Who among us hasn’t complained from time to time about yet another game doing the same thing as every other game? “Ugh, another Dark Souls clone.” “Isn’t this the same Call of Duty they released last year?” Etc. Well, good news, everyone: Rollers of the Realm isn’t like any other game I’ve ever played. It’s a pinball RPG. Yeah, it’s a game where you can be an actual pinball wizard.
When the game begins, your only party member is a young thief. Shortly after she arrives in a new town, her dog is taken, and getting him back starts her on an adventure that finds her joining a knight, a hunter, and a number of other characters on a quest to save their land from ancient mystical forces. There’s not much of a story, and the ending is kind of silly, but the game is short and gameplay-driven, so I don’t see this as a significant negative.
Any pinball game needs tables, and in this one, the tables are the locations of the battles. They contain breakable objects, enemies (mostly humanoid in appearance), bumpers, and targets. Hitting bumpers and targets provides you with mana, and objects and enemies provide you with experience and money.
As you might guess, each party member is represented by a pinball. When the ball runs into breakable objects and enemies, it does damage to them. Deal enough damage to an enemy or object and it will be destroyed. The enemies never damage the ball, but their attacks can alter its course. Ranged attackers like wizards or bowmen attack the flippers directly, shrinking them until it becomes very difficult to actually catch a ball.
The good news is that there is a way for you to repair those flippers, and there are ways to improve the damage you’re doing to enemies. Each party member has their own skills and stats, and they come in handy in different situations. The healer was my favorite party member for most of the game, as she repairs the flippers any time she earns mana or does damage. The hunter fires arrows at enemies he passes, making it so that you don’t necessarily have to actually connect with an enemy to take them down. All of the characters have special skills that use mana — the hunter, for example, can trigger a multiball (the extra balls represent his trained pets), and the alchemist drops a time bomb that does massive damage to a wide area when it explodes.
In most physical pinball tables, you are given three balls per game. In Rollers of the Realm, you have as many balls as you have party members. When a ball falls through the hole at the bottom of the table, you lose that party member. Lose them all, and you lose the battle. Fortunately, if you fill up your mana bar, you can spend that mana to revive a fallen party member. This has a huge effect on battles, and there were a number of times when I was able to play defensively and bring myself back up from one or two party members to a full party. On the down side, knowing that I could use mana to revive people led me to use my party members’ special skills very rarely. I didn’t want to “waste” it, even though the skills are worth using.
I enjoy pinball in general, and after the few tries I needed to get a good feel for the physics, I had a lot of fun with this game. There was one board that I must have tried several dozen times in quick succession, but I was having fun the whole time I failed. The only time I got actually frustrated with the game was on one level where the balls kept bouncing down the hole as soon as I fired them. But once I realized that I could pull the plunger back just part of the way, I got past that obstacle.
Rollers of the Realm is available on PS4, Vita, and Steam, and thanks to the game’s cross-play functionality, I played it on both Vita and PS4. I bring this up because that control issue is something I experienced in the Vita version, but not the PS4. The tiny analog stick on the Vita makes it tough to pull back just partway, but I had no such trouble on PS4. For some reason, navigating the menus was easier on PS4 as well, but I have no explanation as to why that would be. Controller vibration also enhanced the PS4 experience for me, but I know that not everyone appreciates it.
Visually, of course, the game is fairly different when played on the Vita’s screen or a TV. It looks good in both presentations, although smaller tables work better on the Vita, and larger ones work better on the TV. With small tables on the TV, the ball moves a bit more quickly than is comfortable to watch, and with large ones on the Vita, the elements all become a bit smaller than is comfortable. This issue is common to every video game version of pinball I’ve ever played, though, so I will not fault these developers for failing to solve a problem every developer in the genre deals with. The one place where the Vita version suffers visually is in its menu font, which is occasionally very difficult to read.
Rollers of the Realm isn’t an extremely long game, but I had a lot of fun with it. Once you’ve finished a level, you can go back and play it again for experience and money, and I’ve done so several times now, even after beating the final level. (Which, incidentally, is probably the best level in the game.) I recommend it for anyone who likes pinball or who just likes supporting developers who do a good job when trying something unique.