Over the past couple of years, one of the most unexpected yet welcome additions to video games has been a rise in game developers utilizing pinball mechanics in non-traditional ways for exciting new takes on well established genres. Starting with the sublime marriage of pinball and Metroidvanias in 2018’s Yoku’s Island Express and further expanded in last year’s dungeon crawler, Creature in the Well, the love poems to pinball may have reached their apex with the brilliant and addictive Peggle meets Slay the Spire magic of Roundguard.
The colorful world of Roundguard with it’s quirky sense of humor and familiar hero archetypes feels instantly welcoming, while the randomness and an ever-growing sense of absurdity in this roguelike keep things interesting. Upon the conclusion of my first highly unsuccessful run, I was pleasantly delighted by how easy the game was to pick up and play, but I remained skeptical of whether it could stay fresh long enough to justify its price tag and the time away from my precious Animal Crossing island. Within another couple of go-arounds, it had suddenly become abundantly clear just how deep and satisfying of an experience the team at Wonderbelly Games had meticulously crafted.
To help get you started and working your way up the weekly leaderboards, here are some things I’ve found useful through my first set of victories with each of the game’s protagonists (the holy trifecta, if you will).
1) Try Out All the Heroes First
Variety is the spice of life, and Roundguard offers plenty of it through three vastly different, yet comfortably familiar heroes to choose from with an attack-centric and tank-like Warrior, a fast and sneaky Rogue, and a wise and skilled
Mage Wizard. In order to get the most fun out of the game, you should try each of them out and figure which best fits your playstyle before committing to multiple rounds of a lone champion.
2) But Do Stick to a Hero After You’ve Experimented With Them All
Your first couple of runs with any given hero will likely end in resounding defeats. Each time you find yourself back spinning the wheel for consolation trinkets, you will have at least gained some knowledge about what works and what doesn’t to exploit each hero’s strengths will trying to nullify their weaknesses. Typically about 5 attempts into a hero was the sweet spot where the knowledge gained combined with the RNG working in my favor would lead to victory and the excitement of doing it all over again for an entirely different experience.
3) Try to Hit Everything But the Enemies!
Hitting gold pots, health, and mana potions = good. Hitting enemies = bad?!!? The way combat works in Roundguard is that both you and each enemy have a set strength that is displayed on screen. Upon colliding with a baddie, these values are deducted from yours and their health. This sounds simple enough, but it means you’ll have to think creatively if you want to last long. For the most part (and especially in the early game), your heroes are weak and can’t withstand all that many hits, so you’ll want to utilize skills that allow you to score damage against enemies from an ever so slightly further away and safe distance. In some cases, enemies only attack from certain sides so knowing just where to strike can save yourself a lot of heartache.
4) Make Careful Decisions on your Skills, Weapons, and Armor to Fit Your Build
Higher level items don’t necessarily mean better. Some of my best runs have been with vastly under-leveled equipment that was far more tailor-made to the builds I was going for. For most attempts, builds that prioritize regenerating health and mana can be the key to survival and help nullify all the inadvertent bouncing between hazards and enemies that will occur. This can be well supplemented with materials that stack attack power or damage over time like poison or bleed. While your adversaries are slowly dying each turn, you should be regaining strength and health. Just remember to think twice before accepting the new gear given at the end of each room. You’ll even score some gold for your thoughtful decision making.
5) Exhaust Rooms
Once clearing out a room seems all but assured, it can be tempting to go right for the final blow and the exit. Instead of speeding through, take a moment to load up on any leftover potions or trigger available skills that help revitalize you to set you up better for the challenges the next room may have to offer. Just be careful not to slam into a bunch of hazards by accident or else you’ll feel quite foolish for not leaving good enough alone.
6) Figure Out Some Goals for the Run and Map Things Out
Your first time through, your goal will most likely be just to survive until the end and rescue the trapped king. You’ll want to maximize your stock of helpful trinkets by ensuring you duel as many mini-bosses as possible, while also being sure to fit in the occasional treasure room for breathers from battle and the chance at quality rewards.
On subsequent runs, though, you should focus on one of the three main leaderboards that you can seek legendary status on – Best Gold, Best Time, and Fewest Turns. That first and most attractive of all the leaderboards is diametrically opposed to the spirit of the other two. In order to load up on the gold, you’re going to need to spend as much time as possible, visiting as many rooms as the fates allow. More often than not, this will mean taking the long way from one room to the next. In contrast, the other two will require smartly charting the quickest path that also provides enough rewards for you to overcome some of the harsher late game foes.
7) Focus on Maximizing Skill Combos
Each hero is capable of equipping two skills at a time, and the vast majority of my better runs were directly the result of lucking into skills that blended beautifully together. Here are my recommendations for each of the characters.
Warrior – Even though the Warrior is more powerful and sturdy than the rest, it was still important to stick to Tip #3 with him. I found a combo of Spin Attack and Killer Joke to be best. Spin attack allows you to pass untouched through multiple enemies or pots allowing for accessing areas far sooner than you normally would be able to, while, at higher levels, Killer Joke can also be quite useful as it will instantly kill any nearby enemies under a certain health threshold without the need to put yourself at risk.
Rogue – Of all the characters, the Rogue took the longest for me to figure out. In the end, the one-two punch of Double Jump and Stealth turned me into a nearly invincible, ninja-like wrecking crew. Double Jump allows you to fling yourself in the direction of your choosing, while Stealth let’s you deal poison damage without receiving a rebuttal. Once you get the timing down, you can quickly reverse direction repeatedly to provide hit after hit on poor, unsuspecting dungeon dwellers.
Wizard – Once i got things rolling with the Wizard, I almost felt overpowered. By combining Lightning with Will O’Wisps, I was able to master both close-up magic (yeah I went there) and ranged combat. Eventually, higher levels of each of these skills will offer you increased numbers of the spell on screen concurrently, and having 7 Wisps and 4 different lightning bugs going at once just seemed unfair to the poor skeletons, spiders, and ogres in my way.
Really though, the best tip I can give is to pick up the game and play it repeatedly. Especially in these incredibly weird times, I highly recommend getting lost in the bouncing escapism provided by spending your nights saying “just one more” to runs of Roundguard. Sure, this Indie gem is deserving of as many players as possible, but, I mostly just want some more competition atop the leaderboards to keep me motivated.