One of the things I’ve always liked about RPGs is their generally persistent progression, and it’s those same hooks that have caught on in so many titles these days. Everything from shooters to racing games are incorporating leveling and progression systems, and I’d wager it’s because many players do enjoy that persistent, ever-forward feeling that comes with RPG-style progress. While most developers are content to borrow a few RPG elements while still situating their game firmly in the “main” genre, that’s not always the case. Back when Puzzle Quest first came out, I recall saying something to the effect of “holy crap, we need more hybrid RPGs,” and evidently, Rollers of the Realm developer Phantom Compass felt the same way. These games aim to integrate the RPG experience more heavily with their core mechanics than simply twining a leveling system to them. When these things work out, the result is something that draws from the strengths of the mechanics of the main genre but marries them to new and interesting ways of thinking about them, RPG-style. And while Rollers of the Realm might not be quite as addictive and massive as the original Puzzle Quest, it definitely delivers on its concept.
Let’s get the technical stuff out of the way. The art style in the game is charming, but not especially interesting. The graphics are nothing special, but they’re also glitch-free and clean. You won’t hear any music that knocks you off your feet, but it does have a simple charm that suits the game well. There’s actually a fair bit of voice acting between gameplay sequences, but it’s hackneyed to the point that it seems as though it took a bath in a big old tub full of ground-up trope soup. The story and writing are completely forgettable, such so that you could probably skip all but the tutorial messages explaining what each new party member’s abilities are and be perfectly content.
Where Rollers of the Realm really does well, though, is in the gameplay. Combining disparate kinds of games is a tricky business, and thankfully developer Phantom Compass has deftly executed on the concept. The towns, dungeons, forests, and other fantasy areas you’ll travel through are all represented as pinball boards, and your foes appear right on these boards, waiting for you smash them up. Their attacks can either damage your flippers (each with their own green health bars) or interfere with your movement. In addition to your flippers, you have a limited amount of lateral movement available (think of it as tilting the board) based on your current character’s agility. That ever-growing gaggle of heroes is represented by different pinballs: for example, the knight is a big, heavy iron ball without much maneuverability, whereas the rogue is a light, agile ball that can make it through tighter spaces and even pickpocket enemies if they’re struck from behind. Each character has a unique special ability, like the knight’s Shield, which blocks the ball from falling into the gutters for a certain amount of time, or the ranger’s ability to launch extra pinballs into the board. The various required and optional characters at your disposal each add a fun new wrinkle that makes acquiring them and using them a blast. The RPG elements come into play via the abilities and stats of each character/pinball, and you’re able to explore old levels for gold and experience points, which in turn allows you to buy gear to upgrade said stats. The progression path is mostly linear, but it’s still enjoyable to be rewarded for going back and trying to find every secret in each board.
While the RPG “stuff” is implemented well, the game is ultimately a success because of the great pinball physics and the fun (if infuriating by nature) board designs. Obstacles are laid out in such a way that objectives are constantly just slightly out of your reach, and you’ll have to manipulate your skills, tilt, and flippers just right in order to hit them — and when you do, it’s profoundly satisfying on its own, even before you account for the extra mana, money, and experience it earned you. Even after numerous failures or grinding visits, I was still having a good time manipulating each stage to rack up higher bonuses and find every last hidden item and upgrade. It’s not an especially long game, but it stays engaging throughout, constantly changing things up and presenting the player with interesting challenges.
It might seem glib, but I can get to the heart of Rollers of the Realm quite easily: it’s a pinball RPG. It’s a good pinball RPG. Truth be told, there isn’t a whole lot more you need to consider when pondering a purchase. It’s enjoyable, it’s unique, and it’s the only game of its kind. One can only hope Phantom Compass has a chance to further refine their winning formula in a sequel somewhere down the line.