If a developer pitched a house renovation game for consoles twenty years ago, they would have been laughed out the publisher’s office. Skip forward two decades, and here we are. We dare say the continued popularity of The Sims series is partly the reason for House Flipper’s existence. It probably also helps that house renovation TV shows are extremely popular in the US, to the point of being parodied on South Park.

House Flipper expands upon one of The Sims’ more relaxing and less exposed features – the ability to decorate a homestead as you see fit, picking paint and wallpaper schemes and filling it with furniture and tasteful decor. Once satisfied the property can be put up for auction, giving chance to purchase bigger projects with more lucrative payoffs. It’s also possible to moonlight as a handyman, taking on simpler single room renovations and clean-ups, which helps keep the cash flowing.

Your career starts out in a humble manner, with only enough cash to buy filth-encrusted bottom rung properties. Some are even flood or fire damaged. Viewed from first person and using a mobile phone as a UI – complete with a faux online store to instantly purchase items – it’s then a case of picking up rubbish, sweeping away cobwebs, painting and wallpapering, and plastering over cracks.

These tasks are all rather arduous at first – painting, especially – but over time new perks are unlocked, allowing rubbish to be cleared in one fell swoop and grime wiped away in a flash. Aha! New ideas are later introduced, including cockroach removal (which can be changed to broken glass if you’re squeamish) and wall demolition. The realistic way walls crumble is surprisingly impressive. 

Radiator, washing machine and shower installations entail a short animation sequence, meanwhile, in which screws and bolts must be tightened by holding down the right trigger. It’s peculiar why the developers didn’t elaborate on this idea more, turning it into a mini-game of sorts. While the attention to detail is admirable these sequences soon grow tedious, dragging on for too long.

As you set about making improvements, potential clients chime in to praise or rebuke your decisions. This feature is House Flipper’s backbone, forming a sturdy structure based around demand and desires. College students simply want a place to sleep and study, so if you fill a property with expensive items and a double bed, they’ll soon lose interest. Families want houses with three or more bedrooms. Start adding things like cribs and children’s toys and the bachelors will back out.

On the more demanding side of things, there’s a wannabe Casanova after a classy love pad, and an artist looking for a home filled with fancy paintings and plants. As you begin to work out the algorithms, it soon becomes apparent that everyone loves a bookcase. It’s hard to argue with that.

Perhaps the best thing about House Flipper is that properties aren’t randomly generated – the campaign involves 25 homesteads, each laid out and designed by hand. This lends a slight personal touch to each – pop culture references, mostly, but some also have unique features. The flood-damaged house has furniture scattered awkwardly, while a former drug den will appear instantly familiar to fans of Breaking Bad, featuring a secret stash of cash. The achievements are pleasingly silly too, including one for trying to kill cockroaches with a sledgehammer.

Although slow to start and a rather laborious initially, with the average full renovation taking around an hour, House Flipper eventually becomes surprisingly compelling. It really gets under your skin, making you mull over which property to take on next – perhaps with a certain client in mind – before setting about completing tasks in the most efficient manner. Seeing a property transform from a grubby frat house to a wholesome family home is rather satisfying. All that’s missing is a TV-style ‘before and after’ cut-away with a wind chime sound effect.

Joking aside, this is a curiously relaxing experience, spiced up by pop culture references that not only inject a sense of personality but prevent it from being drabber than budget wallpaper. It’s an ideal ‘Sunday afternoon’ game – something to play while there’s a roast dinner in the oven and nothing but repeats of ‘Location, Location, Location’ and ‘Grand Designs’ on TV. Thanks to the addictive streak, you may end up sneaking a few hours in during the week too.

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