There was a recent point in popular culture’s history where everyone and their dog was inexplicably obsessed with bacon. Bacon flavored chocolate, bacon scented air fresheners, and bacon plush toys flooded novelty shops, while bacon memes took over the internet. It seemed like all the cool kids were too busy professing their love for bacon to realize just how stupid they all were for finally recognizing something that’s been around since the freaking 1600s. I bring this up only because there seems to be a similar trend in the videogame industry when it comes to Role Playing Games. You can’t throw an indie developer at the Steam Greenlight page without them smacking face first into a game featuring “RPG elements”, and like the legacy of the aforementioned fried pig, the products of this new hype all taste a bit off. Rollers of the Realm, a pinball game touting an RPG twist, falls somewhere between the bacon-flavored toothpaste and bacon-scented deodorant, proving to be no more than a pig in a dress.
While most pinball games need no further plot development than “hit the ball with the bumper”, Rollers of the Realm attempts to weave in a fantasy tale set in your standard Middle-Earth world. Your main character, a little blonde girl with the most atrocious cockney accent since Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins, travels through a series of maps sporting castle, forest, and town backdrops. Along the way, you encounter other playable characters (ten in all) who join your cause to overthrow groups of bandits and militiamen, and soon you’re accompanied by a healer, a drunk knight, a roguish hunter, and a handful of others. Most of these characters actually sound pretty interesting until you realize this is pinball and the only way to tell them apart is from the color of the ball they represent before chucking them onto the board.
The game itself plays like any other pinball experience on the market. You operate a couple flippers and attempt to hit certain targets and bumpers strewn about the map without having your ball fall into the dead zone. Along with smashing the ball left and right, you also have the very limited ability to steer your sphere, though this turned out to be more of a hassle than it was really worth. The roll and bounce physics are all very standard, but there’s no way to modulate how hard you hit the ball with the flippers so you’re stuck with either full steam ahead or nothing at all.
While the traditional goal of pinball in simpler times was to earn as high a score as possible, Rollers of the Realm attempts to switch things up with the first hint of an RPG quality. While you can earn gold and experience points by hitting random objects around the baord, most maps require you to defeat a handful of enemies before moving on to the next level. While the game parades this as some sort of fighting mechanic, all you’re really doing is bouncing into actual people with your ball until they get fed up enough by such a minor annoyance that they pass out in frustration. All I can think is that one day the developers came across an aggressive game of marbles on the playground and thought that’s how real-world conflicts were resolved.
So that it doesn’t look like a total liar with its pants on fire, Rollers of the Realm attempts to strap on a few more RPG elements (I’m starting to gag every time I have to say it) by implementing character development. Each ball, which again represents some hand drawn, hydrocephalic trope from the world of fantasy, has a set of traits and a special ability or two. The Knight ball is good at attacking, the Healer can repair flippers and revive dead balls, and the Hunter can shoot projectiles every few seconds. These stats and abilities can all be upgraded at the shop using gold collected in previous maps, but while this may sound like it works in theory, almost all of the abilities, save for the healer, are borderline useless. Along the same lines, the purchasable upgrades all balance the characters out when maxed, begging the question of why I would prefer one ball over the other. It’s completely unnecessary and only tries to fool you into thinking it’s a grown-up, big boy RPG that no longer wets the bed when played.
Perhaps the only thing ROTR has in common with actual RPGs is the fact that the difficulty curve resembles a vertical line. The game beats around the bush when it suggests that you may have to go back and replay a level or two for extra gold in order to buy more upgrades, but in truth this is absolutely necessary. The game goes from tutorial to hair-pulling madness in the span of a few levels, forcing you to backtrack and painstakingly grind for the next hour and a half to ensure you won’t have your spirit broken on upcoming challenges.
The graphics are what you’d expect of a pinball game, and while some of the maps are brightly colored and contain a few interesting set pieces, the grand majority of it all starts to look copy-pasted from earlier levels. The music, which will play for however long it takes you to finish the level, is about as horrible as the previously mentioned voice acting, so puncturing your ear drums is indeed a viable option when you find yourself stuck on the same map for more than three minutes.
Rollers of the Realm would have done just fine in my book if it had just set out to be exactly what it is: a pinball game. Throw aside all the character upgrades, plot twists, and “fighting”, and just give me a beautiful, Medieval-themed pinball machine and the chance to earn a million points. I know standing out in the dusty world of arcade games is hard, but there really are some things in this world that don’t need RPG elements (*gag*).