World Flipper is a fascinating mobile game that mixes gacha with pinball and JRPG-style combat. While I was excited to play a new gacha game in a new gameplay format, it doesn’t entirely succeed as one.
In this game, you defeat enemies by hitting them with pinballs, and those pinballs are various anime characters that you pull from a gacha summoning system. But World Flipper also tries very hard to be a JRPG. Each of your pinball characters has a health bar, and the overworld is beautifully rendered as pixel art. It’s an ambitious game from Cygames, the studio behind the popular gacha game Dragalia Lost. Originally released for Japan in 2019, the English version only launched last week. Since the game was successful enough to merit an English localization, I had high expectations.
Although World Flipper is a decent pinball game for casual players, it doesn’t capture the appeal of gacha games. Inherent design constraints in its unusual genre mashup prevent it from capturing the best aspects of any of those genres.
The game immediately reminded me of Dragalia Lost. World Flipper’s art style draws on the same colorful and upbeat character designs, and the similar layout meant that I didn’t have any problems navigating the menu. Also like its predecessor, each character can be customized with weapons and a supporting character. However, World Flipper significantly cuts back the amount of crafting that’s necessary to build out a character. This is a welcome change, since the grindiness of Dragalia Lost’s crafting system made me reluctant to play the game at higher levels. I just wish that World Flipper had left confusing upgrade trees behind. It’s even harder to feel the miniscule stat increases in a pinball game, which reduced the amount of satisfaction I felt whenever I invested some points into my character’s skills.
With the exception of Genshin Impact, most gacha games tell stories in visual novel format. As someone who often skipped the character stories in Dragalia Lost, I was surprised at how much better they were in World Flipper. The writing is similarly straightforward, but the stories feel more energetic with the inclusion of animated pixel scenes. This makes World Flipper feel like an older JRPG even outside of combat.
Because World Flipper is a party-based game in which three characters move together in a single file line, it’s a lot easier than in actual pinball to keep your balls from falling past the flippers. When they do, they only lose a little bit of health, so it’s also impossible to lose your characters. These design decisions make it unusually forgiving for a pinball game.
Unfortunately, World Flipper fails to measure up as a gacha game. The success of the genre relies on player investment in the character visuals, their personalities, and their backstory. Even when gacha games have small sprites, they’re designed to be instantly recognizable during gameplay. While World Flipper’s character designs are cute and the voice acting is exemplary, their appeal is minimized if I don’t see the full character art onscreen. And because this is a pinball game, the sprites move across the screen too quickly for me to associate them with the specific characters that I selected in the lineup.
If you’ve spent money to pull rare characters, or if you’ve been saving up the free currency like I have, it’s pretty disappointing that their presence in the game feels so minimal. The only times I can see the beautiful character art is when their special ability bar fills up, but skill points refill so slowly that I’ve only been able to use them once per match. So unlike most gacha games where I feel a personal connection to the characters who have carried me through difficult battles, my pinballs feel like strangers to me.
World Flipper is a cute pinball app, but the marriage of pinball, JRPG, and gacha is an awkward one that prevents it from truly shining as a gacha game.