“Rollerdrome” has a heck of an elevator pitch. The game is a battle-arena bloodsport built inside of the borders of skateparks. That’s enough to turn any gamer’s head, including mine.
I don’t mean to split hairs for the sake of a review; “Rollerdrome” is a fun game with a synthetic 70s soundtrack that sucks you into the action. The game takes the mechanics of your traditional skateboarding title and mashes it into those slow-motion firefights from the Matrix.
As soon as I drop into an arena, I’m met with bruisers carrying bats and marksmen aiming their sniper rifles. There’s no time to think of the sick set you want to land. Instead, you’re timing dodges away from those bruisers and rolling into brief moments where you can fire off a gun.
So, don’t grab your boards expecting a “Tony Hawk” wonderland here. For starters, this is a game on roller skates — not skateboards — which feeds the retrofuturistic vibes. Roll7, the developer behind “Rollerdrome,” is the same studio that created “OlliOlli World,” a well-received 2D-skateboarding platformer built around successfully landing sets of tricks. The studio clearly has a love for the genre but “Rollerdrome” rewards players for effectively eliminating waves of enemies, not landing tricks.
In “Rollerdrome,” you compete as Kara Hassan, a newcomer to the blood sport that has been orchestrated by some giant tech company in the not-so-distant future. I haven’t reached the game’s ending yet, after playing this weekend, but the game’s plot hits the same notes as the Hunger Games; the brutal sport is a televised spectacle that’s captivated the media and the public. Before every round of the game, you get to explore a small scene outside of the arena to piece together bits of the larger story. The goal, at the start, at least, is to become the next “Rollerdrome” champion.
When you drop into every arena in “Rollerdrome,” you’re faced with waves of enemies perched in various parts of each skate park. The game is all about forward momentum. Once you give Kara a first push of the analog stick you don’t have to tell her to keep skating. She’ll do it on her own. So, it can get frustrating when certain parts of the maps feel just out of reach. The game teaches you ways to grind and wallride to higher locations but I often felt the wind knocked out of my sails when I failed to get that one wall ride to the balcony some gunman was on. It started to feel like a flaw in a certain map’s design and not a challenge.
There are four types of guns in the games — pistols, grenade launchers and a laser beam rifle called the Z-11 — and each one can be particularly good or bad at taking out the enemies. I gravitated towards the Z-11 once I unlocked the gun because it’s the only one that allows players to free-aim across the map for some incredibly satisfying trick shots.
To acquire more ammo in “Rollerdrome,” you have to pull off a combination of grabs, grinds and wallrides. And the more variation in the types of tricks you land, the more ammunition you acquire per trick. It’s a simple way for Roll7 to encourage you to think of the moves you’re pressing into that controller while frantically dodging incoming rocket fire. But, the tricks have only ever been a means to an end for me. I’ve rarely thought to try a trick simply because it’d look cool, or fun, as I fly off a certain ramp. I just kept a mental list of the grabs I have, or haven’t, pulled off recently.
My biggest gripe is that many of the objectives in “Rollerdrome” can feel like nothing more than checking off items on a list because, to progress through the game, you have to do exactly that. Every arena has a list of challenges to accomplish, like landing a certain trick at a certain location or collecting all five tokens hovering around the skate park. You aren’t able to advance to the next round of the game until you’ve accomplished a certain number of the objectives from the available arenas.
These challenges encourage players to replay each skatepark to build the best runs and string together the best series of firefights and aerial grabs. That’s the fun part. The not-so fun part is hitting pause to read the objective you keep forgetting to pull off in the middle of the action.
What “Rollerdrome” demonstrates is that Roll7 is yet again very good at creating a skating game that envelopes a player into a flow-like state. People love “OlliOlli World” because the game requires a series of well-timed jumps and tricks to skate across the screen. When “Rollerdrome” really sucks you in deep, all you’re thinking of is the next dodge, jump or grab to spin, grind, or sail towards an enemy.
If a rollerskating John Wick in a 70s synth bar sounds like a good time, then I have just the game for you.