Rollers of The Realm is an odd franchise. Blending a story and a Medieval setting with pinball on the surface sounds like something that has no business working. But somehow, the team at Phantom Compass managed to pull it off. With the first game published by Atlus, there was a lot of love for the outrageous concept. Now, years later, the small Canadian team is at it again with Rollers of The Realm: Reunion, and even in the early stages it is already proving there is a lot to love about the concept.
The concept for Rollers of The Realm: Reunion is simple: you go through a series of quests through a pinball-like setting. From sneaking through a locked gate, recruiting new members for your rag-tag band, to taking down dastardly goblins, it is all done with the power of pinball. It sounds complex, but once you have your hands on the controls, it just works.
The dead simple control scheme keeps things easy to understand. Even when you are working your way through rolls of challenges, and goblins looking to take you down, the controls you learn early carry you through each new adventure. With the paddles your main mode of transport, the triggers are your friends in Rollers of The Realm: Reunion. You use them to pick up speed, gain power and navigate the areas. If you have ever played a pinball game, you will feel right at home here.
Beyond the paddles, you also have the ability to use the left analog stick to navigate, and each character has a set of special moves that are necessary for getting through some obstacles the game sets in your path. These are different for each character, and include everything from a shelf move, to a lightning strike.
“With the paddles your main mode of transport, the triggers are your friends in Rollers of The Realm: Reunion.”
I will have to come clean, I have never been a pinball wizard, so jumping into Rollers of The Realm: Reunion I was a little rusty. There is a skill to pinball, and it is a skill I never mastered. Thankfully, Phantom Compass has made the process of learning the controls and the overall systems challenging enough to keep players on their toes, but scaffolded enough that new players can learn and slowly get the feel for how the game plays and what is needed.
The art style takes the core of the first Rollers of The Realm game and gives it a fresh, fun coat of paint. Even with the pinball like world, the characters and design make this feel like a place you will want to explore. It is often hard to imagine Phantom Compass is such a small team, with so many unique concepts at play. This is a game that is instantly fun to dive into, with it getting more exciting the further you explore.
Phantom Compass also managed to mix up gameplay enough to keep things interesting, even for people that may know the formula. While there are plenty of challenge areas, where you need to hit a select area to set the next stage into motion, there are concepts that push pinball to its limits. Even in the preview build I got to play, there were side scrolling segments, similar to what you would see in a Metroid or Castlevania title, beyond the fact that you are ball. These include segments where you are collecting keys or just navigating a challenge. It is a small change to the formula, but it breaks up the gameplay in the best possible way.
“The art style takes the core of the first Rollers of The Realm game and gives it a fresh, fun coat of paint.”
I was also a fan of how easy it is to swap characters in Rollers of The Realm: Reunion. Each member of your group in the game has strengths and weaknesses, and with an easy press of the d-pad you can swap them out at any time. If this were not enough, there are special moves that let you call on other companions, a skill needed to get through some areas. It is a small thing, but the different ways each member of your group rolls makes for a variety of ways to take on each new room.
I have reservations about how well the pinball formula will work for a longer game experience, but from the preview I have had, the team at Phantom Compass have done enough to break the monotony and built something that will keep you coming back for more. While it may be a while off, slated to launch in the latter half of 2022, from what I have seen, Rollers of The Realm: Reunion is already an exciting entry to the series.
I love seeing games that break the mould and do something new, and, thankfully, in the case of Rollers of The Realm: Reunion, it is paying off. There are a few areas I hope the team polish before release, but from what I have seen, there is a lot to like with this instalment. Phantom Compass is doing some unique things, and if they keep this up for the full release, they should have a winner on their hands.