Rollers of the Realm could have been a tricky review to do. The game would seemingly have a niche category: a pinball game with RPG elements for the PC. While several people might have played the free pinball game that came with versions of Windows past, one could think that those looking for a pinball experience would go for the "real" thing, and go to a local arcade or bar to get their pinball fix in. However, Rollers of the Realm cleverly uses the basic elements of pinball and mixes it with smartly used mechanics as well as interesting takes on the pinball genre to make a wonderful pinball game that will draw in even those who aren't necessarily a fan of the genre. This, along with a nice little story and good use of RPG like elements, helps solidify Rollers of the Realm as one of the best pinball games available on Steam, if not the best one. And while the game may not be suited for everyone, it kept me coming back and playing it despite having a large difficulty spike at the end of the game (which was helped with a reasonably quick patch) at the time.
The story is a typical fantasy setting, but comes from the perspective of a thief and her dog, who's just trying to make it in the world. She ends up having her dog stolen by an evil keeper in town, and recruits help along the way in a drunken knight and a mysterious healer. While that starts up the story, a bigger plot and purpose for the crew become clear as an evil is going to overtake the land, and it's up for the crew that has come together out of circumstance to band together and fight for their world. While the story isn't breaking any boundaries of any sort, it is a nice little tale that have an overall nice theme. The voice acting in the game was a treat, each voice was distinguishable and was a pleasure to listen to, and fit their role rather well. The music is nothing special, and personally it's the type of game that's perfect for playing with a YouTube video on in the background.
The art style suits the game well, although at times I would have liked to see a little bit more color in the cities. The in engine graphics level a bit to be desired, although for an indie game is isn't horrible. It does the job, but it didn't detract from the experience, as this game's efforts were obviously focused on gameplay. And that choice was wise: as the strongest element in the game is what most people are buying the game for: pinball.
Let's start with the table itself. The tables are the back drops of cities, caves and mountains that create the hazards and elements that you'll have to bounce off to get through the level. Each level will have a specific goal in mind, whether it be to kill all the enemies within the level, get to the exit, or obtain an artifact and escape. The various tables are all over the place in terms of space and size, although several of them have reasonable open areas that may make things feel similar. However, no two tables really play the same, even when the goal is the same. Scattered along the level are various items or barriers to break, but the most important elements are items that give you mana, which is the lifeblood of the game. For a detailed explanation of the mechanics of the game, please watch the following video, as it will go in to depth on the deep mechanics of the game (as it's easier to show then to write it out).
What's done well here is the balance between control and randomness that each pinball session will have. Each character has their own strengths, such as the agile thief that can backstab enemies for critical damage, or the archer who only has to get close to do damage, and is immune to mana drain via bats. Each character stands out in their own way, and you can easily switch between them at the main set of paddles. The one draw back to this is there are two characters that are more important then everyone else. First is the thief, but only becomes critical at the end of the game (I won't spoil why). However, the second is the healer. Your paddles can take damage via enemies attacks, and while a couple of classes have abilities to heal, the healer far out surpasses them at every level. Which became a problem when you lost her in a critical junction, however, the ability to revive characters in the main story mode counteracts that.
In addition, the control you can have over the ball will help those who may not be as accurate with the pinball hits then others. You can control the ball slightly with the left control stick, and make the character move the appropriate direction. Characters that are more agile such as the thief and the swordsman can move a lot with this ability, while larger characters like the knight will move ever so slightly. You'll feel like you can hit any target given a little bit of time, and that's crucial for gaining mana and using abilities throughout the game. You feel the hits as you nail enemies with a precision strike, or are able to regain mana by hitting the right item in the environment. It gives you a sense of accomplishment and power, which can be lacking due to some of the random nature that pinball usually has. You're never really sticking on a particular shot in the environment, hoping that by some miracle you get the ball onto the ramp this time.
RPG elements come from gear that you can buy that enhance your skills, such as gaining more mana on hitting a mana pool, or giving you new abilities to use during battle. There's a lot of variety here, as you can focus on beefing up one major character and keep on trying to revive him, or space out the upgrades to use your entire team to its fullest potential. You'll be able to hire up to 4 additional mercenaries that are all unique in their own right (at least the two that I unlocked). In terms of grinding, there isn't much, although it is noted that there are treasures that can be found on the various maps that can power up your characters, that may make you go back a time or two.
There's not a lot of negatives that can be said by the game. At the time of playing, the final level was a really hard challenge, as there were 3 built in levels and not a lot of mana to work with (in particular, the last boss has a lack of mana points and bats that will steal it constantly). This was frustrating a bit, however, the developers responded with a checkpoint system to help with the challenge. The quick reaction by the developers to the community is duly noted, as it's clear that the developers love the product they put out, and the fans that the game has. This is very promising start for Phantom Compass. Once you've played through the main campaign (or not), you can hit up the arena mode, which reuses the maps from the campaign. That was a little disappointing, as once you finish the main campaign, you may have trouble staying playing over and over again.
But those negatives don't outweigh the great elements that this game has to present to the user. This is a must buy for pinball fans, and even those who only like the genre somewhat will enjoy what this game has to offer. You'll most certainly get your money's worth at the games full price of 10 bucks.
Perfect for those who love pinball, and worth a look at those who may not love the genre. A clever mix of elements and control make this game an enjoy to play.