In the last two months, I’ve turned 36, got married, and started to work through the inevitable, insurmountable post-wedding checklist of postponed life tasks. While I’d love to play games for more than half an hour at a time, transient experiences are often the only option–I just didn’t think the best one on Xbox Game Pass right now would mimic my life away from consoles.
This month, Xbox Game Pass quietly announced a weird but alluring addition to its service: House Flipper. Originally landing on PC in 2018 before a console release in early 2020, this simulation game seems to be like its countless contemporaries from the outset: not groundbreaking, attractive, or particularly enduring past those first 30 minutes. However, appearances prove very deceiving.
Whether it’s through precise planning, luck, or a probable combination of the two from developer Frozen District, House Flipper may be one of the most relaxing games ever to grace Game Pass–and, if you’re open to escapism, it may be the best pseudo-realistic, hilarious, and ridiculous RPG you’ll play this year.
In House Flipper, you assume the role of a nameless, multidisciplined Manly Man with a penchant for home repair. Living in a shotgun shack and armed only with a laptop, tablet, mop, hammer, and notched spreader, it’s on you to be a hero to those countless people whose outlook is less “DIY” and more “this doesn’t seem like a Me Problem.”
No job is too big and no request is too ridiculous. You start off with crappy tools and limited abilities cleaning small abodes, but in no time, you’re leveling up your skill trees, smashing down walls, fitting extravagant sinks, and being given free rein across half a dozen rooms to realize someone else’s vision of domestic perfection.
Luckily, you’re given creative license: you’re told what’s needed, but not always where or how to apply it. What’s more, you never meet the customers, or even get feedback after the job’s 100% done, which is the best part of the entire game–it opens up your mind to such a degree that you begin to create your own back stories for each and every one of them.
At first, it seems a little difficult to picture House Flipper’s clients. The only visual glimpse you ever get of them are via loading screen headshots, which are accompanied by vapid phrases such as “the bedroom should always have a TV,” “we always dreamt of a lovely living room,” or “I don’t want kids and I hate children’s toys.” These odd, stilted, out-of-context phrases, if said by someone sitting next to you on a bus, would probably see you jumping off at the next stop.
However, these weird statements, when combined with work email requests and the houses you’re sent to repair, remodel, or reimagine, hardly require an overly active mind to effectively chapterize the story of your rise from handyman to property mogul, as you take on increasingly memorable challenges.
Sometimes, job requests are heartfelt. One widower asks you to redecorate the family home as he can’t deal with painting over the loving memories of his late wife; another older gal, who’s rented out her house to students who’ve wrecked the place, just needs a Manly Man to do the work because she simply can’t face what they’ve done to her beloved property. You take time and care for the job you do, even making beds and picking up furniture despite it falling outside your remit.
Yet there are also some jobs from genuinely horrible-sounding people, which almost demand you judge them early and use your prejudice to inform your design choices. Examples include:
- Someone, whose grandma has recently died, uncaringly asking you to sell everything in her room for profit–including cherished photos and possessions–to make way for a nice new bathroom and study. She’s all nice and dead now, so it’s not as if she needs those lovely family pictures anymore.
- A young guy, who’s clearly a lazy layabout, is hosting his super-conservative mom at Christmas and needs the place cleaning and fitted with traditional festive decor; 90% of the house is beer cans and bizarrely untouched pizza.
- A man, who bought a squalid house for cheap–a state he blames on a “certain type of gentleman with his own shopping cart” who moved in for a few days–overlooks deeper societal problems in favor of making a quick buck and asks you to clean an apocalyptic mess that couldn’t possibly be the sole fault of a homeless man looking for temporary shelter.
After crafting stories in my head before and during the cleaning and fixing process, I gave Dead Gran House the worst bathroom fitting possible, with an unenclosed shower opening onto the toilet, and the toilet roll holder on the other side of the room. La-Z-Boy got the most LGBTQ+ friendly Christmas decorations imaginable, solely to annoy what I imagined to be a particularly fundamentalist mother. Homeless Blamer would come home to find every piece of furniture piled into a single room. It’s the little things.
Sometimes, you just start taking liberties, giving in to your darker side. Despite it costing me a fortune, I went through a phase of fitting every bathroom with orange units that had green LED lighting, because it was the worst combination imaginable. I had my fun, and that’s all that matters; I got paid and had high-tailed it well before having to have an uncomfortable conversation with the owner, whose WC now looked like a Halloween disco.
All the while, you’re learning the ways certain things are put together. You’ll gasp in awe as you screw not one, not two, but four door clasps on an upmarket, two-door shower. You’ll recoil in shock as you rewire your third plug socket of the day, wondering if putting the earth cable in last really is the best idea, given the electrics haven’t been shut off. You’ll be bowled over by just how many cockroaches fit into your vacuum bag. You really are living the dream.
Just when you think you’ve run out of ideas, or you’re getting bored of specific tasks (hello, painting), House Flipper’s skill tree, which upgrades your mop, hammer, paintbrush, and more, continues to breathe new life into those tasks you’ve been putting off, making them quicker, easier, or just more like an actual game–something you occasionally forget House Flipper is.
Soon, you’ve got more money than sense, and it’s from here you can focus on building your own little empire. You can browse and buy houses to your heart’s content. Most are completely knackered, ranging from flood-damaged detached houses through to hellholes you wouldn’t dare shine a blue light in. Using your job money, you can transform these and sell them for a massive profit–or just decorate, remodel, reshape, and enjoy them. There’s even a property on the moon, because why not?
Frozen District clearly knows it’s on to a good thing. In the years since this initial release, it’s created DLCs including Cyberpunk Flipper, Garden Flipper, Luxury Flipper, and the delightful-looking House Flipper Pets, because everything is objectively better with dogs.
House Flipper doesn’t the best game engine, its visuals won’t blow you away, its console controls are a bit shonky, and it does get repetitive. But life isn’t perfect, life is repetitive, and you find ways to make it so much more.
I’m hoping I’ll pick up the skills and ideas to transfer to my own, part-decorated house into the perfect abode. That said, given my free time is now being equally spent between life maintenance and House Flipper, probably not.