I love pinball.

One of the coolest things that my dad ever brought home was a pinball machine. It was based on the Harlem Globetrotters of the late 70s, had a chiptune version of their theme, and was loud, shiny, and bright. When in Las Vegas, my favorite activity is not to visit any of the casinos (at least, not anymore now that Star Trek: The Experience is gone) or to see any of the shows. No, it’s to go to the Pinball Hall of Fame. There they have hundreds of machines that span all eras, ready to be played.

With that love of pinball, when Rollers of the Realm was first described to me as a pinball RPG, I was psyched for it was combining two genres I love. At PAX East this past spring, I was given a chance to place to play the first stage or two and have been waiting with bated breath for its release ever since.

You start out as a thief girl who is sneaking into town along with her trusty canine companion, with the intent to lighten the pockets of a few of the townsfolk. She’s represented as a ball, bouncing around a playfield shaped like a town square and a pair of flippers at the bottom of the screen. There are villagers standing around, going about their business. Bumping into them from behind knicks their gold, which is later spent on upgrades to characters. Advancement for this stage is to find the entrance to town, but in the later game, to advance you may be asked to defeat all of the enemies on screen (bumping into them), or make your way to a particular location on the map by clearing obstacles.

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While much of the game works around how well you can keep the ball in play with use of the flippers, but full mastery comes from learning how to tilt the ball. Here, this means controlling the left and right movement of the ball to help ensure it goes exactly where you need it to. Fear not, hitting tilt (complete loss of the ball) is impossible, unlike real pinball, so do everything you can to maneuver it where you want. Controlling the tilt well is an enjoyable aspect that works nicely while a novice and allows for precision while an expert.

Your health is represented by the flippers. As you take more damage, a meter on them turns red and they begin to break apart, making it more difficult to hit the ball back into the playfield, causing you to lose a character as you helplessly watch it fall into the drain. Completely lose your flippers or all of your characters and you lose and have to restart the level.

As you progress through the story, you meet more characters to play as, all with their own abilities. The thief picks the pockets of NPCs on the board, does more damage from back attacks, and has a dog multiball she can call upon. The knight is a larger ball with a sword and armor so is therefore heavier and does more damage. He can also block the drain with his shield to prevent ball loss. The healer restores your health (repairs the flippers) when smashing into things on the board. All 10 different characters are special and useful in some way, although some are better than others.

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Some of the above special abilities are used with the game’s mana system. You can use special attacks, activate multiball, or even revive characters you’ve lost to the drain by using the mana you’ve built up by rolling over certain objects. Storing up enough mana to revive players tends to be the most common necessity and can be quite challenging in later stages as you have to build up a full bar to do so, but mana sources are harder to find.

Along the way, most missions have you encounter swordsmen, archers, and wizards to defeat, which is accomplished by smashing into them, and clearing the way to either the objective of the board or the boss of the stage, the only NPC who has a health meter. Many of these boss characters don’t do much other than standing on the board, waiting to be hit, but do parry hits from the front, requiring you to be skillful at hitting them from behind to inflict the most damage.

The story isn’t anything new: Defeat an evil baron, meet interesting characters, and kill a trio of powerful beings with a magical set of armor. By the end it’s no surprise who is going to become the all-powerful hero, the one who has to vanquish the final bosses. The game’s voice acting can be a bit cringeworthy, with only the first two characters you meet being pretty good. A few of the characters sound as if they were forced into reading lines and weren’t into it at all, or worse yet, it’s as if I were doing the voice acting. Thankfully, you can skip past these moments with the press of a button.

You can buy upgrades for your characters using gold you’ve collected. Truth be told, though, some of the upgrades are so incremental that I had to take the game’s word for it and assume they were doing some good for my party members. On the other hand, paying close attention to what the upgrades do helps to clue you in as to how you may want to use certain characters. For example, it’s obvious that the knight is intended to help clear the field of baddies, whereas the monk is all about agility, or how much the ball is moved with tilt.

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The difficulty of the stages can vary greatly, feeling less like a gradual increase in how tough things are and more like a jagged path of bouncing between easy and hard all the way to the end. It’s nearly impossible to not lose a few characters until some enemies who are close to the flippers at the bottom are cleared away. Thankfully, with a bit of work, you can revive those lost characters, but the need to continuously rebuild mana to revive them can be frustrating as it feels more like you’re sacrificing them rather than using skills you’ve learned.

All-in-all, there were a few annoyances, but they didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the game. And when I reached the end, I wished there was more game to play. Maybe the developers will consider adding more boards or allowing us to create our own down the line.

Pinball games can feel a little bland when they are direct translations of the real thing, but when someone goes ahead and takes them to the next step, the results can be impressive. The digital medium allows for more than simply hitting flippers and targets, but Rollers of the Realm shows us what can be done.

Review: Rollers of the Realm
"Pinball RPG" sounds funny when combined together, but it's fun to play, especially for fans of pinball.
Pros
  • Fun twist on RPGs and pinball.
  • Interesting "tilt" system for more control.
  • Variety of stages and goals for each.
Cons
  • Forgettable voice acting.
  • Unremarkable upgrade system.
  • Inconsistent difficulty.
8Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)
0.0

About The Author

Contributor

Sabriel Mastin writes about and creates videos about video games, enjoying the indie side of things most of all. She has many aspirations in life, one of those being sharing the games and the stories of independent developers from around the world.

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