When I started my first game of Roundguard, I couldn’t escape a feeling of surprise that it had not been done before. At first glance, Roundguard looks like a copy of the hugely popular Peggle, but with a fantastic theme. It might have been enough to propel Wonderbelly’s beginnings to success, but it’s the integration of roguelike elements that propels this new project into its own orbit, transforming what could have been a shameless imitation into a simple game. but rewarding with an identity all its own.
Players control a round warrior, a thug or a wizard when they descend into the dungeons under a castle. Each turn, you launch your intrepid adventurer into a field of monsters, pots of gold and potions, then watch your character bounce and bounce from one end of the stage to the other. Along the way, you deploy spells and skills that alter the trajectory, damage the bad guys and increase your winnings. Thanks to the varied skills of each class, a healthy balance is struck between your character’s unpredictable fairing and when you choose to activate the abilities. As in Peggle, there is something deeply satisfying in the Pachinko style descent through a stage, looking in anticipation to trace a path down.
I like the three courses; Wonderbelly did a good job emulating the classic RPG archetypes, from lightning bolts from the magician to the versatile double jump from the rascal. I spent most of my playing time going back and forth on my favorite, which is a sign of good balance. Three classes at launch feel good but not great; without a wider selection of heroes, it is easy for the choice to become outdated. As it stands, I felt like I saw a lot of what each option had to offer after a few hours of play.
Fortunately, the roguelike elements offer additional replayability. The layout of the scenes and the interconnected map between them change each time, so that you rarely find yourself with the feeling of having already seen the exact same game. In each round, you also collect and equip various weapons and pieces of armor which accentuate a given style of play. It’s a fun addition, but it’s sometimes disheartening when random equipment falls down preventing you from succeeding because it doesn’t match your abilities well. Without greater flexibility to collect and store the items to be fitted as I wish, it is difficult to achieve optimized construction. Being forced to throw an object at the start of a race (only to want it three stages later) sometimes frustrated me.
Stackable baubles have no limits, which is a fun way to build power during a game. You are assigned a random piece of jewelry at the start of a race, which you acquired at the end of your last. It’s a smart incentive to keep playing, but without any choice for this gem, it sometimes sounds like a meaningless gesture, with a bonus that doesn’t help your favorite style of play.
Meanwhile, the relics offer a longer form of engagement for dedicated players. Acquired for having completed a full run, you can only master them by performing a second run with the equipped relic. The often difficult modifications made by these relics can be mixed and adapted for a given race, changing the flow for experienced players and further prolonging the life of the game. I had a lot of fun trying to achieve a victory with combos of difficult relics in force.
Roundguard is charming and engaging, both in extended sit-down games and in shorter intermittent play sessions. The stupid characters and the nemesis rely heavily on established fantasy tropes and set the right tone for the light nature of the game. Peggle veterans who aspired to a sequel should certainly make this tribute clear. But even newcomers to this style of inflatable ball game will find something to smile about in this fun dungeon run.