When you play a classic fantasy-based RPG, there are certain things you can usually rely on: Multiple classes with their own strengths and weaknesses, a tale of a tyrant being overthrown by a rag-tag band of reluctant heroes, loot, treasure, boss fights and interesting environments to explore. Rollers of the Realm--recently released for the PlayStation 4, Vita and PC--offers all of the above. What sets it apart from other RPGs, however, is the fact that it’s actually a pinball game.
I’m a big fan of genre mash-ups. The Puzzle Quest series, for instance, stole a ridiculous amount of my free time by combining gem-breaking puzzles with some pretty brilliant RPG elements. So when I heard that Rollers of the Realm was attempting the same sort of combination with a pinball game, I was instantly intrigued. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was how well those RPG elements could be plugged into such a game.
When I say Rollers of the Realm is an RPG, I actually mean it. You’ll unravel a big fantasy story and steadily build a party of characters that are represented in the game world by different types of balls. Each character has its own attributes, such as the heavy, metal soldier or the fast and agile rogue. They also have their own abilities, such as the soldier’s ability to create a shield to protect from draining, the rogue’s ability to call in a smaller dog companion ball, the ranger’s ability to attack enemies with arrows from afar and the healer’s ability to repair damage to the flippers or revive a fallen ally. They also have a variety of gear that can be purchased and discovered, which up their base stats or grant improved abilities. Changing between party members is as easy as trapping the ball on a main flipper, switching to the member that will tackle your needs most effectively, then popping them back out into play.
Instead of your typical pinball tables, though, Rollers of the Realm is full of pinball dioramas, each one representing a castle that needs storming, a boss dungeon, a city street to run through or wooded area in need of exploration. Each board has been carefully constructed to reward exploration and skilled play, with several unique surprises like hidden passages, keys to unlock treasure chests, running brooks that will slow down or carry your ball away and the like.
The levels are further populated by environmental tidbits, like crates that can be bashed for extra gold, spinners and switches that will trigger events, bushes that need to be hacked down and, of course, enemy soldiers.
While your party consists of various types of pinballs, enemy soldiers are actually animated characters that move around the board, hide behind shields, knock you back with their own swords or fire arrows from afar. Other than the fact that enemies take a bit too long to kill off, it’s a great way to keep the board’s interesting, creating various scenarios that you actually have to think your way through rather than just fire the ball at random. Your monk might be a best fit for a closely-knit group of un-armored enemies while the healer might need to be brought in for some carefully placed shots in order to earn mana and repair damaged flippers. Want to infiltrate the castle rather than take on the guards head-on? Switch over to your rogue and send her behind enemy lines thanks to some easier handling.
There’s a decent amount of locations to explore, none of which feel like repeats and some of which are absolutely inspired. You can also go back to previous areas to earn additional loot or tackle some extra puzzles.
While the pinball physics feel solid and the maps are well built, it can sometimes be tricky to land a particular shot or guide a ball into a pestering enemy. Thankfully, the folks at Phanotom Compass included the ability to lightly affect the direction of your ball, using the left thumb stick to put an extra bit of English on the rolling orb.
It’s that kind of attention to detail that really won me over with Rollers of the Realm. There are some great ideas at play here, and the RPG elements and a surprising amount of variety help make the game shine. It can be a bit rough at times (particularly frustrating shots, lingering baddies, mediocre voice work), but most of that is easy to overlook when the rest of the game is just so dang refreshing.
For 10 bucks on Steam, the PS4 or the PlayStation Vita, is something fans of pinball, RPGs (and especially both) have absolutely no reason to pass up. It’s a solid bit of fun that should keep you busy for half a dozen hours, with new ideas popping up regularly to keep the adventure fresh. In an age where newer versions of the same old thing keep popping up, Rollers of the Realm is a charming and welcome departure from the norm.
This review based on a PlayStation 4 download copy provided by the publisher.
Platforms: PS4, Vita, PC
Developer: Phantom Compass