Most console and PC-based pinball games really attempt to stay close to the real thing. And, for the most part, they've gotten pretty close. Flipnic might be a pinball game, but it's definitely no simulator. The twists and turns that the ball takes as it moves from playfield to playfield are larger in scope than anything a "real" pinball machine could do. This makes for an interesting, stylish take on pinball wizardry that's just fine, considering its budget price. However, the designs of the different stages are a little lacking.
The main goal in Flipnic is to complete missions on each of the different tables, which is not unlike most real pinball machines, though calling these large, multitiered areas "tables" probably isn't the best way to describe them. While each area basically looks like a simple pinball table, each area is connected to other areas, which combine to form a large level. There are a decent number of things to do in the levels, and each level has its own unique visual design. Biology, for example, has an outdoorsy feel, with butterflies, trees, and waterfalls. Optics has a laserlike look that lights up in interesting ways as the ball moves around. With each table having its own style and unique challenges (Metallurgy asks you to bash your ball into a whole lot of crab babies), there's a fair amount to see. However, the individual challenges and areas are pretty basic. So while there may be a decent number of challenges, none of them are all that entertaining on their own. The areas of the table are simple, with only a few bumpers and ramps, most of which just jet you off to another, equally basic portion of the level. Once you've gotten the hang of ball control and have learned the lay of the land, Flipnic gets slightly tedious.
Although you'll be shooting at stuff that doesn't always look like it belongs on a pinball table, the control in Flipnic will be instantly familiar. With the exception of the throwback retro table, which asks you to play with the analog stick to move Breakout-like paddles, each level gives you flippers to control and the basic ability to nudge the ball around. Nudging too often will cause a tilt, costing you your current ball. But really, nudging isn't all that useful, anyway, so it's pretty much just you and your flippers. There aren't very many difficult shots in the game, as most of the ramps are usually wide enough to nail with regularity.
It's Flipnic's look that sets it apart. Beyond each table having its own unique visual style, the game just looks great. The balls are shiny and smooth, and generally, the game has a sharp look. Also, each mode, mission, or other point of interest is punctuated by a brief overlay of video that sets up the mode and lets you know you've done something wonderful. In the retro level, all of the video is done up to look like an old 8-bit game, and it's usually accompanied by Commodore 64-quality instrumentation. This is a cool effect that really sets the level apart from the rest. There's a lot to like about the way Flipnic looks, and this is probably its strongest point.
Musically, the game isn't quite as strong. While it's really cool that the "old" level has appropriately grating 8-bit music, it does get on your nerves. Each table has its own unique set of themes and fanfares, and most of these are pretty good. The sound effects are pretty standard, with plenty of decent pinball noises and things like explosions, since your ball will be rocketing into crab babies and UFOs to blow them up.
In addition to playing through and unlocking all of the levels, you'll also play a handful of the two-player modes that are included. These are simple, competitive minigames that take the pinball concept and apply it to Pong, basketball, foosball, and so on. These minigames are generally well made, and they add another layer to the overall product.
Flipnic retails for $19.99. While it may have its shortcomings, the game's budget price is definitely right. If you're interested in a cool-looking game that takes some good, interesting liberties with the standard pinball format, Flipnic's definitely worth a look. But it can't coast on its style points forever, and once you're past its pretty outer layer, you'll probably find that the game is a little too stripped-down for your tastes.