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Rollerdrome - Review



I never really enjoyed gym class growing up and even today I’m still not a fan. It’s not that I have anything against physical activity or exercises. As a matter of fact, I encourage people to regularly engage in physical activity. Not to get themselves in a buff shape or have a look that woos over the finest ladies and gents, but because it’s good for them. It builds up endurance and immunity within your body, so that you can perform jobs that require a lot of physical strength or not contract illnesses as easily. The physical exercises I like to partake in are jogging, weightlifting, basic stretches to lengthen out the arms and legs, and my personal favorite is biking. I enjoy exercising as it gets me out of the house, and it feels like I’m working towards a better self. The reason why I never enjoyed gym class is what we were forced to do. I think exercise is more effective when you take the personal time to invest in it. Forcing someone to do an activity they don’t enjoy and churn out all their energy within a specific amount of time never feels good. You burn yourself out faster and grow a distaste for something that could help you in the long run.


Along with gym classes, sports were never really my thing either. I don’t oppose sports, because some of them can actually be quite useful in stretching out the body. Not really a sport, but martial arts is a good example. It strengthens your arm and leg muscles, and teaches you how to keep your body balanced and sturdy. Cross country, because much like jogging it builds aerobics and you learn how to traverse long distances within a short period of time. Sports are good, but what I don’t like about sports is the competition found within it. I never felt excited watching two opposing teams go against each other, and I honestly don’t care which one ends up winning. It’s for fun after all, but people tend to over exaggerate things more than they really should. I mean we’ve seen this happen dozens of times on the news and internet, so there’s nothing extraordinary about this bit of info I’m presenting. I don’t like the hype surrounding sports, but what I will say is that I understand it. The excitement seeing members of your school, your own grade, work their way up the ranks and beat schools in the surrounding area. Parents getting to see their children accomplish something alongside a team. Going to championships and seeing places you wouldn’t normally go to outside your home town. That is what makes sports worth celebrating. Knowing all that training and exercising led to more than just personal fitness.


So you can tell by now I don’t like gym classes or sports, but I respect them for what they are. They can be fun depending on what type of person you are, and in my case they are when you throw them into the realm of video games. You know we had to connect it back to my hobby eventually. Plenty of sports games have been released over the years, but the ones that stand out are usually the titles that get creative. The ones that don’t just copy and paste the basic formula of whatever sport they are aiming for, and instead transcend the formula by introducing clever ideas that make them feel more like fantastical adventures or experiences. Basically, the sports games that are actually video games. Pyre is one of the best examples, because what could be considered magical basketball with fantasy races is actually a journey about redeeming you and your companions. Winning enough games so that you may earn your friends’ freedom and send them home before the season is over. That and Pyre does a splendid job connecting you to your teammates and competitors. Making winning and losing contributing factors to the narrative. Pyre is just my gold standard for sports games, but that’s not why we are here today.


We’re here to discuss a more obscure title that came out this year and focuses on a sport that no one really seems to mention as often as soccer or baseball. Rollerdrome, a roller-skating arcade shooter that asks the question, “What if Tony Hawk’s Pro-Skater had guns?” I didn’t mention this earlier, but I actually enjoy roller skating. During elementary we would occasionally dedicate a month to learning how to roller skate and just skate around the gym. I had a lot of fun with it, and I learned how to pick up speed quickly and just jet past the other students. It was great, but I never roller skated again ever since middle school. Picking it up now would be hard, but I may consider roller skating again just for a hobby. Anyways, the idea for Rollerdrome was created by Paul Rabbite who was originally a solo developer until he partnered up with Roll7, an indie company well known for the OlliOlli series. Paul drafted up the concept for Rollerdrome during a game jam and wanted to explore his idea as he saw potential. He knew how third person shooting worked, but needed to figure out how to add roller skates and fast momentum to the equation. He partnered up with Roll7 and in 2022 his idea was turned into a full game.


A skill based shooter with sick movement, challenging enemies to face, and letter graded scores at the end of each level to reward those who are skilled enough. Rollerdrome is one of the biggest surprises of this year. It received quite a bit of praise from press, and is being considered one of the best indies to come out during 2022. I was a little curious as to why people loved it, because it sounded like a game that would get nauseating quickly. Then I saw the visuals inspired by 1930s comic books and thought it looked really cool. I bought the game during a sale, played through it recently, and yeah it’s really awesome. Rollerdrome is pure fun which is something you rarely see these days from the industry. It’s not long and some people may struggle to get pass the steep difficulty, but give it a whirl and you end up pumping quite a few hours into it. Today we’ll be talking about Rollerdrome and why it deserves your attention.


Story


The year is 2030 and mass corporations rule the world. Controlling the public and their thoughts on reality. No, this isn’t a cyberpunk dystopia. I know you are thinking about Cyberpunk right now, but Cyberpunk didn’t invent the idea of capitalism and corruption. Why do I bring this up? I don’t know. Thought it would be a good joke. To reiterate, the year is 2030 and the public is extremely bored and stupid. They need some sort of event to keep themselves entertained each day and not bang their hands against the desk of their office job, and this is what eventually leads to the creation of Rollerdrome. A sport where contestants strap on a pair of roller skates, arm themselves with whatever weaponry they can, and enter an arena where several trained killers try to cut them down. Each round of Rollerdrome follows the participants skating around and killing everything thrown at them, and if the participants survive the match, then they get to move on to the next round. Participants have been brutally killed in Rollerdrome, but they signed a bunch of documents which make their deaths legal and the prize for reaching the top rank in Rollerdrome is a shiny gold trophy. That doesn’t sound worth it… unless you are the determined type who doesn’t give up easily and tries to fill the void that lies in their heart. Kara Hasaan, a young woman who signed up to partake in Rollerdrome. Armed with dual pistols she skates herself into the arena. Ready to cut her foes down and earn that trophy. May she succeed in glorious style.


Gameplay


The story of Rollerdrome is the bare minimum, but you aren’t here for the story. You’re here for the combat and chaotic gameplay, and let me tell you all of it is f*cking awesome. There’s a lot of elements that makes the combat click, and it’s mainly how the game manages to challenge you with the simple assets it has on offer. Each level dumps you an arena, each with different structures and layouts, and your goal is to kill every enemy that pops up on screen. Killing enemies will nab you points and build up a multiplier, and maintaining that multiplier will nab you more points. You start each match with full health, but that health goes down whenever you are hit by an element that hurts you. Hit zero health and it’s game over. Your corpse goes flying across the screen and you are kicked out of the tournament, because you are dead.


Luckily you have a small selection of armaments to defend yourself, and you unlock stronger weapons as you progress through the campaign. You have the starting dual pistols which fire in rapid succession, but then you have the shotgun which can deal massive damage up close and even perform a slug shot which requires you to slow down time and fire your shells at a specific moment. You have the grenade launcher which does massive damage with explosive rounds but has an arch, and the railgun which can be charged up to snipe enemies from afar. Oh yeah, that slow ability. You have Max Payne, personal Katana Zero, bullet time and activating it allows you to slow time down to a crawl and kill the enemies you are zooming past more easily. You can only use bullet time for a specific amount of time, and have to wait for the meter for it to refill before you use it some more. Your guns share the same ammo type, surprisingly, and can only be shot a certain amount of times before the clip is empty. To refill the ammo meter you just have to simply perform tricks. Yes, tricks refill your ammo. Flipping through the air, running along the walls, and grinding on rails will refill your ammunition. You have a dodgeroll to avoid enemy attacks, and if you time your dodgeroll just before an attack hits you may find an opening to strike a foe in bullet time and regain a bit of ammo, which is nice as it rewards people who charge directly into the action and time their dodge rolls perfectly. It’s so badass to perform!


You know how to refill ammo now, but how do you refill health when that is low? Kill enemies. No, just kill the enemies. Defeated enemies will drop these crystals and running over them will refill your health. They followed the design philosophy Doom and Control had, where anything that moves and blinks is a walking health container. There are multiple enemy types in the game and they will do whatever they can to kill you quickly. The basic grunts who try to smack you with a metal bat. The sniper who shoot from afar, and the heavies with their heatseek missile launcher. You have these teleporting pricks who teleport away once they are shot and fire burning lasers at you. These flying freaks who slam down onto the ground to create burning acid, shielded blokes who toss out landmines and whose defense must be broken, and these robotic tanks which are tough and fire multiple types of heavy dealing damage at you. Each enemy will pose a challenge and must be dealt with in certain ways. It’s all about knowing what weapon to shoot them with and who you should prioritize in a fight so they don’t become annoying.


Kill every enemy a level throws at you and you win. All the points you rack up lead to a score and you get to move onto the next level. However, you will run out of levels to play as each set of levels are divided into quarters. You can’t move onto the next quarter unless you complete a certain amount of challenges. Every level has a set of challenges for you to pursue. You have stuff like collecting five point tokens, performing certain tricks, killing enemies in certain ways, using certain weapons an entire match, beating the level within a certain time, or reaching a certain score number. Some challenges can be completed even without successfully completing the match, and some will require a little more, maybe even reattempting a level. You must become the best to move on, and for Kara Hasaan this is the ultimate test. Hopefully you can outperform yourself and win that epic trophy lying at the end of the competition.


Thoughts


Rollerdrome is a stupendous game that gets a recommendation in my book. I do have problems with it which I’ll address shortly, but I think it’s incredibly well made and a ton of players are going to enjoy it. What it does during its short runtime is done really well, and it has some of the best combat 2022 has to offer. Everything just works! The way the game pushes you to get better each level by just pounding you into the dirt. Difficulty ramps up like crazy in Rollerdrome, and I do have to admit it can be unforgiving at times as six different enemies shoot at you at once. However, it does feel rewarding when you finally pull out of a match alive. The learning process and skill accumulation along the way is fun, and even when I was being killed within seconds I was never frustrated as I knew I would reach the end at some point. With enough attempts I got through the match to only be shown I got a grade C score. Then I sit there and say, “I can do better.” Reattempt the level later when I gain more skill and see if I can obtain a new high score. That is what makes Rollerdrome and replaying older levels again and again really fun.


The combat pushes you to fight aggressively and close to enemies as possible. The fact enemies drop health points when you kill them is enough to get the player to be near them at all times, because it’s nearly impossible to go through a match without getting hit unless you are incredibly skilled. Tricks refilling your ammunition meter is motivation to master the momentum of Sara and do as many tricks as possible, because running into a fight with no ammo is a death wish. Standing still is a death wish itself, so you always want to be on the move and pursue your next target. The weapons are really well balanced and I like how they kept the arsenal down to four guns, because if they were to do more than that then flipping through your arsenal would be a mess. The different enemy types get to prioritize who to take out first before a fight gets more chaotic than it should be. For example, the heavies generate a shield once you are done attacking them and hitting them with a slow one shot weapon will generate the shield quickly. However, if you empty a full clip of your dual pistols then it should be enough to kill them instantly. Those teleporting pricks move away once they are hit, so each time you zoom past them shoot them with a heavy damage weapon like the grenade launcher or a charge up railgun shot.


The combat is just really well made. Some enemy types get annoying like the flying enemies who are hard to hit as you are always moving, or those teleporting pricks who I will always hate but I won’t say that they are broken entirely. Each arena is laid out really well and gives you enough space to move around. Sometimes you may come up clever paths as some levels have higher ground and going to higher territory may give you the advantage. One thing I do have mixed feelings on are the next set of levels being locked behind challenge progression. On one hand it sucks because I want to move through the campaign steadily and having to be stopped and told to pursue these small challenges kills the strive forward. I do understand this decision though, as it gets the player to experiment with the mechanics more and get better at playing the game. This game just wants you to get better with each match and replay of a previous level, and I respect that design decision as any developer who expects something from the player is one that wants them to actually be engaged.


Other aspects I enjoy about Rollerdrome would include the graphics and art style. This game went for a comic book aesthetic similar to that of the 1930s, but the entire game uses 3D models and runs on Unity. It’s very surprising they got this game to work without running into problems or game breaking bugs. I also really like the control scheme. This is something I barely bring up in my reviews, but I was playing Rollerdrome on the PlayStation 5 and never wildly mashed away at the buttons because I was panicking and trying to perform the action I needed. Weapon selection is mapped to the D-pad, bullet time is triggered whenever you aim, and tricks can be performed by either holding the square button or R! while around the left joystick. I also really like how all you have to do to keep constant momentum is flick the left joystick up once. You don’t have to hold it as the main character will always be moving unless you command her to stop. That way the left thumb can be dedicated other commands.


The game lasts roughly around four to six hours depending on how skilled you are, and that’s a good runtime for this sort of game. Any bit longer and I would have gotten frustrated. There’s even a second campaign labeled “Out for Blood” where older levels are rearranged and made even harder. My main gripe with the game is its story and lack of one. They prioritized gameplay and executed each system perfectly, but it feels like the writers wanted to do more. They have these rooms in between chapters where you wander around and read passages which give more of what is going on with the world and characters, and from what I’ve seen it’s actually pretty interesting. I can tell they wanted to explore this more but didn’t because as mentioned they prioritized gameplay. It doesn’t detract too much, but it’s the potential they had. Rollerdrome is still good though, and I think people shouldn’t skip out on what could be one of the best indies of the year. I am going to give Rollerdrome a 9/10 for excellence at best.


9/10, Excellence

This critique was written by the single man at Review on. Stay tuned for more content and feel free to check more reviews out over at my site!

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