goes: there's this planet called the Cheese Planet (or Planet Phromaj, to it's indigenous peoples), and the inhabitants of the Cheese Planet/Phromaj - who incidentally resemble jelly babies that have been left on a sunny windowsill for too long - hold an annual 'tile flipping' contest...which you have been cordially invited to take part in. However, the contest takes place in different locations on both Phromaj and Earth...because the aliens like to vacation in places like Easter Island, Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park. Quite why they chose to avoid inner city Birmingham is anyone's guess. So now we've got that out of the way, let me try to explain the point of Flip Out!

So, it's a puzzle game. Yes. You know those little plastic things you used to get as a kid whenever you went to a museum or something, that had a little picture on it and you could slide the pieces around and you only had one 'space' where you could slide an adjacent piece? Remember those? Where you'd spend about 10 minutes trying to get the image back together, get bored and then leave it in a drawer for the next decade until you found it during a clear out and then just threw it in the bin? Well, that's the best way to describe how Flip Out plays. That's not to say it's a bad game though - quite the contrary, it's just the best way i could summarise the gameplay without writing an essay. So with that in mind, imagine a 9x9 grid of tiles on the floor, each with a different colour. Now imagine 10 floating tiles (yes, there's an extra one to confuse you), all of corresponding colours...but mixed up. You select a tile, it flips up in the air...you select another and the first tile replaces it. Land your selected tile on the correspondingly coloured base tile...and you've got it in the right place. Do this until all the tiles are in the right place and you win the stage...don't move quick enough and the tiles will fall, smash, and it's game over. Simple, right...?!

There are several variations on the same game type, which all play pretty much in the same way but just replace the graphics - so in one stage you're flipping different coloured plates around tables in a space diner (Restaurant at the End of the Universe?), in another you are rearranging the faces of the presidents on Mt. Rushmore, and in another you're moving coloured aliens around on top of different coloured geysers. There are lots of different characters who will try to mess up your chances of beating the stages by climbing onto the tiles or just generally getting in the way, but they don't pop up very often and once you've got the hang of Flip Out!, they don't do anything but add to the tension...which is good.

There aren't that many other puzzle games on the Jaguar (I can only think of Evolution: Dino Dudes and Zoop off the top of my head), and Tetrisphere (or Phear, as it was known then) was swallowed up by the N64 before it could ever surface on Atari's machine...but Flip Out! is a decent title in it's own right. The graphics are pretty good for a game of this type - there are lots of pre-rendered, well animated sprites onscreen, and the levels are very colourful. The music too, is quite catchy and the sound effects and voice samples are very fitting (if overly cutesy). It's actually quite hard to dislike Flip Out!, even if the story is a contrived mess. It does what it sets out to do very well, and is quite addictive once you've learnt how to play. A cool and unique puzzler, worth getting if spotted for a reasonable price. Oh, and it's worth flipping (no pun intended) through the manual just for a look at some truly shocking early 90s computer-generated character renders!

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