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Rollers of the Realm Review: Pinball Wizards
One of my favourite games to sit and chill out with is Game Dev Tycoon. I have a thing for strategy based games to begin with, but what I really love is the freedom to come up with different types of games against the backdrop of a fictional recreation of the history of gaming. As your game progresses, you gain the ability to create fusion games by combining different genres – a business vampire shooter? Sure, go for it. This kind of random selection jumped immediately to mind when I started playing Rollers of the Realm, the Atlus-published pinball-medieval fantasy game, and from the start was a little worried how the execution of that combo would fare in real life.
As it turns out, better than you’d think but less than you’d hope.
The story of the game begins with a young girl and her dog – sorry, “family” – as they pickpocket and plunder the gold they need to survive in a nation torn apart by war. Along the way they encounter other rpg stock characters who join their party – a drunk and jaded knight, an enigmatic healer who may just have more to her than meets the eye, an undercover prince – and, of course, the nature and importance of their quest escalates outrageously. The story itself has been done a thousand times, and is very much a place-holder to allow for the contrivance of the game itself. Each character is represented by a different pinball, each with it’s own size, weight and manoeuvrability. Some of these can deal more damage to the environment and enemies in the level, others excel at gathering mana and gold from around the map, whereas yet others have individual powers; the healer for example, passively restores the main paddles which can be damaged by enemies. The gold you gather can be used to purchase minor upgrades or additional characters, and the mana can be used within levels to activate each character’s main ability, which can take the form of a revive or multi-ball amongst others. Furthermore, the number of characters you have essentially determines the number of attempts you have in each level, with a larger party allowing for more failure.
The game itself is fantastic fun to play. It has a challenging but rewarding difficulty curve as the game progresses, although some levels do become repetitive over time, and each level offers new challenges to overcome and puzzles to solve. It’s easy to fall into the trap of relying on certain characters to accomplish certain tasks, but the game takes steps to mitigate this as levels become increasingly difficult. Even the slightest of mistakes can mean losing that character until you can revive them, forcing you to switch up and try out new members of your team until you can re-summon your big hitters. Most levels require one or two specific angles to be hit several times, which is where boredom can start to seep in, but failing to hit those angles can lead to further issues that you have to deal with. Coping with those long enough to get back into a second attempt is where the really nail-biting action happens, and the skills you have accrued are tested.
It is a shame to see that the fantastic core of the game is somewhat undermined by everything that surrounds it. As I have already the mentioned the story is incredibly basic. This is fine as an explanation of the games conceits, but seems to be held in the same regard and thrust into the spotlight as much as the pinball game-play itself. It’s functional but little more, and is ultimately disappointing. In addition to this, a really lacklustre voice-acting performance leads to a jarring experience during and between levels. It’s genuinely difficult to tell whether the voice actors were putting on accents and failing to pull them off, or using their own accents and tripping over their lines. Either way, something about the voice cast felt uncomfortable and unprofessional. The same critique can be applied to the artwork used in the games menus and ‘cut-scenes’, where the same images are re-hashed and re-used for a plethora of different circumstances. There’s nothing particularly bad about this, but it cheapens the feel of the entire game. It makes it feel less like a professionally made title and more like a browser-based Kongregate release. That being said, it’s clear that the bulk of attention and money has been spent on developing the parts of the game that really matter, which is absolutely the right thing to do. I don’t feel short-changed so much as disappointed that the game didn’t get the polish it deserved.
Rollers of the Realm is a fun game to waste some time with. It’s got that kind of addicting quality that gets under your skin, and keeps calling you back to play more, complete more levels, and aim for perfection. It’s might not be perfect, but I hope the game does well. I’d very much like to see what could be done with a little more confidence in a sequel. It’s a strong title and is well worth checking out, even if it is a little rough around the edges.