Rollers of the Realm review for PS Vita, PS4

Platform: PS Vita
Also On: PS4, PC
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Phantom Compass
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: Leaderboards

I’ve never been able to get into pinball. It hasn’t mattered whether it’s real-life or video games, every time I’ve ever played a table, the pattern has always been the same: it holds my interest for a couple of minutes, I get reminded that I’m not good enough to get a high score, and I give up as soon as I lose a ball. Even when the table is tied in with something I’m familiar with, like the Uncharted-themed table on Pinball Heroes, I’ve never been able to get into it.

All of which is to say: Rollers of the Realm is basically pinball for someone like me. It doesn’t have flashing lights or multipliers or any of the literal bells and whistles that usually draw people into a table. Instead, it takes an altogether different approach: it tries to bring an RPG sensibility into the mix. There’s a story, complete with voice acting. The balls all represent different characters, each of whom you can level up and buy upgrades for (using in-game gold, not IAPs). The setting isn’t a traditional pinball table, but rather a medieval setting, complete with barrels and vermin and wenches and knights. You’re not trying to get a high score, but rather you have to meet each table’s specific objective, whether it’s collecting a certain amount of gold, taking out all the bad guys, or simply navigating your way to the end of the level.

Rollers of the Realm 1

In other words, it’s definitely a different approach. And when it works, I have to say it does a way better job of drawing me in than any other pinball game I’ve ever seen. The story is engaging, the different balls have distinctive personalities — at least to the extent balls can have personalities (hey, if it worked for Thomas Was Alone…) — and the setting was undeniably unique.

The thing is, there’s that phrase: “when it works”. Becase my one big complaint about Rollers of the Realm is that it doesn’t always. Twice when I was playing on Vita the game completely crashed and had to be restarted, several times balls would just stick in one place and refuse to go anywhere, and I lost track of the number of little graphical hiccups that made the action skip from one point in time to another. For a game like pinball, which relies to a great degree on instinctive reactions, having graphics that have a tendency to skip “a little bit” is basically the worst thing that could possibly happen.

Rollers of the Realm 2

Which is really a massive shame since, without those glitches, this game would’ve been amazing. As I said at the beginning of this review, I’ve never been able to get into pinball, but Rollers of the Realm had me hooked. There’s just something about replacing questing after a high score with a literal medieval quest that drew me in and kept me there…at least until the glitches became too much to overlook. That’s when the old, familiar pinball frustration kicked in — and it’s why, for all it’s strengths, it makes it very, very hard to recommend buying this game.

Grade: C