Sometimes, combining things that seem to be on complete opposite ends of the spectrum can have great results. TellTale's The Walking Dead is something I would never have thought would turn out as amazing as it was. Point and click, cell-shaded zombie game? No thanks. If it hadn't been for the free demo on Xbox Live, I would have never played it. Well, not until everyone went nuts for it online anyway. Rollers of the Realm is another one of those things. A Pinball RPG? It doesn't seem like it would work, but it just does. It's no Walking Dead (not much is), but it is definitely fun and it definitely works.
I am, however, hesitant to say it works as a pinball-RPG, because the game is pretty light on actual RPG elements. Really the only RPG elements that stand out are the medieval fantasy setting and characters, and the fact that your party levels up. The party level ups don't have all that much of an effect in gameplay, either. As your party levels up, more characters and items become available for purchase from the The Port, which serves as the game's shop. The items function like level ups for the individual characters. For example, you can buy the Knight some new gauntlets that make him better at smashing through objects, or blade oil that will increase his damage to enemies, rather than having something like a strength stat that would improve over time. The items are purchased with gold you get from destroying objects, using keys to unlock treasure chests, and stealing from enemies and other characters on the playfield. I suppose in that way the gold functions as the experience points in the game. Some of these items make much more of a difference in practice than others, particularly the ones that give your characters passive stat boosts. I found a lot of the items to be largely useless, as they improved aspects of the characters that rarely came into play,namely their special abilities, but I'll talk about that in a bit.
The cast of characters is very standard and really kind of unimaginative, but the generality works well to accomplish the mild, fairy tale atmosphere the game strives for. You start off as a young girl, simply called The Rogue, and before long you gather together The Healer and The Knight, with many more that join you as the game progresses. As characters, they are extremely stereotypical, but it isn't a bad thing. The Rogue is a smart-talking young girl who has lost her family, the healer is a pious, gentle girl, and the knight is a boisterous drunk. The characters that appear later on, such as the Swordsman, a dashing swashbuckler from a mysterious faraway land, are all equally troped-out. Each character has its own voice actor, and the game is fully voiced, but unfortunately the voice acting is terrible. The game never takes itself very seriously (a good thing, it's still a pinball game), but the voice acting doesn't feel intentionally cheesy like most of the game does. I also couldn't help but notice that it sounded like people speaking into a microphone and not just speaking, if that makes sense. It was almost like it wasn't recorded in a soundproof booth, and you can hear the room. It just seems bad, which in turn makes the characters seem even more one dimensional than they already are. That's really a small complaint though, because the game's story isn't exactly Game of Thrones, and it never tries to be something that it's not.
Thankfully the characters are not as one dimensional in gameplay as they are in dialogue. Each character has a few things that change the way they play. The size of the ball, small, medium, and large, affects the way the ball moves across the playfield and interact with objects and enemies. Small balls are much faster and have better maneuverability, which is basically the tilt function, and are best used to move across the playfield instead of for combat. Large balls are slower and, obviously, bigger, which makes them a whole lot easier to use than the small balls. It's easier to aim and harder to miss with large balls, and it's less likely that the ball will slip between your flippers and cost you life. There are some passages you need to get through in the game that the large balls simply cannot make it through, however, so they aren't better than small balls in every way. Each character also has a specific use. The Rogue does what is essentially backstab damage when you can get the ball to hit an enemy in the back, which is useful for big enemies and shielded enemies. The Huntsman, a bow-and-arrow wielding Ranger caricature, shoots arrows at enemies when he rolls near them. The Farmboy wields a two handed axe and does high damage to objects in the environment, but less damage to armored enemies. For the most part, each ball's ability makes it useful at least sometimes, but I found myself using the Healer and Farmboy exclusively for most of the game, because after buying the right items, they were simply the most useful and the only ones I ever needed. Some of the characters were almost entirely useless, like the Huntsman and the Crone. The Farmboy has a battleaxe upgrade that makes him deal the damage on par with every other character, and that combined with his ability to destroy environmental obstacles so well made most of the courses easy with just him.
Each character also has a special ability activated by using mana. Mana takes the place of standard pinball points, and you earn it usually in the same ways you would earn points in a normal pinball game, by doing things like hitting bumpers and hitting the ball through passageways. However, the abilities are almost categorically unhelpful, and some of them just make it harder. The Rogue and the Huntsman, for example, summon animal companions in the form of one or two more balls to help them. Maybe I'm just bad at pinball, but having to focus on two balls, let alone three, was never something I would voluntarily do, because inevitably I would get distracted by the new additions and let my main character ball slip away and cost myself a life. This brings us to mana's other, far more important purpose: reviving characters. When a character ball falls through the flippers, that ball is dead and unusable until you revive it. In order to revive it, you must fill your mana bar all the way, and then catch your current ball with one of the two main flippers and revive the dead ball there. Aside from the plunger, those main two flippers are the only place you can revive a ball. When all of your balls are dead, you have to restart the entire playfield again, so the importance of saving mana so that you can revive your fallen characters far outweighs using the characters' abilities, especially because sometimes you need a specific character in order to proceed.
This process contributes to the fact that boss fights are often far too long and frustrating. One boss fight is a mage that alternates between throwing fireballs at your flippers and covering herself with an ice shield. The fireballs damage your flippers, breaking pieces of them off until they are naught more than stumps, creating a much larger gap for your balls to fall through and die, and weakening the power of your flips. The ice shield protects her from damage, and there is a very small window of time between the two of these moves where you can attack. This results in a process of desperately flinging the Healer at torches on the wall to gain mana and heal your flippers while she is frozen, and then trying to catch the ball, switch to a high damage character, and try to hit the boss. But if you miss, you pretty much have to wait until the next time she is unfrozen, because aligning the ball to hit the target is really difficult and time consuming as well, because you have to wait for the ball to bounce around the course and get back to a position where you can hit it again. On top of all that, bosses take very little damage from attacks, so it wasn't uncommon for boss fights to take me upwards of twenty minutes, always with the threat of having to start over looming above my head. If there was something I was missing, like a weak point or strategy, either it wasn't abundantly clear or I'm just stupid. Both are equally possible.
Outside of boss fights, the game is rarely frustrating. There was one level where you have to go through a series of puzzles to reach the main playfield, and every time you lost a ball you had to repeat all of those puzzles, but that is the only thing that stands out to me now. The vast majority of this game has the perfect amount of challenge. Like I mentioned earlier, the game is really much more of a puzzle/pinball game than an RPG/pinball game, and it shines when it focuses on the puzzles. My favorite levels in the game were ones where you had only to focus on just how exactly you're supposed to reach that key, and then once you have it, just exactly how you're supposed to reach that chest the key unlocks. The moving targets the game adds into the mix of these puzzles can be hard to hit and will often damage your flippers and parry your balls between them, but it's almost always easy enough to recover and figure out the best way to beat them. The time it takes to complete a course is usually exactly the amount of time before you're ready to move on to the next one. It's a fast paced game, and the beautiful map design and, surprisingly, the story drive you to keep playing. There is also an Arena mode, which consists of five special levels that let you earn some extra gold. The gold earnings are meager and the maps are maps you've already played in the story though, so there isn't much to offer here.
The map design is the best part of the game, and is so well done and impressive on so many levels (sometimes literally!). It's amazing how well the developers have taken pinball and translated it to medieval fantasy settings. You could look at a picture of these maps and probably not be able to tell that it was a pinball table, yet everything makes perfect sense as a pinball table, and you always know exactly what does what on the map without anyone having to explicitly tell you. The tables are so varied and often have multiple levels and unique objectives that really add something special to them, like having to hit the ball out of a window to escape, or hit the ball into a catapult so you can attack a giant enemy. And not only does everything function perfectly, but it also looks great. The artwork done for the game is easily its strongest asset, and that applies to more than just the maps. The dialogue segments of the game use drawings of the characters and locales, and each one is a joy to look at. It has a cartoony look that really brings the whole tone of the game together, but also looks like it could be taken straight from a fairy tale, giving it a surprisingly authentic feel. Sure, it's still a pinball game, but the art really does bring it up to the next level. The same goes for the soundtrack, which has the perfect amount of grandiosity when needed, and can be subtly atmospheric when needed just as well. Everything having to do with the presentation of the game is nothing less than perfect. I really, really dug everything about it.
Even though I think the RPG aspect of the game is way overplayed, Rollers of the Realm is still much more than a pinball game, and for the measly price of $9.99, it is absolutely worth getting. Even if pinball games aren't normally your thing, there is plenty here to enjoy anyway. It's coming out on the PS4, PS Vita and PC. If you play it on the PC, I definitely recommend (as do the devs) playing with a controller. I played with an Xbox One controller and with my mouse and keyboard, and the controller is definitely the way to go.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
One of my earliest memories is playing Duck Hunt on the NES with my older cousin. Pokemon Yellow and Ocarina of Time were the main time sinks of my childhood, and both series remain two of my favorites to this day. Xbox Live got me much more interested in FPS and other competitive and cooperative games, and nowadays I find myself enjoying cooperative games more than any others.
Aside from video games, I spend my free time writing, playing, and recording music and ritualistically binging on Netflix. View Profile