Rollerdrome is one of the most challenging games I’ve played this year. It’s intense, it’s fast-paced, it’s violent, and I can’t get enough of it. A mash-up of genres Rollerdrome will have the player frantically scrambling on the control pad one moment and exclaiming at a slick set of tricks and kills the next.
The new game from Roll 7 (Olli Olli World, Not A Hero) takes a slight departure from their popular side-scrolling franchises. Rollerdrome is third person and places the player in the role of Kara Hassan, a new entrant into the titular Rollerdrome 2030 championship. The tournament is a bloody battle of skating and shooting, fighting house players in different stages whilst trying to perform tricks on, very underused in video games, roller skates. It weaves in a story of a corporate future with a dystopian, almost baroque at times soundtrack.
Roll 7 have utilised some of the play elements they are known for, adapting these from side-scrolling to third person. It isn’t as huge a leap as one may think. The quick, twitchy skating of the Olli Olli games is toned down a touch and is closer to a Tony Hawk game. It retains that fluidity of movement and hitting tricks. The gunplay is very different from that of Not A Hero yet keeps the core idea of hide and fire, or in this case dodge and fire. Combining these elements Rollerdrome produces a very fluid experience. These elements also feed into each other. Players must unload their ammo on the house players, having to eliminate all of them to finish the stage. To get more ammo tricks need to be used. A grab off a ramp or grinding a rail will award a small refill. The challenge is trying to maintain this loop. Shoot, do a trick, shoot, do another trick. It sounds simple and the ease at which this can be performed is incredibly accessible. Rollerdrome doesn’t ask for loads of button inputs. Press a direction and one button for a grab or a grind. Hit a shoulder button to spin. Use the triggers to lock on and shoot. There are more complex moves that can be employed on a run but the basics are easy to pick up. This is key to keeping Rollerdrome fun whilst the enemies are sending a barrage of almost bullet hell-level shots, rockets, and other nasty surprises at Kara. As with Olli Olli World, it is simple to pick up and very difficult to master.
Whilst the movement feels toned down from Olli Olli World it isn’t exactly like Tony Hawks Pro Skater. Yes, some muscle memory from that game will help players, X to jump, Square to grab, Triangle to grind. It’s familiar. It doesn’t ask much more than that from a player and there aren’t combos of tricks to try and maintain. It isn’t skateboarding and the aim isn’t a continued trick run. Tricks do add points to a run, and there is an element of trying to hit a variety of them to get a better score at the end of a stage. The trick’s main function is to facilitate refilling ammo so players can blast away.
Rollerdrome’s gunplay is just as satisfying as the movement. Rolling up, jumping off a ramp over an enemy to perform a grab, spin, and then lock on and shoot is exhilarating. The weapons all feel different. Dual pistols are quick and snappy. The shotgun requiring close range can be devastating and has a weighty feel to it. The grenade launcher lacks the lock on but is a heavy hitter and the Z-11, the hardest to use, requires precision and patience especially when speedily moving across the stage. Switching between weapons is easy and each has its place when the different enemies appear. Pistols were my go-to. A shared ammo pool across the weapons had me switching to pistols to try and get in some quick shots when the stakes were high or I felt like I was failing. The pistols have the most ammo capacity so they refill quickly with a couple of tricks.
Whilst the aim of a stage is to kill the enemies to finish it, scoring and checking off objectives is key to progression through the brackets of the competition. As mentioned performing tricks add points and doing a variety will add up in the end. Killing enemies for a higher combo is the way to a truly high score and hitting those harder objectives. Each stage has 10 objectives ranging from killing an enemy in a certain way to performing a specific trick with staples such as getting all the combo tokens and beating a set score. These objectives are the true test of the game. There wasn’t one stage where I checked off all the objectives in a single run. As with Olli Olli World, Rollerdrome wants you to go back and revisit levels to perfect them. This is helped by the levels being super short, roughly around 3 to 5 minutes of play if the player can survive to the end. This was the perfect amount of time for me to play, take a breather, and roll back in. The stages are tense so I appreciate the limited runs, and having a new baby means I only get in short play sessions at the moment so again, that’s a big tick from me.
Stylistically Rollerdrome doesn’t compare to very much. It has a style all of its own. The graphics are cell shaded, taking on an almost comic book-like appearance. It’s a similar look to last year’s excellent Sable, but cleaner and sharper. The tone and colour palette of each stage has been limited and this allows certain things like the enemies, and Kara herself to pop out of the setting and gain prominence in the sometimes chaotic screen space. Snow levels are mostly white and greys with flashes of colour for buildings, canyons are shades of red with yellows popping on flags, and the internal spaces of buildings are darker greys with wood tones and clean red lines. It makes navigating the spaces easy with jumps and rails instantly identifiable. Menus and the in-play UI have a great retro-future feel. The objectives menu cleanly feeds you the information you need, even providing the controls on how to hit a certain grab or grind. The menu’s setting, spacing, and computerized fonts feel like a throwback, styles which would still be in use if there were no artistic innovations from the 70s onwards. It fits the corporately run world of its setting.
As too does the soundtrack and ambient and active sounds of play. The soundtrack runs from ominous and brooding in the menus into faster and upbeat synth tracks in the stages. It can feel very dystopian, very baroque with the synth version of an organ running the keys or holding a flat chord. These powerful chords are unsettling, and offputting which perhaps denotes the shift into the stage music which takes a more disco vibe and is upbeat. It also takes a step back becoming subservient to the sounds of play and a focus on the action. As mentioned the weapons all feel different and this extends to the sounds of firing. Pistols are tinny and quick. The shotgun pulls from the same space but it’s an elongated sound to give it more umph. The star of the effects is the sound of Kara’s skates on the ground. The ‘shwoop’ ‘shwoop’ is almost nostalgic to someone who used to skate and will welcome the player at the start of every stage. Outside of play the click of a menu movement and clack of the text popping in remind me of Alien Isolation and a 70s version of the future. Everything fits. The sounds, visuals, and graphics in this product really play into the style and tone set by Roll 7.
As Rollerdrome wants you to keep coming back to hit the objectives and progress through the stages it has naturally added leaderboards. Like Olli Olli World, this should add a community aspect and even more longevity to the game, allowing players to keep competing for higher and higher scores. I jumped back into the first few levels after finishing the campaign and managed to hit 7th on one of the stages leaderboards. I dropped off the multiplayer aspect of Olli Olli World after a few weeks yet I get Rollerdrome a little more. It isn’t as gated behind continued trick combos and precise timing. After the main campaign a new mode ‘Out For Blood’ unlocks and that is insane. It’s essentially the campaign again, but 10 times harder. Enemy progression unlocks so all enemy types appear from the first stage. It turns more into a bullet hell experience and is a fun and challenging way to experience the game again. Plus Kara changes into a cool black jumpsuit. Rollerdrome has a lot to come back for after finishing the main mode.
One part I would have loved more of is the story. The story is told through First-person sequences that are limited to short intesitials in between the bracketed stages. The player can’t do much in these except walk through the scene looking at and listening to the environmental storytelling. There isn’t any involvement for the player past this. This isn’t a bad thing and it was good to have some extended downtime between the stages. What the story provides is flavour for the world of Rollerdrome, and an understanding of Kara’s rise through the competition. It provides context for certain enemies and sets some background for fellow competitors the player never meets. It’s a tale of a corporate future and the impact this can have on society. It’s intriguing and whilst it is limited I was invested enough to want to know more. Another experience in the world of Rollerdrome exploring the Matterhorn Corporation would be very welcome from Roll 7. The developer has light story elements peppered through their games which focus on stylistic and fluid gameplay first. A heavier story wrapped around the same kind of play experience is what I want to see from them next.
I don’t really have any faults with Rollerdrome. It is one of my favourite experiences this year and is a top contender for my game of the year. The whole package is flawless and an absolute joy to play. Rollerdrome’s visual and auditory style, and slick, intense play show a high level of quality at Roll 7 and they should be extremely proud of what they have achieved.
Should you play it? Yes
Why… Rollerdrome is an intense hybrid experience unlike any other. Its flow is incredibly satisfying and the difficulty ramp will keep players challenged.
But… It’s an intense hybrid experience unlike any other so it may be easy to bounce off of if not in the mood.
Reviewed on PC (Steam)
Publisher: Private Division
Playable on: PS4/PS5/PC
Released: 16th August, 2022
Review code provided by Private Division via Bastion