No matter what your gaming preferences, I refuse to accept that there is any gamer out there who hasn’t at some point in time been drawn in by the brilliance of Peggle. The peg-hitting puzzler has been a phenomenon since first launch in 2007, and it’s an absolute travesty that there has been no movement with the series since Peggle 2 hit Xbox and PlayStation across 2013 and 2014. But with many years having passed since gamers have had the opportunity to go high-score chasing, Wonderbelly Games and The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild have seen a bit of a gap in the market, taking the super simple playstyle of Peggle and combining it with some dungeon crawling roguelike action in Roundguard. While we’re not here to witness something quite as enthralling as the game that has inspired it, for anyone needing to scratch a peg-pinging itch then it suffices.
At its heart Roundguard wants to be Peggle, with the overarching gameplay mechanics pretty much working on the exact same wavelength as PopCap’s masterpiece. But it does try to do things slightly differently too, and Wonderbelly have taken the standard ball-fuelled, pinball physics styled gameplay and mixed it up, throwing in roguelike procedures, dungeon crawling mechanics and a whole ton of different abilities, skills and buffs to ensure that it is just about different enough to warrant a look.
Taking place in the dungeons of Castle Springbottom, Roundguard places you in charge of three different heroes in the hope that you can save the castle from attack, recover a ton of loot and save the king in the process. These heroes are the Roundguard – cute spherical guys who just so happen to come equipped for the task at hand. Working their way through no less than 45 different tiers of dungeon – spread across The Keep, The Dungeon and The Deep – you’ll have to help the Warrior, Rogue and Wizard ping their way through the stages at hand, taking down bad guys, utilising abilities and picking up as much gold as humanly possible.
In Roundguard though you don’t actually control these heroes, and much like in good old Peggle fashion you will find them sitting pretty at the top of your screen, strapped into a cannon and ready for action. With the standard Peggle ‘pegs’ replaced by gold, enemies, potions and more, it’ll be up to you to set up an initial foray into the action, before hitting the launch button and hoping for the best.
Roundguard is all about gathering up gold and trying to survive. See, each time your hero hits a gold chest, that gold is collected, yet come across an enemy in the form of skeletons, spiders, rats, ogres and the like, and your success relies on attack vs defense mechanisms. Your heroes will be equipped with an attack type and score, and every time you hit an enemy their health will be diminished by the required amount. But in return, they will fight back, with their own unique attack taking down your health bar in the process. With little in the way of real control over your character once they are in the dungeon, much of Roundguard revolves around crossing your fingers, closing your eyes and hoping for the best. Yep, luck plays a huge part in how things play out.
Thankfully scattered around each arena are health vials which give a positive effect to your hero, and mana pots which keep your magical skills on point. These are absolutely vital too as each hero can come equipped with a couple of special moves – stealth attacks take opponents by surprise, smoke bombs disorientate them, spin attacks cause additional damage and the chance to fire off a ‘Killer Joke’ for an insta-kill are among just a few of the many variations. With these to hand and the opportunity to occasionally double jump around the randomly generated levels, knowing when and where to utilise your limited mana and specials is where the skill comes in.
With a pit of spikes at the very bottom of the screen ready to take your health down further as you descend south, and a comfy cushion ready to safely harness your fall before you go at it again, Roundguard plays on those Peggle mechanics brilliantly.
Clearing a stage of enemies rewards the player with additional attack types, defensive opportunities and trinkets which enhance your overall skills, with many of these equipable options providing a ton of additional buffs when the need arises. And from there it’s pretty much a case of getting your head down and moving on through to the next stage, and the next, before going up against the big bosses and saving the king of Castle Springbottom.
How you move through the dungeon is clever though and a random map will see you being able to pick and choose your route to success. See, you may wish to be fired into levels that are full of treasure, in the hope that your swathes of gold can provide enhanced skills, or you may want to go up against specific mini-bosses or enemy types. A quick press of RB allows you to easily see the best route through and pinging your hero down towards specific wormholes mostly lets you discover your own little way through the dungeons.
But, with pinball physics in play at all times, and the random nature of the dungeons that Wonderbelly have thrown in, it’s not always as straightforward as planning your route and taking down those in front of you. This is particularly true as one death sees your quest end and the roguelike mechanics leave you attempting to go again, just with a little relic or trinket in place to help/hinder your progress.
For the most part, Roundguard plays out well and much like the game it has been inspired by it’s stupidly addictive as you go about attempting to save the king with each of the heroes, grabbing as much gold as possible and placing on the worldwide and local leaderboards in the process. But it’s not always got a spring in its step and I’ve happened across a specific stage that has frozen the entire game, requiring a new run to take place for any progress to be made, and even one in which my hero was insta-killed by some standard enemy. Sod’s law dictates that happened near on an hour into one of the best runs I’d yet seen. It’s small things like this which bring the Roundguard experience down a peg or two.
The randomness of Roundguard is also sometimes an issue and, even though you’d expect that to provide fairly unique stages, if truth be told you’ll discover yourself and your hero attempting to work with the same old layouts and enemies time and time again. It really does need a bigger cast of heroes and enemies in order to keep it fresh. That is no more true than with the heroes: the three that are initially in place with Roundguard just don’t have enough variation or unique skills to keep things ticking over for weeks ahead.
Thankfully Roundguard looks good, with clear and precise visuals that pulse with colour, and the fun humour that has been implemented is nice to see – although again it won’t be long before you find yourself skipping through the attempts at providing humorous backstory. The same initially goes for the audio too, but very quickly the backing soundtrack starts to grate, and the loot accumulation and peg-pinging sounds really do feel like they have been taken straight from Peggle. I’m not sure what else Wonderbelly could have done in terms of making it a bit more ‘unique’, but it certainly isn’t original and harks right back to years gone by.
All that said, aside from a few weird game ending issues, Roundguard on Xbox One is decent fun. Fans of Peggle will love what it brings, and even though the roguelike elements don’t always come off, throwing in some dungeon crawling brings a nice touch of variety to the usual peg-puzzling scene. If the price were a little lower then I’d be telling you to get on board with this bouncy dungeon crawler immediately, but as it stands it’s one to consider, with any future price cut bringing it much closer to must-buy territory.