Review: Rollers of the Realm

Pinball tables are a wondrous invention. They existed long before video games came to life, so it’s a surprise that more games don’t attempt to pull from that gameplay style with their own twist. Rollers of the Realm does this by combining typical pinball play with an RPG in hopes of creating a new, addictive twist. But can a concoction like this work and manage to lure in both RPG and pinball fans? Surprisingly, it works a lot better than you might assume.

Rollers of the Realm starts you out as a young thief and her dog who are just trying to make a bit of coin on their travels. You’ll be embarking on this journey with her, although not at all through the typical RPG routine. The act of making money, beating up guards and generally traveling from area to area is done via a pinball table. This isn’t a large table, mind you. Most are fairly small and would take up only a quarter of a real pinball machine’s play area. The big difference is that you won’t stick around on the same playfield for long.

Each screen has its own goal. Sometimes all you need is to collect enough gold to move on. Other times, goals are more detailed and require players to complete one goal before moving on with the next. Oftentimes a goal requires defeating all enemies on field. How is this accomplished? Simple — you just need to smack your characters’ pinball representation against the other balls on screen. Unlike your characters which move as a real pinball would, most enemies will either be static or pace around. Sometimes they’ll even head toward a goal point and you must stop them before they reach it.

This means that while Rollers of the Realm may at first look somewhat like regular pinball it does a lot to eschew the actual rules. Strict adherents to pinball history will probably dislike this, but more casual fans should get a kick out of it. There’s a lot more to the RPG side to explore as well. As you roam through the storyline you’ll get to add more characters to your party. If they aren’t enough you can always hire more. Each team member has their own stats and special skills. Each skill is important as many screens have obstacles best overcome by a certain character.

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In an amusing twist, skills are charged by obtaining and keeping a combo during play. The “combo” basically persists as long as the playable ball keeps hitting objects without falling between the flippers. Once charged you can activate the skill which will be active or passive depending on the character. Passive assibilites work on their own while active ones (such as healing a party member) must be selected by the player.

Between missions you can also shop to buy new equipment for everyone. By doing so you help to increase the stats of the various cast members. Traits such as increased parry ability and health are integral to continued success. After a while Rollers of the Realm actually becomes quite challenging. If you feel this to be the case then try returning to older towns to farm money. With this you can then upgrade everyone further so they’re better equipped for the task at hand. This may all be very light as far as RPG features are concerned, but it’s a cute implementation all the same.

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For all that’s enjoyable about this twist on pinball there’s still a few points that will likely let many down. One is the fact that the visuals don’t really stand out on either pinball or RPG metric. When compared to the amazing visuals of official pinball recreations it’s hard for anything to compete. They just look pretty blah, although at least character portraits are quite lovely. At times you might even lose track of the ball when it is a similar color as the backdrop and only spy it as it rockets toward the gutter.

It can also be hard to utilize a few spells in the heat of battle. For example, the healer’s ability can only be used when she is wedged between wall and flipper. Getting her to stop there is challenging sometimes, especially when you’ve got to worry about enemies destroying your flippers. More than once this mid-game stress results in mistaken (or late) flipper action which sends the healer tumbling to death. Annoyances like this could be resolved with a simple tweak on how skill activation is handled.

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Closing Comments:

Rollers of the Realm presents a lovely concept that follows through with its aims, although not to the degree that some players may be expecting. Yes, it offers pinball play, but not the kind you’d get at an actual arcade. It’s quite nuanced and based on selecting the right ball per circumstance. It also only samples from the RPG platter rather than going all in, but the result is mostly charming. With a bit more polish and tweaking, Rollers of the Realm would stand out for more than its genre mixing.