Every once in a while, you find a game that offers a new experience, and makes you wonder why it hasn’t been tried before. That is the case with Rollers of the Realm, the first release from Canadian developer Phantom Compass. They have taken the humble pinball genre, and spliced it together with the mechanics and storyline of a medieval role-playing game.
The game’s narrative begins in a typical storybook fashion, with a narrator that takes you by surprise. Although I did not know the history of the omnipotent voice, who I would learn was the main character, I had already drawn a connection to her because her Cockney dialect was an interesting deviation from the usual neutral protagonist. Although the cursed heroes and fallen kingdom storyline is fairly commonplace, it is one of the first games I have encountered where the main character has a regional accent that affects her dialogue.
The main campaign of Rollers of the Realm is similar to Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball for the Sega Mega Drive, as it requires a mixture of pinball action, and occasional platforming sections that need you to manually move the ball. The kingdom itself is split into five worlds, each of them holding around seven areas for you to travel through. In each of the levels, you must take your group of heroes from one end of the board to the other, whilst progressing through the story, collecting hidden treasures, finding hidden short-cuts and defeating the enemies that invade the board.
As you travel throughout the medieval kingdom, you will encounter a bloodthirsty blacksmith, a group of cautious outlaws and a legion of knights that are determined to end your journey. You will more than likely complete the game within an hour, but the narrative that accompanies the adventure is definitely worth experiencing, even if it is short and sweet. Some of the enemies you face can damage your flippers, which can make them smaller, or disappear altogether if they lose all their health. Although the bosses are distinctly individual, the same could not be said of the common enemies, who seem to spawn in their dozens with very little variation in their design.
Unlike traditional pinball games, each ball you fire into play represents a character from your party. Although you start with only one, you will gain a total of six heroes. These range from the fast moving dependable Rogue, to the energy wielding Mage, and the slow moving but hard hitting Knight. As well the characters you unlock throughout the journey, you can also recruit hired hands to act as additional party members. Each of the heroes has their own unique ability, which can be activated if the player has collected enough mana. The Rogue can summon her faithful pet dog as an extra ball, whereas the Knight can use his shield to defend the active pinball flippers from sustaining critical damage.
One of the most important elements of a pinball game are the physics of the balls that you control, and for the most part, Rollers of the Realm has no major issues. There were a few occasions where my key press wasn’t registered, but it never occurred often enough to become a major concern. If you do not want to use the default configuration, it is possible to customise your controls, so whether you use a controller or a keyboard, you will never feel out of your depth.
Instead of ranking up points to show onto a leader board in the main campaign, you will earn experience points, gold and mana from your exploits. Mana can only be used to activate the abilities to each player, or revive fallen players after they have collected a certain amount. Gold can be used to buy upgrades for your characters to improve their strength, speed and special abilities. Whereas experience points enable you to add hired hands, a secondary support character, once you can afford their services. These RPG mechanics adds an extra layer of depth to the proceedings, extending the time that I would spend in an area to get extra gold, or going back to a previously completed segment to reach the next rung on the experience ladder.
If you do want to see how you rank against others, the Arena mode is designed for this purpose. The area from each of the boss fights in the main story mode become available as you defeat them in the campaign. When you run out of characters, your gold count will be counted as your score. The addition of friend and global leader boards is a nice touch, although it would have been nice to see additional challenges outside of the campaign mode such as a point challenge, or avoiding certain areas of the game board.
The music that plays during the game is fairly commonplace, with typical compositions such as an orchestral hero themes showing up during the title screen, or a quiet piece when you encounter a new playable character. The voice acting is of high quality, bringing life to the otherwise tried and true characters, and making you empathise with them whenever they come across a setback on their journey. The sound effects can become a little grating, but as the game is repetitive by nature, it is not a negative criticism.
Overall, Rollers of the Realm takes the best elements of both the pinball and role playing genres, and combines them to make a unique challenging adventure. While it would have been nice for the campaign mode to be a little longer, the story that accompanies it comes to a fitting close. If you are at all interested in pinball, or are looking for an RPG that tests your reflexes rather than your wits, then Rollers of the Realm is a well designed and competent alternative.