The most clever twist of FlipShip didn't reveal itself to me until, about a half-dozen rounds into this top-down shooter, I finished a game with a score of exactly zero. Then I realised that this game wasn't predicated on twitch skills but knowing, in an arcade sense, when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. Or, in this case, when to flip 'em.
In ByteSize Games' FlipShip (all iOS devices, $0.99), your job is to repel waves of enemy spacecraft posing the same existential threat that they have for more than 30 years. The switch here, also seen before in other video games, is that your ship (which fires automatically) can only engage and destroy enemies that are the same colour as it. You steer with the device's accelerometer. Touching the screen "flips" the ship between two colours.
Where FlipShip provokes you and lays down its handsome replay value is in its scoring mechanic. The longer you go gunning down enemies of a single colour, the higher a bonus you'll rack up. But you don't collect that score until you flip the ship — which of course resets that bonus counter.
So it becomes a game of chicken, in both FlipShip's arena space and also within your own head. You've hit a huge number on your multiplier and a large wave has just spawned, with a cluster of five ships the same colour as you. Do you risk gunning them down and slamming into an enemy of a different colour, or do you bank the big money you've already made?
There is some twitch involved to flipping the ship and I was glad to see both how responsive flipping was, and the fact it's an unlimited option. With five levels of difficulty (from "Very Easy" to "Insane") you should be able to find a suitable challenge that allows you to play for a long amount of time or provides a quick high-score chase. Limiting ship flips would have been a heavy-handed way to enforce difficulty and I'm glad ByteSize stayed away from that.
There are power-ups and ship-specific traits (you can choose from one of three spacecraft). But as much of the activity is focused on color-management and evasive action, I didn't really try to strategise with them. I was content to take whatever they gave me as a bonus effect while scooting around the space arena, committing my red-on-red or blue-on-blue violence.
FlipShip's only drawback involves something entirely personal: My colour blindness. I'm not pretending I have a disability. But the vector graphics style, as appealing as it is, mutes the contrast between red and green in the second ship option, making for a lot of inadvertent collisions and deaths. The other two ships are blue and red (I think) but, either way, different enough that it's playable and enjoyable. I'm including this only as a note to other colorblind gamers, particularly red-green (although my eyes are, truly, effed up.)
In all other phases, FlipShip excels, and is an example of tight games design that meaningfully employs all of its platform's unique capabilities, while delivering an appealing, arcade-throwback style. Readers know that I've spent more than a few weeks lately grumbling and grouching about derivative iOS titles. I really should have been playing FlipShip instead. So should you.
FlipShip [iTunes App Store]