Preview events offer only brief glimpses at very big games. Who knows how any given game will pan out in its final form? The most we can say is This Could Be Good.
Rollers Of The Realm
Developer: Phantom Compass
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Release date: 2014
Good things occasionally come from fundamentally bad ideas. Think Justin Timberlake’s solo career, a Mario Bros. kart-racing game, or Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Tacos. Likewise, slapping together a swords-and-sorcery role-playing game—a genre infamous for its overcomplicated trappings—with the simple, tactile joy of pinball seems absurd on paper. What’s next, chess and Japanese horror? Monopoly and a first-person shooter? But developer Phantom Compass has somehow tapped into some synergy between the two disparate genres in Rollers Of The Realm, which I tried out this week on the E3 show floor.
The campaign opens with a single character, a rogue who appears on the field of play as a copper-colored ball. The first “table” is a mission to maneuver the rogue into a medieval town. That’s accomplished by launching her into the fray with a plunger and flinging her around with wooden flippers, gaining mana much in the same way you would score points in a traditional game of pinball—by hitting specific targets like guardsmen and barrels. Pinballs apparently play by official Dungeons & Dragons rules in Rollers Of The Realm, meaning the rogue does greater damage when striking (bumping?) foes from behind. Once you reach a certain threshold of mana, pressing a button will summon the rogue’s trusty dog pet, and suddenly you’ve got a multiball bonus needed to reach the manhole and sneak into town.
Completing additional missions unlocks new characters to join your party (of pinballs)—each with their own unique abilities and quirks. A heavily armored drunken knight, for example, is represented by a hefty silver ball that lurches around the levels more slowly than others but can bust through obstacles his compatriots can’t. Later, you meet a healer who can resurrect balls that “die” by falling into the gutter.
Many quests act more like puzzles than sheer tests of pinball accuracy and skill, requiring that you switch to different characters at the appropriate time. You might switch to the knight to crush your way through a barrier, for instance, or to an ax-wielding farmer who wreaks havoc on wooden structures. Your characters aren’t the only ones who can fall in battle. Enemy archers, for example, can fire arrows at your flippers and damage them. The lower the health of your flippers, the smaller they become.
Rollers Of The Realm resembles pinball more than it resembles, say, Final Fantasy. So you’re not going to get epic cutscenes between shots, for instance. (In fact, the story is told briskly through short pieces of skippable dialogue.) Nor are you going to waste time flipping through equipment menus, and there’s no need to look at anything resembling a map. Just as Tommy once proved that you can somehow make a rock musical about a pinball wizard, Rollers Of The Realm manages to make a strong case for a wizard who is literally a pinball.