One of my guilty pleasures is HGTV–more specifically, shows about flipping houses, or hunting for them. I don’t really care about the hosts necessarily, or even the circumstances surrounding the house hunt or flip.What I love to see is the before and after. It inspires me and makes me want to try my own hand. So naturally, when I found out about House Flipper back in 2018, I thought my ship had come in, and I immediately got it for myself on Steam.
Unfortunately, I found its gameplay and limited choices frustrating and ended up shelving it for other things. The game has since added more DLC (Including an HGTV branded pack) and more customization choices, but I never felt the urge to pick it up again. That is, until I heard it was coming to Nintendo Switch.
There’s something about the Switch that can take a mediocre game for PC or other consoles and sort of add something to it–whether it’s strictly just the option to play it idly while on public transit or vacation or the addition of motion controls–I’ll usually give a game I thought had some potential another spin if it gets to Switch.
House Flipper is described as a simulation or “sim” game. What I take from that is it’s looking more for realism than the silly hijinks of games with similar task oriented goals that aren’t sims, like Overcooked or even something like VR The Diner Duo. And that’s okay. In fact, a lot of what I wanted was the opportunity to really dig in and take my time making a house exactly the way I want it before I put it on the market and make bank. The problem is the tedium.
To be fair, there are lots of games I enjoy that involve a fair amount of repetition. One of the games I haven’t been able to put down since release, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, is actually mostly a list of to-dos. Sometimes, repetition is okay and even addictive, where other times it’s a grind. I guess it boils down to style, mechanics and rewards. When repetition isn’t rewarded properly and feels like a slog it becomes tedious, and tedium is never fun.
Where I think House Flipper falls flat is all three of those things. As far as style goes, House Flipper just isn’t particularly pretty to look at. It’s somewhere in the uncanny valley with its art style–some things look weirdly realistic, like a paint roller swelling with paint, while others, like the background textures and even the main attraction, the houses, feel more like a low poly PlayStation 1 aesthetic. I was hoping a little more time would improve this, but by and large, the game looks the same now on Switch as it did on PC two years ago. It doesn’t run that great on the Switch either, unfortunately.
House Flipper’s controls and basic mechanics were clumsy and imprecise on PC, so I hoped they’d incorporate motion controls or fix it with the Switch. To begin with, I found that in either version, the basic “look” and “use” controls were unwieldy to the point I often felt drunk. On Switch, I adjusted my controller’s sensitivity to some relief, but was not able to invert my vertical axis despite having selected that option.
That’s the tip of the iceberg though. House Flipper’s tool wheel is maddening. Frequently, it’ll yo-yo right over your selection. Other times, you’ll select a tool only to have it completely not work. There are other ways to do the same thing, but I also found in my playthrough that sometimes these button presses didn’t work even when directly prompted.
House Flipper allows for a certain amount of autonomy, but lacks balance in it. You start out with few talents, a meager sum of money, and an office that is also your home (?) but could very easily be called a hovel. Your laptop will guide you to the first few jobs you can take on, which, at least at the outset are menial labor, like cleaning up disgusting party houses, installing radiators, or painting walls. When you arrive on the scene, you’ll also find that a list pops up in each room detailing what needs to be done in it and what percentage of the task you’ve completed, though there’s no way to expand it to read, for example, the name of the type of chair the client requested be put there.
This would be fine, if your “handy” tablet was actually handy. You’re given the tablet to use on site for accessing the store, using the perk system, and gaining information about the buyers. I’m not sure what kind of tablet they’re using in this game, but it lacks basic abilities like being able to access your email (which sometimes has vital instructions, like what type of chair they want) or the real estate listings, something you’ll need to return to the office (after an achingly long loading screen) to do.
There’s a progression system in place that’ll allow you to learn more skills as you take on more jobs, so you’ll find yourself able to plaster, tile, paint, clean, sell/remove items, demolish and build walls. The individual skills you acquire have their own progression through the perks system. At first, it’ll take you a long while to paint one strip of wall, and you’ll need to buy a substantial amount of paint. Eventually though, you’ll be able to choose to paint faster, use less paint or paint more walls at once–or build a hybrid of all those things.It’s not a bad system, but the pace you earn them at is too slow, and some of the upgrades are poorly explained, such that you can have the ability to paint more than one wall at once for a long time without any sort of tool tip or in game indication of just how you pull that off.
These tasks start out nigh unbearable in some cases, and even with improvements, often feel a little too difficult for their own good. No matter how big a screen, for example, it’s hard to find cobwebs or that last 4% of dirt in a room. Sometimes the walls meant for demo are confusingly marked on the mini map, and even worse, sometimes when you’re slinging the sledgehammer, you’ll hit a wall not marked for demo, and be forced to tear the damn thing down, and the controls are so sloppy that you may even involve another wall in your demolition mayhem.
If you’re a little detail-oriented, like me, you might also suffer from what I call the over rotation time suck. House Flipper lets you pick up and rotate objects, but features no real way to center them or “snap” them against a wall. This means things like putting down a toilet can be immensely irritating, since you’ll have to fiddle with floaty rotation controls until your tank aligns with your wall and you stop getting the “will not fit” message. For other matters like placing rugs in your office? You may have to chalk it up to trying to start a new crooked rug craze.
One aspect of flipping I really did enjoy though is the installation of various appliances. Interestingly, the installation process in the game takes from real life, and you’ll complete it with a fun little quicktime event sequence. Barring the time I got stuck in the shower I was building, this is fun and a little bit educational.
You can purchase houses to flip pretty early on, if you have the money, but the cheaper the house, the more problems it will have. As well, some of those problems may be beyond the scope of what you’ve learned. I took a slower route to buying my first property, gaining a decent amount of money and skills and buying what I thought was a middle of the road house. Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet picked up the skills to do flooring tiles, and I also couldn’t paint over where I’d plastered. Not a good look to buyers.
House Flipper incorporates an interesting social aspect to the game, emphasizing the client/flipper relationship, with a high priority on pleasing your client. This doesn’t matter much for the jobs you take in their houses, but when it comes to a flip, it makes every action you take open to comment and judgement from the peanut gallery, who in this case are the buyers you’re supposed to be pandering to. This is especially annoying when you first come into the project, demoing, cleaning and uninstalling old beat up appliances. Unless you like constant commentary from four talking heads about how you missed a spot cleaning that window or hearing the cries of anger about your house with no toilet. This will happen with every move you make, until you’re ready to put the house on the market, turning a mechanic that could add depth and a whole new facet to the game into one of its most irritating features.
Did I manage to scratch my house flipping itch? A little, I suppose. Flipping my office to give my clients a good first impression was fun. There are now a substantial amount of options for things to put in the house–though there could still be more. Bringing a trashed property back to vitality is satisfying, even if the journey between points is painful. House Flipper isn’t all bad, but that’s what makes me like it even less.
In fact my conclusion for this Switch edition is the same as for the game when it first came out on PC: It could’ve been so much better. House Flipper takes a great concept and squanders it. There are plenty of games–addictive ones–that are full of tedious tasks that are similar or the same as what you’ll do in House Flipper, yet poor controls, a lack of guidance and some real unaddressed pain points for players make it hard to slog through. I know I could enjoy a game just like this, IF. If there were better tooltips. If I didn’t have to spend fifteen minutes looking for that last cobweb. If it didn’t feel like I was a drunk throwing chairs at walls and hoping they land straight. If I could use my state of the art tablet to get emails that would save me the trouble of a long loading screen and the walk to my office to tell me Linda wants a Malm chair and not a Mallory. House Flipper could look nicer, load faster, have more options and ultimately be a game I’d be obsessed with. If only.
House Flippers is available on Steam, Playstation 4, XBox One, and Nintendo Switch, starting today.
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