sunset vista
Rollerdrome logo text on blue-toned industrial background

GFA: Rollerdrome

In an alternate 2030 where computers never quite took off, but the visual styles and mechanical dreams of the 1970’s did; the world has been taken by storm with a thrilling bloodsport called Rollerdrome.┬áKara Hassan is this year’s rookie to watch, and she’s made it to the highest level of the competition.

The question is, will you be up to the challenge once placed into Kara’s skates?

In an alternate 2030 where computers never quite took off, but the visual styles and mechanical dreams of the 1970’s did; the world has been taken by storm with a thrilling bloodsport called Rollerdrome. Kara Hassan is this year’s rookie to watch, and she’s made it to the highest level of the competition.

The question is, will you be up to the challenge once placed into Kara’s skates?

Kara Hassan’s Pro Doom Skater

Rollerdrome has been described by some as a hybrid between Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Doom. This fast-paced, score-focused arena skate-shooter has you constantly juggling tricks, shots, and dodges to survive, and eventually master its combat. Standing still is not an option, as much like in Doom, doing so is a death sentence. The Tony Hawk comparison comes into play as your ammo is tied to the score various tricks provide. High-scoring tricks grant high amounts of ammo. This leads to a gameplay cycle of attacking, then retreating/dodging to pull off tricks and reload that plays into the automatic forward movement provided by the game. A more understandable comparison would be if Doom Eternal’s chainsaw was instead tied to pulling off 360 spins and other ridiculous airborne tricks instead of being a button push in some enemy’s face. This leads to a dance-like set of moves through the game’s arenas.

One does not need to constantly hold forward to move, or worry about failing a trick and bailing, thankfully. Kara Hassan, the player character, is able to handle herself in the field fluidly, allowing for tricks to be unfailable, aim to be somewhat automatic, and dodges to be super slick. A bullet time system is in play as well to further ease gameplay, while still making the player feel amazing.

The sheer idea of combining a shooter with a score-focused skate arena like this sounds ridiculous yet doable, an attitude that carries through the game itself. Rollerdrome is by no means kind, and this is both its greatest strength and weakness. It will pit you against a small platoon of enemies each stage comprising of Snipers, Flamethrower Mechs, and some courageous (or stupid) guys with massive clubs among other units while you attempt to one-woman-army the lot of them in a deathmatch. Either you eliminate them all, or are yourself eliminated in brutal fashion. There is no in-between in Rollerdrome.

While Rollerdrome is a hybridization of genres, the core of this game lies within its combat. More accurately, it lies within the rhythm of the deadly dance established by the enemies and their attack patterns. Most enemies are stationary, or will only roam around a small area, meaning you can plan and coordinate your attacks and dodges to keep Kara (mostly) safe throughout each run. Certain weapons work best on certain enemies, and some weapons may not work at all unless Super Reflex mode is activated by dodging a shot at the last possible moment. Once one masters the timings to trigger Super Reflex mode, enemies are blasted away like a leaf in the breeze, but the game amps up the number of enemies present at any given time to counteract this. Your ammo pool never rises, but the ammo consumption of later weapons does. So, your trick and attack cycling must become more frequent to compensate in further stages. At its best, Rollerdrome feels like a dance sequence of guns, fire, and roller skates, the question is if one will be able to get to that point.

Technical Difficulties

Challenges in each stage encourage repeated runs, but also serve as a subtle tutorial to various mechanics, tricks and weapons that get added to your arsenal throughout the course of the game. This system is one I quite appreciate, as it allows you to learn about the game at your own relative pace. Challenges are used as gates to unlock future stages, as clearing the stage alone is not enough to progress. In theory, one will not have trouble with this, and I did not have any such trouble with it myself once the game clicked with me. Others, however have reported issues with this system, as learning a game that combines two normally unrelated genres is no easy feat. I had issues with it at the start as well, but am somewhat familiar with it as I tend to gravitate towards games that require time to learn, or are famous for being quite difficult.

I personally quite enjoy these “Tough-as-Nails” style games, but understand that not everyone finds them similarly enjoyable. Much like Doom Eternal this is a game that requires you to think in the midst of heated combat action. You do not need to manage multiple ammo pools here, but you will need to manage the different amounts of ammo from your shared pool used by each weapon. There are pleasingly robust accessibility options that give you infinite ammo, health, slow down the game’s speed, etc. so that nearly every player should be able to complete the game’s campaign if they so choose to do so. Unfortunately, the game never tells you these features exist despite repeated failings at stages, (or I never managed to trigger the alert for these settings) which may make them completely unknown to some.

Settings menu showing toggles on invincibility, infinite ammo, game speed, challenge requirements, and other options to assist in gameplay.
Options like this shouldn’t be hidden away.

These options were unknown to me for a good long while, despite me picking up this game around its launch window in August 2022. I only found these options while browsing the settings on a whim one day, and by that point they were redundant to me. I didn’t touch the game for the entirety of September after having dropped it due to complications with understanding the trick mechanics of the game, and finding these options sooner may have stopped that from happening. Tricks require you to send in an input combo of a direction or two, a bumper and one other button depending on the type of trick. For someone not used to this kind of control setup, this came across as a bit clunky. The tutorial sequences were not much help here, as the game will interrupt the early stage flow to teach you more movement and trick mechanics as you move on.

This method of gradual teaching I quite like and encourage usage of whenever possible. I would not use these tutorials as examples of how to implement them though. I would instead use the challenge system, as it does a far better job in this respect. There’s a thematic disconnect here, as Kara is supposed to be an up-and-coming rookie to the sport who has shown great performances in lower level leagues, not one barely grasping the idea of how to pull off mid-air tricks early within the tournament. The tutorials are also basic “here’s how to do X, now do it 3 times over” setups without much guidance or any mention of the assist features mentioned prior. Being able to slow down the game flow during the tutorial sequences may have helped me literally grasp the inputs required for the rest of the game itself.

This is not to say I disliked the trick mechanics within this game, but rather that I was frustrated with how quickly I was being told to learn things and how slowly I was able to adapt to it. As kids online would call it, I was dealing with a “skill issue” rather than any serious fault of the game itself. The tutorials are still mediocre at best unfortunately.

I do wish to commend the game’s actual accessibility features which are enabled by default. All intentionally audible speech is provided with captions right out of the gate that aren’t intrusive, but aren’t illegible either. The game natively supports controller rebinding, and as mentioned prior has several assists available should one know where to look for them.

Rolling in Inspiration

Rollerdrome logo

Rollerdrome pulls a lot of inspiration from 1975’s Rollerball not just in title, but in visual and narrative design as well. With a mimicry of that film’s marquee font being used for the match endscreens, and a somewhat similar plotline of a sport being used (or outright created) for the purposes of a larger, nefarious organization being apparent; Rollerdrome wears this inspiration with pride, and manages to make something of its own with it as well. The story is nothing revolutionary, and is not one of absurd depth. What is there fleshes out the world, the characters, and one’s (or Kara’s) motivation to see the 2030 Rollerdrome Championship through to the bitter end, come hell or high score.

Visually, the game makes beautiful use of a cel-shaded, comic book-esque artstyle which allows needed details to pop. Enemies are almost always visible due to a clear yellow coloration on their uniforms, their silhouettes are distinct and readable at a glance, the Super Reflex mechanic additionally highlights enemies via a blue world filter. Kara even checks her messages via a cartridge login email system.

The tournament takes Kara across roller derby inspired arenas, malls, desert expanses and snowy resort complexes each with their own paths, trick spots, and movement options that make each arena shine visually and gameplay wise.

There are times in which explosion or fire effects block the screen nearly completely, in which case navigation can be made difficult. Thankfully the game does keep health bars visible above this, but you do still get lost in positioning and current direction as the camera rotates to match your shooting angle. One can learn to work around this, but the “Out For Blood” or New Game+ mode cranks this up big time and asks quite a bit of the player.

I had the most fun with this mode after having gone back to the original stages to hone my skills further. Afterwards, I blitzed through the Out for Blood campaign, fully clearing its limited challenges within my first runs in some cases. I am part of a small percentage of players who have 100% completed the game, and this game joins my rare list of 100% completed titles to boot. It’s probably easy to guess the rating here, but I will say I was a bit sad when it all ended so soon, Out for Blood included.

Before I get to assigning a category to this, I also want to note the game’s soundtrack as being worth a listen if you are into anything similar to 70’s/80’s music. This combo of EDM/House/Disco/Funk is an excellent addition to an already stylish game and has kept me going many a long worknight. The composer claims to have had invented a genre for this album, and similarly to how this game is without a solid genre of its own, it is an accurate claim.

The Verdict

Overall, Rollerdrome is an item I would solidly place in the Good category. It knows what it is trying to do, does it, and doesn’t say much if anything more. Combat is smooth, has a level of depth and understanding of player abilities to it, and has fantastic visual and audio design to boot. My main gripes are with its tutorial system, and a general lack of content as the game felt like it ended too soon. I’d love for an expansion pack adding in additional stages, and possibly a new enemy or two, but even if that never comes, I will proudly say I enjoyed my time with this title, and hope to see more bold enough to blend genres like it in the future.

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