It seems almost unfathomable that we don't exist amidst a wave of Peggle clones. We are not completely devoid of them, but PopCap's seminal fairy dust pachinko simulation has escaped the fate of similarly simple titles like Flappy Bird and Threes. Perhaps its release on PC before the age of mobile saved it, perhaps PopCap's parent company was too much of a legal hurdle. Nevertheless, we haven't even seen Peggle's pachinko mechanics appear as a hacking mini-game or some other form of distraction in bigger AAA games. Maybe that's why Roundguard seems so novel in its iteration.
Hitting All The Familiar Pegs
This debut effort from Wonderbelly Games takes the mechanic that Peggle popularized and remixes it with a whole slew of systems from several genres. Your pachinko ball is now one of three RPG classes, engaging in combat with oversized monster pegs that bite back when you hit them. You can collect potions to refill your health, use special abilities to bounce around with more precision and find gear and weapon to upgrade your stats. Bosses yield special trinkets to deal with problem enemies, although their random nature makes them more of a nice bonus than an essential tool in your simulated quest to rescue kidnapped royalty.
You see, not only does Roundguard layer on full systems to Peggle, but it also adds a premise more complicated than "make the unicorn happy with a pinball." The entire game is a stage play like Super Mario 3, although it also has elements of a game show on top of that. You collect gold throughout your run to spin a wheel, and winning at that game gets you more bonus trinkets, although the later-stage rewards here seem far more game-changing. In fact, it seems possible to completely break Roundguard with the right upgrades, a feat that I admire in any roguelike.
Yes, Roundguard also takes Peggle into the realm of procedural dungeon crawling, albeit not completely successfully. It feels like a necessary step after introducing health to what was once a pure arcade game with lives, but the developers don't go all in. None of the upgrades you accrue stay unlocked after your run, and the only reason to keep playing after you win is a collection of game-changing relics. These mutators are nice, but they're no replacement for the slow ramp of power that the best in the genre provides. At its core, it's the same game no matter how long you play it.
With that in mind, it's best to think of Roundguard as an arcade game first and foremost. Gameplay-wise, Roundguard captures everything players love about Peggle and then some. The power-ups you get with each character's magic abilities give you unique strategic options and control over where you want the ball to go. You can't always make your shot, but it's less about maximizing your balls and more about getting as much done with a single play as possible. Your health bar doesn't last forever and you're guaranteed to take damage from the enemies you're required to take out. It's a delicate balancing act that can feel unfair if you get some bad RNG.
Shrinking Your Expectations
That specific balancing likely owes to the fact that Roundguard originated on Apple Arcade. It's a platform that promises console-quality experiences but still hampers projects with mobile limitations. The quick runs and lack of meaningful progression fit in perfectly on the go. After all, you wouldn't want to cancel out of an amazing run because your bank teller called your name. On PC, it makes the experience feel small. You can see where the developers can expand this idea into something meatier, but those are ambitions for a sequel rather than any type of post-launch patching.
Even if you'll likely only be enjoying Roundguard for a few hours, there's a lot of fun to be had. The presentation is charming and humorous, with some clever and unexpected twists on genre conventions. The graphics come out ahead of many simplistic arcade games, avoiding that "Flash" style that makes things look cheap even if they aren't. Every spherical character has tons of personality, and the soundtrack is equally whimsical. It's another place where I just wish there was more to take in, but aside from a few NPCs and creative bosses, you'll see the whole cast in a flash.
Roundguard Review | Final Thoughts
Despite its best efforts, layering on addictive rogue elements to Peggle doesn't make it a more addicting experience. I still have fond memories of my time with PopCap's title, and Roundguard doesn't have the staying power to duplicate that. There's a solid game here, a single step towards something that could be momentous. With just a few tweaks and more meaningful progression, we could really see the heir apparent to virtual pachinko. As it is, Roundguard is a fun RPG that's probably best played in a waiting room or in front of endless Law and Order reruns.
TechRaptor reviewed Roundguard on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer. The game is also avialable on Apple Arcade, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One.
- Charming Presentation
- Easygoing Arcade Fun
- Interesting Mechanical Iteration
- Lack of Staying Power
- Progression Isn't Interesting
- Shallow Gameplay