Review: Rollers of the Realm

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Rollers of the Realm is a fantasy adventure RPG that is told by playing through various maps that take the form of pinball tables. Starting in a small village, moving to a castle, then a forest, a mountain, and culminating in an epic three-stage boss battle, each level of the game is designed around an element of that particular setting. Each setting, be it a town square, blacksmith shop, river running through trees, or a mine shaft, has unique ramps and bumpers and hidden treasures to discover. Some bumpers fill up a mana meter while others provide gold which can be used to buy upgrades and additional party members. Each table progresses the story by pitting the party of brave heroes against soldiers, magicians, or zombies, some of which can fire arrows or cast spells that can alter the board. Specifically, the flippers at the bottom of each map can be damaged, which then decreases their length and thus their effectiveness at being able to flip the ball back up into the thick of battle.

In its pinball offerings, Zen Studios has toyed with the notion of giving pinball “character” by skinning the traditional silver ball different colors to represent different superheros or cartoon characters, but Rollers goes one step further by providing specific physics attributes to each class in addition to differing skins and abilities. To help restore the damaged flippers, a healer can be brought out and any mana bumpers hit not only fills up the mana meter but also heals and restores the flippers. The rogue is a smaller ball that can damage enemies more effectively from behind (as well as pickpocket gold), whereas the warrior is a big lumbering ball that can plow through destructible barriers and most of the enemies without being parried and deflected back. A ranger joins the party early on in the game and, in addition to firing arrows at enemies he passes, offers multiball by calling pet eagles to the pinball battlefield. Additional party members can be added, such as an alchemist who drops fire bombs at enemies, or a monk who is agile but can do damage similar to the warrior. A swordsman can attack enemies with a fire attack which leaves enemies burning for a short period of time after being hit.

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Even though not every character plays as effectively as others, each one has unique powers which make the game fun and different every time. During play, your pinball party is displayed on the side of the screen and you are able to switch back and forth between classes by using the bottom flippers to bring the ball to a complete stop, allowing you to cycle to the desired character before launching back into play.

While Rollers puts a unique spin on pinball, the story at times feels a bit forced. A washed up, drunk knight ends up defending and befriending a young woman (the rogue) who is just trying to get by in a world when the town guards decide to steal her dog so that the town blacksmith can have it as a meal. Defeating the blacksmith reunites the rogue with her dog and then sets the unlikely party out to right wrongs perpetrated by a power higher up than the local blacksmith. The story leads them to find a healer and a ranger and eventually a crone who is more than she first appears to be. Ultimately the party battles various evil forces, collecting artifacts to help them battle ancient warriors who had been unwittingly freed from imprisonment.

New story beats play out once per table, but after a level has been completed the cut scenes don’t replay if the table is revisited for further loot gathering. It would have been nice to be able to replay a level for the story if you want versus just playing it for gold or collectibles. Outside of the main party characters that are added automatically, there is a seaport that can be visited to upgrade equipment and unlock additional, non-essential party members. It’s crucial to bolster secondary powers and main attacks to meet the growing challenge as the adventure progresses, but the upgrade system turns into a bit of a grind as unlocking new characters and gear isn’t cheap and the amount of gold that is earned on any given level isn’t exactly high. Plus, having additional party members during a table means there are additional balls available to use before having to restart the table from the beginning (lives are equal to the number of heroes in the party).

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One aspect that shines nicely is the secondary Arena mode, which provides a handful of the better tables from the campaign mode and adds challenges such as to collect as much gold as possible in two minutes, or collect as much gold as you can while only using five balls. The great thing about the Arena mode is the ability to play a good table for an extended period of time. As a bonus a small amount of the gold won playing Arena tables carries over to the story itself. While the full amount of gold doesn’t carry over, it still can be more than what you’d get from replaying some of the smaller story tables, which gives a boost to grinding for upgrades.

Rollers of the Realm offers a fun way to explore the world of pinball. Fans of normal pinball may find the physics to be a bit wild at times while also being a bit slow at other times, depending on the class/ball selected. Personally, I found the ability to steer the ball to be a nice addition which, as a more thematic replacement for the old table nudge move of traditional pinball, helps save the ball from falling in the open lane at the bottom when the flippers are damaged and short. Each table can be completed rather quickly, which makes for a fun pick up and go gaming experience. As with any pinball table, patience and practice are key to mastery and enjoyment.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Each class ball has different weight and feel
+ Tables aren’t overly long and are great for quick pick up and play
+ True class-based RPG elements require switching out balls to achieve success
+ Arena mode offers a nice challenge to some of the better story based tables

Cons:
– Gold isn’t easy to come by, so upgrading and unlocking party members feels like a grind
– Replaying a table doesn’t offer a story mode vs. free play

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on Steam, also available on PS4 and Vita
Publisher: Atlus USA
Developer: Phantom Compass
Release Date: 11/18/2014
Genre: Pinball RPG
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.