Rollers of the Realm is a simple idea combining two genres: Pinball and RPGs. It sounds great in theory and the first couple experiences with it are a lot of fun. As it continues, I quickly found that Rollers of the Realm neglected to make the pinball part fun. In addition, neglecting the details and plish hurts the overall package. Of course, nothing is as bad as the final battle, but we’ll get to that later.
Ye Old Pinballe
In Rollers of the Realm, you’re a group of adventurers, collecting gold, charging mana, and striking the bad guys. However, you do this in pinball form. Also, unlike pinball, you can influence the horizontal momentum of your ball by pressing left or right. Your Rogue pinball does extra damage if she hits targets from behind, and is more easily influenced with left and right on the analog stick. The warrior is an extra large pinball that does extra damage to environmental targets, eventually destroying them. Your flippers will come under attack from enemies as well, which will end up shortening them. Of course you have a healer pinball to help with that, too.
You’ll aim your pinballs at targets to collect gold to buy upgrades for your pinballs–such as additional damage–and collect mana to use their special abilities (multi-ball!). There are some neat play fields where you’ll have to navigate a maze, using flippers creatively to get from point A to point B. There’s also 16 treasure chests along your campaign route that are worth going out of your way to find.
Sounds like an RPG, right? In fact, the game is just as you imagine, setting play fields in medieval towns, dark forests, and the catacombs of a mansion. The plot isn’t very deep or thick, but this is to the game’s benefit; the campaign lasts only a few hours, and the game never loses sight of the narrative, parrying a penniless rogue with a drunken, shamed warrior, on their individual paths to redemption.
The Deep, Dark… Screen
On every level, in addition to the two main flippers, there are additional flippers controlled by the L or R buttons. Have fun trying to find them when you enter a new level; they tend to blend in with the scenery perfectly. Also, many levels are very wide, and the camera won’t follow the pinball. On the extreme left or right sides, it can be difficult to tell where the ball is, and which flipper to use.
Some levels are also just simply dark. This game could use a gamma level adjuster.
When you go to the shop, it can be annoyingly hard to tell what you have highlighted. Not only that, there’s also a TON of interface lag, with the cursor not moving for over a full second after the d-pad is pressed. I can’t tell you how many times I accidentally switched characters. The shop was simply a pain to use.
Oh, speaking of switching characters, you have to trap the ball with one of the flippers, then press up or down to select a party member. Thematically and mechanically, this makes sense; trapping the ball is a standard pinball feature, and this makes the most sense. However, you can get up to 10 party members, and trying to find the right one in a hurry is frustrating. Oh, also, if your desired character is dead and you want to resurrect them, you’ll have to squint at the darkened picture of the character with the bright blue text saying “REVIVE” over it. Hope you got the right one! Meanwhile your flippers are being torn up.
The biggest problem with the game is that once there are multiple enemies on screen, or you’ve initiated multiball, the framerate will drop to around maybe 10-15 frames per second (on Vita–Ari played the PC version of the game and did not experience any frame rate issues). In a twitch game like pinball, this is unacceptable. In fact, it makes the final battle mostly unplayable. But again, we’ll get to that later.
Iz Pinball Baby
I feel like Rollers of the Realm forgets it is pinball. None of the playfields, absolutely none of them, are as fun to play on as a regular pinball table. The game tries very hard to make each playfield serve a purpose, but it’s literal. There will be a sarcophagus in the room you need to strike repeatedly, for example, but if you’ve played a traditional pinball game, there are ramps, drop targets, hurry-ups, etc. In my personal opinion, Rollers of the Realm should have abstracted each environment, and sought to ape designs and design patterns from traditional pinball games. Because of the way the game is set up, and it’s hard to express this in words, the game that I played doesn’t feel like traditional pinball at all. It’s something new entirely, and something that a lot of the time, isn’t enjoyable or rewarding.
The few levels where you have to navigate mazes are brilliant, though, turning pinball design on its head. Using traditional pinball logic, you’ll have to hold flippers open to create passageways. Some of these shots require some good timing, but quite frankly I loved this. There needed to be more of this.
In addition to the campaign, there are several standalone arenas where you’ll try to go for a high score. These arenas are the best place to try and ape traditional pinball, but these arenas have far too few targets and are uninteresting from a mechanical standpoint.
Nothing feels less like pinball than the final battle though. We’ll get to that right about now.
The Final Battle
Rollers of the Realm builds a gentle difficulty curve, introducing more varieties of enemies with more potent abilities. It’s nothing you can’t handle as you progress through the campaign.
And then the final battle begins.
First off, without spoiling anything, only one of the balls can do any real damage to the bosses. Most of the game, you were switching up balls to try and find the best combination for the playfield. Then you throw that away to try and protect one pinball, which goes against everything you’ve been playing up to that point. Should this pinball be lost, you can do NOTHING except try to recover it. Most of the party member pinballs you’ll be using will be useless because you’ll be too obsessed with saving your mana to revive your one true pinball.
The performance issues I mentioned before are the WORST in this fight. You will lose many times just because the frame skipped at the wrong time.
Oh, and hopefully the second fight doesn’t glitch out for you like it did for me, where loading the pinball into the catapult caused it to go OVER THE BOSS’S HEAD about 30% of the time.
This is a difficulty spike so sudden it makes my experience with Rogue Legacy look like Super Mario Brothers. It’s also partially an artificial spike caused by bugs and performance concerns.
This is the first game I have reviewed that I could not complete. Trust me, it ain’t for lack of trying.
Collect Your Bonus
I loved Rollers of the Realm when I saw it at Indiecade 2013. It turns out the part I played was the best part of the game, and it all rolls down the outlane from there. I think there’s room for a pinball-other genre mashup out there, but the pinball part has to come first.
Ted played through the campaign of Rollers of the Realm on PlayStation Vita, and tried to fight the last boss about 40 times. He also tried each of the arenas. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
+ Some glimpses of design brilliance
+ Individual pinballs with different abilities is a neat idea
+ Acceptable story
-Major performance issues
-Game too visually dark for its own good
Available on: PC, PlayStation 4, Vita
Version Reviewed: Vita