Review: Rollers of the Realm

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It’s a well-known fact that you can apply RPG elements to nearly any kind of game, but there yet remains a few genres that this cross-pollination has not touched. You can cross pinball games off that list thanks to Rollers of the Realm, a medieval romp through forests and castles as adventuring classes of balls. It’s not a tongue-in-cheek treatment either, for the pinballing exclusively covers the mechanics of gameplay while the story traces the characters those balls represent. I never would have thought to approach RPG pinball from this angle, but I also wouldn’t have expected it to be this fun.

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The story opens with a young thief and her dog in the midst of trouble, as thieves are wont to do. Her struggle leads her to cross paths with a drunken knight, a timid healer, and many more colorful characters as they uncover a plot that spans the entire realm. Getting to the bottom of it will require enlisting the aid of druids, exploring ancient tombs, breaking into secured keeps, and more. Only clever use of her allies’ skills will allow the thief to break through the bandits and barriers in her way and maybe, just maybe, get some peace and quiet for her and her dog.

Levels are heavily informed by the plot as you progress, placing you in forest clearings, market squares, dismal dungeons, and other common fantasy locales. The difference here is that they’re laid out like simple pinball tables, and you heroes are balls. Launching your chosen ally onto the field, you must use the often numerous flippers to get them into the parts of the map needed to progress, bumping off enemies and gathering gold and treasure along the way. Goals can be anything from defeating a jailer to nailing trickshot off a table and out a tower window, but all of them require fine control over your rolling heroes.

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Holding a ball in the launcher or on your flippers lets you switch freely between the classes at your disposal. Each has stats and skills to be aware of, like the thief being smaller and doing more damage from behind, or the knight being larger and resistant to being knocked around. They have special abilities as well, everything from calling in additional balls to blocking gutters to reviving lost heroes. When there are no enemies around you can flip balls around willy-nilly without losing them but when foes turn up, gutterballs are lost unless revived by the priest ball. Enemies attack by striking your flippers, cleverly chipping away at them until they’re too short to be of any use.

The mechanics of the game are extremely well thought-out and do a convincing job of imitating a classic tale of adventure. You’ll get plenty of voiced interludes from your character which feature some snappy, entertaining exchanges. Additionally, that gold you collect is used to purchase item upgrades which improve the stats of your heroes or grant them new abilities. It’s the total RPG package, marked only by a few missteps. Some levels aren’t designed as well as others and can require frustratingly precise shots or transfers to complete. One forest level took me ages to beat because the path through it was needlessly obtuse. There’s also not a huge amount of levels, especially considering how quickly you can burn through them once you get the hang of the game.

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The soft, pastoral tones and simple shapes are perfect for a game so steeped in classic charms, though some parts like the character portraits are not up to the same quality. Don’t expect anything spectacular from the sound design, but it does what it’s there to do. You’ll get a few good hours of adventure out of this one, more if you give the optional arena mode a shot or go back to dig up hidden treasures in each of the levels. Rollers of the Realm does a fine job of executing its premise and making it a rollicking good time, it’s just not terribly ambitious about any of it. Put this one down for when you need a chill adventure, and you won’t be disappointed.

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