House Flipper Review – Switch

Empyrean’s House Flipper is pretty much what you’d expect from its title: a simulator in which you play the part of a handyman/home renovator, cleaning up and remodeling homes for various clients or flipping homes for profit. If that sounds potentially like your jam, there’s a chance you’d find this game entertaining. If not, though, I’ll be blunt and save you some time: this is not the kind of game that’ll change your mind about a genre you didn’t think you’d like.

The game starts you off with minimal introduction or instruction in a grungy little starting office (which is probably also your home, given the nasty unmade bed right inside the front door, as well as a rather unprofessional poster that, while thankfully not X-rated, would quickly earn someone a sexual harassment complaint at my real-life workplace). I was a bit surprised to start off with a pretty generous chunk of money that could be used immediately on fixing up the gross office if I’d wanted, but as can be expected, it wasn’t enough dough to actually flip a house. Conveniently, there’s a laptop that you use to check for client emails and accept odd jobs to earn the cash you need. Besides earning you some money, these jobs also serve as the game’s tutorial by easing you into various tools and skills, such as painting walls, buying and placing furniture, and demolishing and building walls.

There isn’t much of an actual tutorial to the game, but the basic interface is fairly familiar and easy to pick up, especially if you’ve played other first-person-perspective games. The left analog stick moves your guy around in first person, right analog stick moves the camera, and there are typically on-screen prompts for the other controls. The top trigger buttons are used for most of the other tasks (such as tool selection and interacting with objects), the minus button is used to access your tablet (which allows you to purchase supplies and furniture, as well as to upgrade your skills), and the plus button accesses a general menu for things like game settings or quitting to the main menu. I’m not sure if the game can be manually saved, but it seemed to auto-save or ask if I wanted to save if I was returning to the office before completing a job.

Generally, the controls are pretty straightforward, reasonably serviceable, and probably simple enough even for someone who doesn’t usually play games to figure out. For example, my still-illiterate preschooler (who plays some videogames but isn’t coordinated or focused enough to play more involved games yet) was able to play much of this game without too much difficulty and with minimal help from me. One of the game’s strengths is that it seems accessible to people of varying skill levels and familiarity with games.

The issue with House Flipper, though, is that it’s probably only truly enjoyable for a very specific niche audience. Even if you enjoy the intersection of HGTV and games (e.g., games, such as The Sims or Animal Crossing, which significantly involve interior design, renovation, and/or other relatively mundane tasks), House Flipper may not hold your interest long unless you appreciate the meditative nature of repetitive simple tasks and don’t mind relatively simplistic gameplay or lower budget graphics. For all the promising marketing copy touting repair mechanics, interior design, and budget management, House Flipper sadly ends up falling short.

Don’t get me wrong – I think House Flipper’s premise has a great deal of potential. I’ve spent enough hours in The Sims franchise on simulated home improvement tasks and budgeting for these projects that I’m sure I could thoroughly enjoy a simulation that focuses on those aspects of The Sims, even without the human simulation part. It’s just too bad that House Flipper mostly focuses on the drudgery involved in actually cleaning up and renovating a home, rather than the fantasy aspects that I suspect many gamers enjoy more.

For instance, you might accept a job to clean up someone’s garage or paint a person’s bedroom. After reading an email sometimes rife with typos and questionable grammar (whether as a touch of realism or lapse in editing, I can’t be entirely sure), you can accept the job and be conveniently teleported to the job site. A list of tasks will appear in the right side of the screen, and this updates as you walk from room to room to reflect what needs to be done in the room you’re currently in – also appreciated. That’s also about where the smooth sailing ends and where tedium kicks in, though.

There’s usually at least some kind of cleaning to be done, whether it’s a job for a client or house you’re flipping. To House Flipper’s credit, the trashed houses are actually kind of hilariously disgusting. We’re talking piles of beer bottles, floors carpeted in broken glass (which you can choose in the settings to instead display as a mass of moving cockroaches if you want to up the grossness), and mysterious splatters that prompted my preschooler to declare to me that someone must have had the stomach flu. It’s probably a good thing that House Flipper’s graphics aren’t realistic or detailed enough to be truly stomach-turning.

To clean, you target pieces of trash with the camera and tap a right trigger button to dispose of each individual piece separately. Holding a left trigger button allows you to select the mop tool, and holding a right trigger button while the camera is pointed at a stain or cobweb cleans it away after a few seconds. To clean windows, you play a simple squeegee mini game in which you hold down a button and manually maneuver your squeegee around the dirty window until you scrape away all the filth – and you have to repeat this for each individual window. In short, none of the tasks are hard, but they’re time-consuming and, at least to me, unfortunately pretty dull.

Tasks involving walls, like painting, tiling, and plastering are similarly monotonous affairs. To paint, you’ll have to first use your tablet to buy a can of paint in the desired color, manually set down the paint can somewhere in the room, switch to your paint roller tool, dip the paint roller into the paint, then paint the wall one roller width at a time. After a few swipes (holding down a right trigger button for a couple seconds while the strip of wall you want to paint is selected), your roller will be out of paint, so you’ll have to look around, find where you set down that paint can, reload the roller (holding a trigger button while targeting the can), then turn back to the unfinished paint job and resume painting that wall, one narrow strip at a time. Tiling is much the same, except you buy stacks of tiles instead of paint, and you use a sheet of tile per narrow strip of wall. Plastering over holes in walls is a similar process except with a tub of plaster, and thankfully, you can fill an entire hole at once, even if it’s large.

With building and demolishing walls, though, you’re back to doing things in those narrow columns, and while I appreciate that using a smaller unit allows for more granular customization, it didn’t make up for the monotony of repetition for me, especially since House Flipper’s design and construction options are far too limited to inspire much creativity. At least crushing walls with a hammer is mildly satisfying, though I found it a bit weird that all of House Flipper’s homes seem to have interior walls built of bricks rather than, say, wood and drywall like I’m used to. Then again, I’m not a contractor, so for all I know, maybe houses are sometimes completely built of bricks.

Repairing and assembling installations like showers and radiators is a little better at least. The mini game for these mechanical activities isn’t anything to write home about, and the steps it portrays may not be entirely true to life, but it’s at least slightly more engaging. The screen displays a controller button to press for the current step (such as tightening screws or connecting pipe), and you simply hold that button to advance the current assembly animation until you’re instructed to press another button, a little like a slow-mo version of those button-sequence mini games popular in many other genres. The sequence of buttons for each type of installation is preset, though, so it can get a little stale if you have to install five radiators in one home. Still, out of all the renovation tasks, I probably found assembling and repairing the least mindless, maybe because I found it at least mildly enjoyable to watch the animations of the installation process.

If these menial tasks start to get a little old for you, one somewhat positive feature is that as you do tasks, the game rewards you with upgrade points that you can spend on various skill upgrades, such as working faster, using less paint or tile, earning more money on jobs, or upgrading your window squeegee so that it cleans properly instead of skipping all over the place. The upgrades aren’t terribly realistic (as far as I know, painting more has not reduced the amount of paint I’d need to coat a wall), but at least they slightly dial back the game’s overall annoyance factor. A less annoying slog is still a slog, however, and the upgrades system isn’t able to make up for that.

That brings me to probably my main beef with this game: it isn’t realistic enough of a simulator to engage me the way real-life manual labor does, or to teach real-life renovation skills, yet it also isn’t nearly unrealistic enough that I could fantasize about amazing homes I wish I could design. Instead, House Flipper ends up frequently feeling like arbitrarily imposed drudgery. I hypothesized at first that maybe the game tasks were purposely monotonous in order to more realistically simulate real-world renovation tasks, but House Flipper isn’t remotely consistent about the level of realism it adopts. For instance, though you have to keep reloading the paint roller every few seconds in order to paint a wall one thin strip at a time, you’re somehow generally able to reload the roller as long as you can target the paint can with the camera, even if you’re standing all the way across the room from the paint. Similarly, you can paint or tile strips of wall far too distant to realistically reach in life, yet sometimes the game tells you to set up scaffolding to reach higher areas that don’t seem like they should be unreachable given the extreme range of other actions. As a result, House Flipper neither satisfyingly simulates real-life activities, nor allows players to indulge in the fantasy of home renovation without real-life annoyances, and the inconsistent application of real-world logic or expectations can be jarring and frustrating.

It’s also possible some of my frustrations are from actual bugs, though it’s hard to tell with this game. For instance, I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t able to paint over plaster patches. I tried using a paint-loaded paint roller on a plaster-filled hole, but absolutely nothing happened, and without explanation, the patch remained stubbornly white after painting. By far, though, the most frustrating bug (or possibly poor design choice) was that at some point, I noticed that the task list – which, for at least the first several jobs, helped inform me of what was left to be done in order to complete a job – mysteriously stopped appearing. This was pretty devastating because despite the client email you read prior to accepting a job, it’s often not at all obvious what you actually need to do to finish a job. For instance, the client might want a certain number of wall units painted a very specific paint color or a specific piece of furniture that isn’t stated in the email, and without that task list, you’re just shooting in the dark trying to figure out what the client wants. As far as I could tell, there’s no quest log to consult, and you can’t call up the client and ask them questions as you might on a real job. At times, there would be a leftover, nearly transparent stain that the game wanted me to clean up that I couldn’t see, and I’d have no practical way of knowing why I couldn’t complete the job without that task list. I couldn’t tell if the task list disappearing was the game taking off the training wheels, so to speak, or if this was a bug; but without that list of objectives, House Flipper quickly deteriorates from monotonous to exasperating. If I wasn’t writing this review, I sure wouldn’t want to spend my precious free time methodically walking around a virtual house, wildly swinging a pretend mop at every available clean-looking surface, just in case a practically invisible stain was preventing me from finishing a job. That’s not fun or relaxing – it just feels like a waste of time.

Luckily, it doesn’t take many of these odd jobs to pocket enough cash to buy your first shack to renovate and flip, and once you start flipping houses, you can make all the money you need from doing that instead of taking on smaller jobs with their picky objectives. House flipping projects are thankfully mostly freeform, though you’re probably going to want to consider the potential buyers’ wants in your design choices if you’re after the highest bid. You can access potential buyers’ profiles on your tablet, and their preferences range from reasonable to bizarre. (I might still be laughing about that one guy who for some reason has something against kitchens.) As you’re working on a house, prospective buyers will periodically make comments on your actions, so you can somewhat gauge how much they like what they’re seeing and what changes might improve their opinion before you put the house up for auction.

Strange preferences aside, though, the game sometimes just doesn’t make a lot of sense. For instance, the first house I flipped had one bedroom (in which I put a bed so the game would recognize the room as a bedroom), and I placed a couch in the living area. Weirdly, though, the presence of a couch caused some of the bidders to complain that the house had two bedrooms when they only wanted one. Maybe it’s fortunate that the game is also unrealistically lax in other ways. For instance, people who aren’t particularly happy with your house still tend to bid, if not as high; and as far as I can tell, no one particularly cares about your actual interior decorating choices, other than whether you included certain categories of items (such as some kind of bed or some kind of storage unit) or, for some clients, how much items cost. That’s just as well, since the lackluster selection of furniture doesn’t particularly inspire. Overall, the game isn’t deep or satisfying as a design simulator, but it does make it easy to quickly rack up a large sum of money. By your fourth house or maybe even earlier, you’ll probably be so loaded that you can buy whichever house you like in the game.

If you’re anything like me, though, you’ll have lost interest long before that happens. I’m certainly not knocking that niche audience that may derive great enjoyment out of House Flipper. I’m sure it exists, especially seeing as how the PC version has sold well on Steam with generally very positive reviews. If that’s you, the Nintendo Switch version will probably also be an enjoyable experience, as the game generally runs smoothly on the Switch, and the controls are reasonably serviceable. As for me, though, despite being one of those weirdos who actually enjoys cleaning and fixing stuff in real life, as a grown adult who cleans on a daily basis and does real home repairs now and then, spending my off hours on a much less satisfying virtual version of these chores is just not my cup of tea.

As a side note, for the benefit of those of you who might care about such things, I also found House Flipper in poor taste at times, with stereotyped characters including what appear to be a nerdy Asian student and a flamboyantly gay man, not to mention the unprofessional reclining woman poster in your starting office.

House Flipper goes for $24.99 at the Nintendo Store at the time of this writing, and if you happen to fit into that subset of gamers that finds repetitive home maintenance tasks and simplistic gameplay meditative or otherwise enjoyable, House Flipper could be fun for you for many hours and may be worth a try. Otherwise, though, if you’re more into the fantasy aspect of designing or decorating homes, I’d probably pass on this one.

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