As with many other pinball video games of the time, there is no theme or objective beyond achieving a high score. The playfield is several screens tall, with Flip-Screen Scrolling to follow the ball when it goes off a screen. The NES version also features "Match Game", a simultaneous two-player competitive mode played on a single playfield with two sets of flippers.
The game is notable for its smooth action and (reasonably) realistic ball physics, giving it an authenticity that eluded other pinball video games of the time.
Roller Ball demonstrates the following tropes:
- Big Applesauce/Eiffel Tower Effect: The NES version is set among a New York City skyscraper, and the Statue of Liberty is visible in the foreground.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder/Player Versus Player: "Match Game", where two players compete on a single symmetrical playfield. Hitting targets would transfer points from one player to another; the game ends when one player's score is completely eliminated.
- In Name Only: Despite sharing the same name and many game rules, the NES version of Roller Ball is significantly different from the MSX version, with a completely different playfield, a new bonus screen, and a gratuitous New York skyscraper setting.