America - Front
America - Back
By Christian Evans 26th Aug 2022 | 2,777 views
Death as entertainment has long been part of the human condition, from the bloodied sands of the coliseum, to the carnival atmosphere of a 19th century English public execution. Fortunately, despite many dystopian creations depicting examples to the contrary, we’ve yet to see a real-world game show where such entertainment is fervently expected — even if some would happily introduce a ravenous lion into the Love Island villa to spice things up. Rollerdrome sits firmly in that dystopic pantheon of deadly game shows, where big corporations are king, and control of the masses is their modus operandi.
Clearly influenced by the 1975 film Rollerball, right down to the imitated blocky Laser Disco Plain font — which looks great, and is very in-keeping with the overall style — you play as Kara Hassan, a rookie looking to make a name for herself in the 2030 season of the deadliest sport on the planet. Where it does deviate from Rollerball (which is more like the classic home computer game Speedball), Rollerdrome injects a combination of tricks from the likes of Jet Set Radio, or Tony Hawks, to reload weapons and boost score. There's also the balletic action of John Woo, not too dissimilar from My Friend Pedro, but in a kinetic 3D arena... and with roller-skates.
The gameplay in action is just like three little Fonzies... ‘cool’. Rollerdrome is at its best during the non-linear moments of theatricality, where you can find yourself executing a backflip through a glass pane in slow-motion, following a split-second rocket dodge, which impacts on a house player with a cascading crimson slowly blooming behind you, while glass shards rain around you; it's always quite the spectacle. Despite the unfettered destruction, everything runs nice and smooth, and within the tight open-plan arenas (such as a ski resort or shopping mall), which are constructed in an uncluttered blocky style, there's very little time to take a moment during the stage.
The gameplay loop of ‘keep tricking and keep killing’, is generally fun and satisfying, even if a little awkward early on. Grappling with moving Kara and performing tricks to reload, while selecting your weapon and slowing down time to hit your targets (who are inevitably firing at you, and also need to be constantly dodged), can get a little frantic. At times it’s frantic to the point where rather than exhilaration upon pulling tight moments out of the bag, I felt more relieved I’d remembered everything. Invariably as you become more accustomed to Rollerdrome, it becomes less frantic and more balletic (and maybe I can blame Elden Ring for this), but even during the big boss fights, it never quite reached those adrenaline highs that I expected from being successful in a high-octane action game.
The Rollerdrome in-game season is split into four rounds, in which you must be victorious in each arena, while also hitting a requisite number of challenges overall to progress to the next round. Over the course of the several hours needed to complete the game, it does mean a likelihood of relatively frequently repeating stages to hit extra challenges, which can range from top-scores and pulling off certain tricks, to only using a specific weapon. While it does highlight your improvement when you go back and multiply your best score tenfold, I’ve always personally found it a little frustrating having to play areas again to progress, even if they can be done again within a few minutes.
In-between each round, you're presented with a small first-person narrative section; it might be a locker room, or maybe a TV studio. To complete these, all that's required is to walk through the exit door, which activates a really nice transition into the first arena of that section. However, dotted about the room are interactive elements, such as a poster or a newspaper, or conversations behind closed doors; these frame the Rollerdrome action, and add a little world building outside of the arenas. This is a nice addition, though I would have liked a little more synergy between the two gameplay elements, as it comes across as a touch superficial.
What does feel absolutely spot on across the whole of Rollerdrome is the whole aesthetic approach. Everything just has a lovely unified style about it that mirrors exactly what I assume the developers wanted to get across; a cool 1970s inspired roller-discotheque of death. There’s a real harmony throughout, whether that be in the character design of Kara Hassan and Caspar Ickx, the attuned synth soundtrack, or simply in the fonts used.
Rollerdrome is a very cool, fast-paced experience, with nice aesthetic unity. It may just fall short of being a top game overall due to minor frustrations, and there may be some players who don’t quite fit into Roll7’s Venn diagram of high-octane combat and roller-skating skills, but most should find a lot to really like in the ‘kineticism’ of Rollerdrome. This deadly discotheque of a game is an experience for sure.