A decade ago slot machines were little different than the one-armed bandits of the 19th century. You put money in, pull a handle, hope for the best, repeat. Slots have come a long way in the last few years and are now basically specialized computer games, filled with animations.
Real Deal is a computer game company that specializes in PC slot games, cranking out titles filled with slot machines on a regular basis (they even have an MMO of sorts, a non-money based casino where your avatars can gamble). Their latest game, Battle Slots, attempts to answer a question nobody has ever thought to ask: Can you make a slot machine/role-playing game hybrid?
Granted, there have been a few RPGs with slot machines in them (Fallout: New Vegas being a very recent example), but a whole game, a fantasy RPG at that, is breaking new territory.
"The premise is a whopper…"
The premise is a whopper, but here goes: the adventure begins when your character finds a mysterious device (i.e., a slot machine), one that allows you to play and defeat monsters in a world that, strangely, seems to be built around slot machine combat.
Your slot machine pays out in many ways. Most red symbols are melee combat symbols; they deal melee damage (slash or blunt) and give you combat points to pull off special maneuvers. Blue symbols are magic; they never deal damage directly but give you mana points for casting spell effects. Green symbols award experience points (granted if you win the combat), and the same goes for gold symbols. These symbols change as you find new ones that generally grant higher damage and payouts. There is also a scatter symbol that can generate all sorts of effects.
Many towns allow you to tinker with your slot machine, giving a sort of class system. You can set up the machine to pay only red or only blue symbols, making you either a warrior or a wizard. Similarly, you can maximize either experience point or gold payouts, or change the scatter to whatever you want to focus on (more mana, for example, or gold, or experience, among a wide range of possibilities).
On top of this, you also can pick a handful of special powers, paid for with points. These vary from damage, to preventing your opponent from spinning, to giving you spins, putting wild symbols on the slots, and healing. As you gain levels, you’ll be able to buy, find, and use special powers; a zoo lets you collect animals, giving you an additional power to use depending on which creature you (sort of) bring along. As you adventure, you’ll also find allies, and you add a single companion to your slot in town, again granting random abilities. Runes give you yet another way to customize your character, as they grant minor bonuses and powers (e.g., a 10% bonus to treasure, or a bonus to fire damage).
In short, I think they’ve done pretty much all they can to make slot machine combat interesting. As combat is much of the game, strategizing the best combination of slot payoffs and special abilities is key. The designers have somewhat screwed up the abilities, in my opinion, as most of them are inefficient if not just plain bad. For example, at low levels, you can toss a fire bolt for 4 damage, and this costs 12 mana. At higher levels, you can spend 40 mana on another fire spell, which deals 15 damage. Just a tiny improvement but worthwhile if you have a lot of mana rolling in (and these are good spells, I’ll not mention the ones that make no sense to use). Unfortunately, you really can’t count on having lots to spend, and the higher level abilities have even tinier improvements; by the time you’ve waited the dozens of spins necessary to be able to cast a high level spell, you probably don’t need to do that much damage, if you’re not already dead. Efficiency is everything, as monsters will have a hundred or more hit points, and you aren’t going to deal more than a few at a time. So I found slot design to be fairly limited; there are lots of options but most are easily discarded.
The generic fantasy world of Battle Slots is loaded with many interesting creatures for you to defeat, each with their own personalized slot machine and special abilities. There are wandering monsters that spring up as you travel, and you can “go hunting” to generate a random encounter hoping to find an animal for your zoo. Monsters also often have their own weaknesses, such as trolls being vulnerable to fire or skeletons vulnerable to blunt damage. It’s a nice touch, and at least presents the possibility for you to further specialize your machine to beat a particular monster (although only a few monsters present any challenge).
The story itself is a basic monster-bashing romp. It’s a forgettable hack of a story and knows it, seldom taking itself seriously. I quickly stopped reading the quest descriptions, just clicking Accept and going back to the game map, to see if any new “rail lines” opened up, and then clicking on wherever the new exclamation point appeared.
"…I concede I played more than I should, enjoying the guilty pleasure."
For all my faint praise of the game, I concede I played more than I should, enjoying the guilty pleasure. The “padded sumo” fights should have been too tedious to continue past level 20, but I played on, grinding away no differently than in quite a few other RPGs. Although nothing else is original here, the core concept of using slot machines to model combat and character development is just original enough that for all the things done poorly in the game, it squeaks by as playable on sheer innovation alone.