Game Review: House Flipper

Sledgehammer time!

Written by ritabuuk and dubiousdisc
Posted on September 8th 2022
Houseflipper

House Flipper is a game about buying houses to renovate them and sell for profit. It plays kinda like Build Mode in The Sims, except that you play the game in first person. You walk into the house, whip out the paint roller, and get painting. Or whip out the sledgehammer and knock out a wall bit by bit.

We love the building and decorating aspect in The Sims, so we thought to give it a try. When we checked the Wikipedia page about this game for more information, we saw this:

House Flipper received "mixed or average reviews" according to review aggregator Metacritic, with multiple reviewers commenting that fixing up the homes is satisfying while questioning its long-term playability. [...] PC Gamer was critical, stating that "There's a definite satisfaction in taking a gross room and making it look nice, and it's pretty cool that you can knock down (and rebuild) walls, but I just don't find the act of slowly and mechanically painting and cleaning much fun, especially with the knowledge that my actual house could do with a bit of that." It became a bestseller on Steam.

(Wikipedia Article for House Flipper)

Reviewers were critical... It became a bestseller on Steam. Now, who do you trust? :D

On the topic of: why play this game when you could take care of your own house... Well, there's a game for all phases of life. If you're neck deep in your own house renovation, we can see that this is not the game to play right now. But if you're like us... we rent, but we've already fixed our apartment maximally. We only have two rooms and a bathroom, and we can't possibly get all of our desire to do interior design out of our system in only two rooms. We've made our kitchen yellow... we can't also have a pink kitchen without giving up our yellow kitchen, and we're not ready to switch it yet. We also have to work within the limitations of the cabinets being in a certain (bad) configuration and the walls being a certain (plain) color, and we can't just go with a sledgehammer and change the layout.

Sledgehammer

But in this game, you can! And you can do it in many different houses!

And it really is so satisfying. Especially if you're starting with a horrible grungy house, and you clean it all up, and apply the fresh coat of paint. Never have we sighed with satisfaction more when playing a video game.

The game does offer goals to meet within each scenario, but the overarching approach of what you're doing is up to you. You could strive to fix a house with minimal changes, reusing the pre-existing furniture and not altering the layout. You could play to see what is the minimal amount of money you can put into the house to try to maximize the profits with minimal effort. Or you could just completely gut the house and redo everything, even the plumbing, and then sell your completely renovated house. Or decide that you live there now, and keep it as your "office". You can decide yourself.

We had a lot of fun with this game and we wanted to share some of our thoughts and experience, and some lovely screenshots of our renovated houses. :D

Contractor mode

Although the name of the game is House Flipper, flipping houses is just one game mode. There is also an entire mode where you play as an independent contractor. You receive emails from your clients explaining what they want, and they hire you to do odd jobs around their houses.

We did this part first, because we mistook it for a tutorial. We weren't completely wrong, because these odd jobs do introduce the various game mechanics gradually - we didn't want to just be plunged into a complete renovation job. But there's no requirement to do all of these first. This game is non-linear like that.

The red wall has been half-painted yellow with visible streaks
Yep, our work here is done.

During these jobs, we will be given a checklist of what we're supposed to do. But, like a real contractor, you can just leave when the job is not even fully done. In some ways, this is a good gameplay mechanic, because sometimes the interface says the room is 99% clean, and for the life of us we cannot find the last bit of filth that needs to be cleaned. But it also means that you can just paint some of the wall, and then just leave, and still expect to be paid. Realism!

The vindictive ex

The Vindictive Ex stole the radiator and did plenty more...
What a charming individual.

The stories behind these contractor jobs are fun and interesting. In the very first email we receive, we're asked to help someone with a vindictive ex. While she was out of town, he broke in and stole the radiator, so we need to repair the damage and replace it. We arrive to the house, and find out that he apparently also shat on the couch and her bed. We take it upon ourselves to clean everything nicely and resquare all the furniture to make it as perfectly nice again for her when she comes home, maybe even better than it was before she left.

When you install things like the replacement radiator, you don't just buy them and pop them on the wall - you have to install them! You have to drill the holes and screw the screws and twist the pipes and attach the wires. This assembly mechanic requires no thought or knowledge of what you're supposed to do - you just click around as the game instructs you - but watching these animations happen is extremely head pleasant. Put the wire in, screw the screw. Aah, nice.

This mechanic also kinda makes House Flipper a sleeper educational game. We didn't know how a bathtub was assembled before playing this game, and now we know. :)

The fratboy house

Trashed room

Continuing with the odd jobs, there's one where an older man regularly rents his house to college students. It turns out this year's bunch were the worst fratboys and they trashed the place. He says when he saw the condition they'd left it in, he nearly had a heart attack. We thought he was being a bit dramatic... but when we went there, we also nearly had a heart attack too. The fratboys covered every surface in hundreds of beer cans and liquor bottles. They painted the walls black and hung posters of a smoking rockstar. They had the complete collection of used pizza boxes. They broke the radiators, for some reason, and left the pipes leaking onto the floor. And as a final gift, they scrawled obscenities all over the walls too.

As we turn a corner, the game pops up a warning that there will be cockroaches ahead, and, if we have a fear of bugs, there's a setting in the options to replace cockroaches with shards of glass. We thought, well, we wouldn't say we're particularly scared of cockroaches, so we don't need that option, but that's really nice of the developers to make the game accessible to even those with phobias.

And then we saw the mass of swarming cockroaches and went NOPE NOPE NOOOOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE and turned on the option for broken glass as they said.

  1. The game

    We warned you about the cockroaches!

  2. Us

    You were right, you did ;_;

Trashed kitchen
Don't worry, this screenshot is using the "broken glass" setting.

Broken glass is a fair replacement for the cockroaches. In fact, since the cockroach / broken glass problem is solved by vacuuming it up, maybe it is more realistic for this to work on broken glass. Once you vacuum up every last bit of glass, the problem is solved, there is no more glass. We've heard of perhaps catching a lone cockroach with a vacuum cleaner, but this case has progressed very far beyond a lone cockroach. Even if you vacuumed that entire swarm over the kitchen floor, surely there is a nest somewhere else and that needs to be dealt with by a professional. A different professional. Not us. Bye.

Unless the point is that you merely cosmetically make it so that the cockroaches are not visible until the job is done or the house is sold, and then it is someone else's problem later. Or maybe we can imagine that we recommended to the guy that owns the house that he better also call an exterminator.

We wanted to make everything right for him. Poor old man. We even did some bonus work that wasn't part of the contract, but we did it anyway. This poor guy deserves a fixed house.

The cousin house

Someone calls us to repaint her cousin's house while her cousin is away. Let's make this clear: this person moved into their cousin's house, the house which belongs to their cousin, and they think their cousin's interior decorating sense is bullshit, so while the cousin, who owns the house, is out, we are called to repaint the house which belongs to the cousin.

This can't be legal. We shouldn't take this job. Maybe if we had been called to paint a house and we didn't know it didn't belong to the person who asked us, we could claim that it's not our fault, but we know, this was all in writing in an email, and in real life, we'd be fully culpable if the cousin returns and decides to sue us.

Green bedroom
Why do you hate joy. :(

But this is a game, and we do it anyway. The house, to be fair, was... outrageous, but dude, it's not your house, it's none of your business. And our client picked out some of the drabbest colors for us to repaint it. There was an adorable green bedroom that we had to repaint in... like, apathy beige. It hurt. But we got paid. And we didn't get sued.

It didn't happen, but we were hoping that later there would be a job in which the cousin would come back and hire us to repaint everything in ever more outrageous colors. Maybe in their cousin's house. Revenge painting!

The Christmas party house

We are contacted by a teenager who has been housesitting for the first time in her life... a whole month without her parents! The month is about to run out, mom is going to come back for Christmas, and all the teenager has been doing this month is partying nonstop, and she figured out that, given the amount of damage from the parties, she needs a professional hand to make the house presentable before mom comes back. And not even only presentable: deck it out for Christmas so that mom doesn't even think about what happened. She says that mom has an "idyllic" image of Christmas, and that she expects all the halls to be decked and lit up and festive.

Trashed living room with pizza boxes
How does this even happen?

In the house, we find no less than 12 cartons of pizza. Some on the bed, even. We find red stains in the kitchen - possibly someone had fun with ketchup. Beer cans everywhere. The bed is stained. Oh dear.

This game has a day and night cycle, and we arrived to the house in the dark of the night and it's snowing. We imagine mommy would be coming in the morning. We have like six hours to fix this disaster!

We do manage to clean everything up, and we even set up the Christmas tree with fake present boxes which we pick ourselves, and poinsettias at every corner...

But what will happen once mom comes back? At first, she'll be like, how wonderful, my daughter, you decorated everything so nicely! But what is this $1000 bill on the credit card? Well... uh... I had the Christmas tree professionally installed, so that it would be better. And gave them a $900 tip. It's the holidays! We must be giving...

The mother-in-law bunker

This jerkass. His wife is bringing her elderly mother to live with them, and this asshole husband wants to set up his mother-in-law's apartment inside the house's underground nuclear fallout bunker, to make sure she doesn't feel welcome and leaves. Or dies.

Horrible bunker
We also see that this stellar individual has a gun in the shelter. Wow. He's that kind of person.

When we arrive, first we have to find this bunker. It turns out one entrance is in the middle of the lawn, with a hatch which opens to a ladder. He's expecting the elderly mother-in-law to do this maneuver and climb down the ladder to go to sleep. Inside, all the bunker has is some shelves, with food from the 80s all over the floor, and cockroaches all over the food from the 80s. We vacuum the cockroaches, we put the food back on the shelves. God.

But we set up the bedroom for the mother-in-law at our own loss, making the bunker as pretty as we possibly can. We hope she goes in there, finds the gun, and chases the husband away, and then she can go upstairs and live with her daughter.

The laser tag bunker

House Flipper is developed by a game studio based in Poland. In Poland, there are all sorts of abandoned bunkers left around from World War II and the Cold War. Some have been made into what we hear are really thorough museums, but others are just left abandoned in the woods.

The story of this job is that our clients found one of these abandoned bunkers and want to turn it into a laser tag facility. We gotta say, that would be so cool. We can even reuse some of these barrels as props for the laser tag.

But first we have to clear out all the... piles of... mysterious dangerous waste...

We even set up the briefing room with all the chairs and the televisions on the wall. There's also what we presume to be the staff room where they can rest and also keep tabs on what's happening in the match.

Flamethrower
Also, we have been living too long in California to think burning anything is a good idea.

We've been waiting for awhile now for what will be the last tool we will unlock. Turns out, it's a flamethrower. We can use the flamethrower to burn the trash heap or to burn the grass. It was amusing that they gave us a flamethrower for dealing with all of our trash houses... but, ultimately, the flamethrower is kinda more of a joke than something that you really ever need to use. Later on, we got the Garden DLC. It seems this contractor job has been reworked to use the gardening tools instead of the flamethrower now. Good. You cut the grass with a weed whacker, not a flamethrower.

The kindergarten

A lady hired us to transform a former office building into a new charming kindergarten, full of all wonderful colors. We suspect by the type of mess left behind that the office building was formerly a bro-office of some failed start-up. There are coffee cups and pizza boxes everywhere, and disgusting bean bag chairs, and every room has army green or navy blue walls and just, blech. We are so pumped to paint every room bright red and vibrant peach and neon green.

It is one of our biggest projects to date, and we even have to put in the little blocky chairs and here is where they are going to change their shoes, and we even mount all the hooks where they will hang up their little jackets at toddler height and just, dawww... we feel like we are making the world a better place as we do this.

Flipping mode

So, after doing all the contractor jobs, we finally got to the main mode of this game, which is buying, renovating, and flipping houses!

There are the in-game online listings of the houses for sale. You will choose one to buy.

There is a certain number of potential buyers, each with a certain set of needs and tastes in the kind of house they would want to buy. Like some sort of hellish reality-esque television show from the Home and Garden Network, these people watch us as we work and make little comments about everything. From their comments, we can infer who is liking this house best, and who will bid the most on it. (Or they can just be annoying, and say "You missed a spot!" while we've only just started cleaning).

These potential buyers and their clearly-defined needs are very reminiscent of User Stories from software development. Fair enough, this is a video game, so it was made by software developers.

For example, there's the college student. He needs a cheap place to live and study, and that's about it. He needs a bookshelf to hold in all his textbooks, and he wants a desk near his bed so that he can do his homework and then go to sleep, and that's all he intends to do in this house. And don't you try to enrich his enclosure. He won't buy a house if it so much as contains a television set, because that's nothing but a potential distraction.

Being a college student, he can only buy a house that fits within his college student budget. If we make a house with newly-renovated kitchen and bathroom, he will never be able to afford it. So, if we want to be able to sell a house to him, we need to keep it cheap. The way we did it was to make him a bathroom that didn't even have a sink. It was a closet with just a toilet and shower. How will he wash his hands? Will he have to take a shower every time he pees?? And the kitchen only had a cheap microwave. No table to eat on. He'll just have to bring his Cup Noodle back to his desk, eat it in front of his homework, and continue studying until it's time to sleep. Oh my god. What a life.

As we were trying to make a house for the college student, an accountant suddenly barges in, showing interest in this house. The presence of bookshelves piques his interest. The college student needs a bookshelf for his textbooks, and the accountant also needs bookshelves for storing all his paperwork. With the bookshelf, the house now meets the minimum requirements for the accountant to bid, and since the accountant has the budget of a seasoned professional, he will always outbid the poor college kid. So the accountant buys the house, while complaining that the office is not grandiose enough for his tastes. Of course not! That's not an office! That's the desk next to the bed which was meant for the overachieving college kid!

The accountant sitting at the Fisher Price desk
Yes, I have all the numbers.

So we tried again to make a house for the poor college kid. We learned that the accountant cannot stand childish things, but the college student doesn't care one way or the other. So we put in a little kid bookcase, and the baby desk, and the baby chair, and sprinkled some bouncy balls all around. The accountant cannot possibly invite his clients to his office for them to find him sitting at the Fisher Price Desk. We feel bad for the college kid hunching his back on the Fisher Price chair, but he's willing to make do, and with his study habits, we don't think he has any friends, so no one will ever know. Except maybe his chiropractor.

Now, in real life, a house flipper's job is to fix up houses and sell them to the highest bidder, without caring who that person is and what they're going to do with the house. But this is a game, and it would be really boring if we turned any house into a plain average house for a family with 2.3 children and a golden retriever. All the different potential buyers in this game exist to help us think of the many different houses that we could potentially create to suit different people.

It's a good idea for keeping the game interesting, even though it's not usually how it goes in the real world. However, the parameters that determine each buyer's interest overlap too much, and in weird ways. For example, as we've discovered, the accountant's parameters interfere with any other buyer who wants a small house. More often than not, we would create a lovely home for a specific buyer, but someone else would be at the top of the bidding war, even though it wouldn't make sense for them to buy it. So, our strategy shifted towards repulsing the unwanted buyers, even though, in the process, we've gutted the house and ruined the lovely home.

Upstairs: The bathroom for the upstairs tenant Downstairs: The apartment for the downstairs tenant
We ship them.

For another example, we were trying to make a house for the rental guy. He's looking to own a house that he will rent to two tenants. He would like this house to include a sauna, because he says there are all these Norwegians around recently who will pay top rent for a house with a sauna. The house we were working on had a basement with bathroom plumbing and a good spot for a sauna room, so we figured we'd turn the basement into one apartment, and the ground floor into the other. We first designed the basement, and while it was pretty small, it came out pretty nice if we do say so ourselves. We can imagine someone being happy in this tiny apartment, and, hey, it has a sauna! Nice! Then we went upstairs, and since the rental guy specifically wants a living room kitchenette with a sofa and TV, we set that up, as well as the bedroom and the bathroom. We put a bathtub in the upstairs bathroom, imagining the story of these two tenants, and about how the upstairs tenant one day asks the downstairs tenant if he can use the sauna. He comes out of the sauna all hot and steamy, and the bed is right there... and they were housemates!

The family of six
They're all peeking in from their icon...

But here is where our fanfiction is rudely interrupted by the appearance of the family of six, who has decided that this is the perfect house for the six of them. No it is not! It is a house with two bedrooms, and one of them is in the basement! They are saying ridiculous things like, Grandma can live in the tiny basement, and they will cook such big family dinners here in the tiny basement, and they don't seem to understand that there is not enough room in this house for six people, omg, we were already kinda pushing it with the two tenants. But this house now meets their two bedroom, two bathroom minimums, so they want it.

The upstairs living room
This is all that's left of the living room kitchenette...

So, what do the family of six like that we can sabotage without bothering rental guy? The family likes books, so we must remove all bookshelves. The family likes rugs, so we get rid of the nice green bathmat. But that's still not enough to discourage them. It turns out what makes the family of six super happy is having a sink in the living room. Removing the sink from the living room kitchenette was what allowed rental guy to become the top bidder and buy the house. Rental guy is a bit miffed, since he specifically requested a living room kitchenette, and by removing the sink, it no longer qualifies. But he'll still buy the house even if it is not his dream house. Which is sad. We had made his dream house, and we had to ruin it to get the family of six to go away.

This issue aside, renovating the houses is fun. We made a lot of nice houses that we're really proud of.

For the elderly couple, we made this adorable house:

Entrance Kitchen Living Room Bedroom Bedroom Guestroom

There was the single guy who wanted at least one TV in every room, and a nice bedroom to, you know, perhaps not be single anymore. We obliged by putting two TVs in the living room, one in the eat-in kitchen, and one in the bathroom, right behind the sink and the toilet. This dude wants to pee while watching TV. We also made an over-the-top tacky bedroom that is sure to be a hit with absolutely nobody. We put in a heart-shaped bed, and also a neon tube light that spells out "Relax" - one of the least relaxing things in this bedroom. The opposite of an aphrodisiac. Then again, not that he'll get that far. We think the bathroom will be enough to scare off any potential lady friends before they ever even see the bedroom. After having an existential crisis in the toilet, she'll come out and ask... why do you have so many TVs anyway? Well, I like to watch many different channels.

Living Room Kitchen Bathroom Bedroom Bedroom A neon light in the bedroom spells out: Relax

We made a house for the lady who wants a colorful house and lots of plants and artwork. We gave her a modern kitchen and a purple bedroom.

Main Room Kitchen Bathroom Bedroom

The fashion designer specifically wanted a walk-in closet, two bathtubs (one for him, and one for his friend!), a sauna, and no kitchen. Apparently, he eats out for every meal. We insisted on at least giving him a coffee maker and a microwave, because jeez. And we made everything as fashionable as possible for him.

Entrance Living Room Kitchen, presumably Walk-in Closet Upstairs Bathroom Basement Bathroom Second Bathtub Sauna

Like the contractor jobs, the houses for flipping also come with little stories about the previous owners. When you first buy the house, you just get the real estate agent's advertising blurb, and then after you sell it you get some more information about the real history of the house.

We won't spoil all the fun ones, but, for one example, we wanted to make a house for the family of six. We first tried with another house that just wasn't big enough for the required number of bedrooms, so instead we saw the listing for the "Family house"! It seemed large enough, so we went there. As soon as we enter, we find blood all over the living room. Alright, we'll clean that... We also find a deep and narrow closet which contains a lone metal chair. Oh, that's creepy... After we fix up the house and sell it, we get the confirmation that, yeah, by family house, they meant the house of The Family. A mafia lord lived and crimed here before being arrested, and that's why the house was for sale. Well, yeah. Someone has to fix the abandoned house of the mafia lord, too.

In conclusion

Very cute game. There is a lot to do, and it's very satisfying to do it. The developers put a lot of thought into all aspects of the game: everything has a story attached to it, there are so many objects to decorate your houses with, the interface is well-thought-out, the soundtrack is cute, and we have a lot of fun playing the game. And, as of writing this article (2022), the game is still being expanded and developed, so there will be even more house flipping to do!

Notes