Review: Rollers of the Realm
So a pinball machine and an action RPG walk into a bar. The action RPG asks, “Would you like a character progression system, a decent story, and seamless combat?”
“I’d flippin’ love ’em” replies the pinball machine. “Why don’t you bring your bells and whistles over to my place and stay a while?”
And that’s how Rollers of the Realm was born. Phantom Compass decided that all of the genre merging going on in video games has been missing one combination – pinball + RPG. I don’t think their intent was to imply that pinball isn’t a complex enough game. Given the right board, pinball is an extremely complex pursuit full of strategy and skill. Rollers takes a slightly different route than the typical ramp and spinner additions. The game tells the story of a young rogue who finds herself knee deep in her realm’s folklore after her dog is stolen. It’s sort of like John Wick, except without all of the Keanu Reeves one-liners. As a matter of fact, the entire cast of playable protagonists is made up of anthropomorpized pinballs. Rollers supports cross-buy and cross-save between PS4 and Vita, so you can pick up and roll on the go.
The title screen of Rollers of the Realm depicts about a dozen silhouettes. My first thought was, “I hope I get to play as all of them.” Thankfully, Phantom Compass had the same idea. Throughout the game, you recruit characters to your party as playable pinballs. In-game, holding the pinball in one of the main flippers will allow you to swap characters. Each character has its own stats in addition to toting a special ability. The Rogue, for instance, is a small pinball with a lot of agility. She steals gold from NPCs and has a damage multiplier when attacking from behind. Her ability calls her dog to the battlefield for a powerful multiball companion. Stats affect how the ball moves about the board, how much damage the ball does, and how much the player can push it left and right. That’s right; in Rollers of the Realm, there is no tilt. In fact, players are encouraged to use the left analogue stick to nudge the ball this way or that. The inclusion of this mechanic is something like Shatter‘s push/pull system. It definitely changes the game from what you might be used to, but with a small bit of practice, it feels natural.
The story is five chapters long and should take about five to eight hours to complete without repeating levels. As you play through various battlefields of the realm, you’ll accrue gold and experience points. Gold is used to purchase upgrades for your party members while experience will increase your party’s total level. At higher levels, you can recruit a few more characters. The inventory/gold system works really well because you probably won’t have enough money to purchase all of the upgrades for all of your characters. This forces the player to pick and choose not only what character gets upgrades, but what types of upgrades that character gets. When I unlocked The Ranger, I realized the massive potential for his ranged attack (a passive ability that shoots enemies as he whizzes by). Thus, I poured much of my money into decreasing the reload speed and increasing the damage of his bow. Another player might want to strengthen The Ranger’s falcon multiball ability. The character progression system is impressive, especially given the fact that it exists within a pinball game.
The combat system requires the player to strategically shoot the pinball at enemies and objects alike. The ball push maneuver is especially helpful when enemies crowd the table. Again, different characters have different stats, so if I found myself able to hit enemies from the rear, I’d swap to The Rogue, who wallops for 100+ damage from behind. If too many environmental objects were blocking my way, I’d switch to The Knight, who makes quick work of them. If my flippers were being bombarded (the main flippers have health bars), I’d fling The Healer out for a bit and patch up. Everything runs at the speed of pinball if you want it to. The combat, the scoring, the secret chests, and more are all on the same table, usually at the same time. There are even boss fights, for crying out loud!
In all, Rollers of the Realm is a well-balanced concoction of disparate genres; a novel game through and through. The music and sound design are great, with full-on voice acting and some scores that are reminiscent of Lord of the Rings. One of the only drawbacks is that the Vita version chugs a bit when too much is happening on-screen. When multiple characters are dead, I found it difficult to see the blacked-out portraits and figure out who I was reviving. Replay value comes in the form of the Arena, which includes timed challenges with online leaderboard support. You can also replay parts of the campaign to gain more gold and unlock more recruits or gear. If you like pinball or well-polished new ideas, Rollers of the Realm will be right up your alley. I’ve got my hand on the plunger awaiting news of a sequel.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Voice acting
- LOTR-like music
- Characterization through details (item descriptions, etc.)
What I Dislike:
- Vita slowdown