“RPG” and “Pinball”…those are two descriptions that go together like “broken glass” and “snow cones”. Hell, when it was first announced for Vita, the geek in me couldn’t help but scratch my head. After all, thanks to the digital resurgence from Zen Pinball over the last couple years, pinball games have finally received not only more attention, but also a thick coat of polish that makes even the most jaded silver ball jockey smile.
And RPG? Considering that console titles like Skyrim, Dragon Age and Fallout have finally cemented themselves into mainstream (and not just videogame) culture, I’d go as far as to say that RPG’s are certainly neck-and-neck with the two major console powerhouses, FPS’ and sports titles. So a bizarro RPG crossover was certainly destined to hit sooner rather than later…and then, we got Rollers of the Realm.
Maybe I’m a little biased, but I love pinball titles…unfortunately, they have a very definite shelf life, considering that there’s only so much you can do, regardless of the immersion options you have. Yet, a game like Rollers of the Realm has captured my attention effortlessly. For starters, it has a stellar voice over team working with it, giving it that distinct 80s “Hobbit-y” fantasy flair. Of course, if you’re a current-generation fantasy nerd, you’ll instantly liken the game’s main protagonist to Arya Stark from HBO’s Game of Thrones. During her travels throughout the nameless kingdom, she’ll encounter a cast of characters who will join her party and most (if not all) of the “good” characters become playable.
Each character is represented by a pinball: the rogue is small and quick, with weak “attacks”, while the lumbering drunkard Fighter is larger, slower and hits harder. The healer class can revive “downed” allies faster after hitting skill shots…and each class has a bonus ability from collecting enough points–the rogue gets a bonus ball (her faithful mutt), the fighter gets a ball return defense, etc.
Graphically, the game is pretty standard. I mean, it made its debut on the Vita, and when it was ported to PS4, it got some graphical tweaks, but there’s nothing that will make you shout from the rooftops…and I don’t know why it was passed over on PS3, as it would have been a perfect fit to contend with the reining digital pinball champ on last-gen systems, Zen Pinball.
But as cutesy the dialogue and graphics might come across, Rollers of the Realm is a faithful pinball game with realistic pinball physics (aside from the (RPG elements), which means it’s hard.
Like, “punch-in-the-face-while-holding-a-roll-of-quarters-and-trash-talking-yourr-mum” hard. And THAT can get annoying, especially during “boss” battles. Plus, adding insult to injury, you’ll get a readout of exactly how much gold and experience you lost EVERY TIME YOU DIE. If you’re a story purist, the game mechanics might be annoying hurdles to enjoying the experience, but old-school pinball fans will just shake their head sadly; that’s just how the silver ball rolls.
The real goodness comes in each level design; you’ll see fields that mirror classic, long-field tables, modern ramp-heavy tables, and even the odd pachinko-style tables make an appearance throughout the campaign. It truly is a near-seamless merging of several table styles, and it’ll do you well to map out the flipper locations as well, since there are many hidden “rooms” and bonuses scattered throughout the game. Navigating each level (or playfield), you’ll need to familiarize yourself with traditional pinball mechanics: shooting certain ramps according to what the story dictates, utilize the field paddles to open “gates” to new areas, and learn to “catch” the pinball. “Catching” (or “holding”) is when you angle the paddle to catch the falling pinball, so you can release-and-fire it with more control.
Luckily, the aforementioned “bonus” abilities can mitigate some of those annoyances, especially the Warrior’s somewhat brief shield ability. Basically, blasting around the playing field, every time you see a blue number pop up, you’ll rack up a little bit o’mana, which can in turn be cashed in for player abilities.
Speaking of cash, the other major carrot that’s dangled in each level is collecting as much gold as possible. Gold can be found via “pop-up” grabs, by unlocking chests (and shooting said chest) and completing objectives. Gold can then be used in the marketplace
In order to truly “master” Rollers of the Realm, you’ll need to become adept at trapping, switching class and “leaning” your shots (accomplished by nudging the left thumbstick)…of course, there’s still a big element left to chance, so even if you’re the next Pinball Wizard, there’s a good chance you’ll still end up tearing your hair out trying to make that perfect, one in a million shot.
And if you tire of the campaign, there’s a nifty challenge mode that will give you minor directives, which can help you boost your gold levels considerably, thus padding your abilities further.
Overall, for $10, Rollers of the Realm is a fantastic merging of two distinct classical game styles that is a fun, albeit short and often maddening, jaunt in a completely different direction. Plus, for it’s cheap MSRP, it’s a great impulse buy, especially if you’re looking for something completely different.