This ain’t no roller disco!
After having the chance to get my hands on Rollerdrome and playing for a good number of hours, I’m here to give you my first impressions of this unique skating shoot ‘em up. Released on the 16th of August, 2022, is this all style and no substance, or a masterpiece of a genre mashup?
Rollerdrome comes to us from developer Roll7, the talented team behind the incredibly fun OlliOlli World. But this title is far from the bright and colourful, happy-go-lucky world in which that title is based. Set in 2030, Rollerdrome sees us playing as Kara Hassan, a brand new competitor for the hottest bloodsport on television: Rollerdrome. We begin with a tutorial level set in a basic-looking arena (thankfully the later arenas become much more interesting to play through) that takes us through the controls and mechanics of the game.
It doesn’t take long to get to grips with how the game works, especially if you’re a fan of games such as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater or Jet Set Radio. That doesn’t mean Rollerdrome is easy to master, oh no! In a short amount of time the difficulty really ramps up, and you’ll be in a battle for survival against the waves of House Players out for your blood. They’ll try to take you out with a wide assortment of weaponry, from the simple baseball bat to full-blown mech suits, and you need to be constantly on the move to stay alive.
Mechanically, Rollerdrome feels like the titles I mentioned above; the locomotion aspect will feel instantly familiar to fans of the extreme sports videogame genre. However, it isn’t just chaining together a sick combo (although if you want to rack up a decent score you’ll need to be pulling tricks off persistently), as you’ll be using your own arsenal of weapons to combat the enemies. From dual-wielded pistols to a spectacularly flash grenade launcher, Kara is well-equipped to deal with anything unlucky enough to be in her way.
But how do the shooting mechanics work? Well, you can fire off your weapons at any time, although you’ll quickly find yourself dry on ammunition if you’re not careful (with the trick system used to replenish the ammo) so it’s best to be more methodical than tackle an arena all guns blazing. Slowing down time works extremely well — plus a slow-motion headshot whilst you’re backflipping off a ramp looks effortlessly cool — and it will be an essential mechanic, especially for those later levels.
Each arena also comes with its own set of challenges to try and tackle. From beating a specific high score to performing a trick on a certain point of the map, there were never any hair-pulling moments of frustration with these, which is great, as they tie into unlocking the next set of levels. Just don’t try and beat every task in one go; these are designed for multiple playthroughs of each level, which works out fine as they never take too long to beat.
I was a huge fan of how the game presented itself aesthetically. Taking inspiration from 1970s comic books and science-fiction movies, the colour palette and “retro-future” feel is a real throwback to older films that had a very different idea of what a futuristic Earth may look like. This extends to time spent outside of the arenas, in which you take on a first person perspective as Kara and wander around locker rooms or offices, finding the odd bit of story context on “high-tech” computers to flesh out this dystopian world.
It almost feels like a disservice to call Rollerdrome “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater with guns”, but if you think about it, comparing the movement mechanics to one of the most well-received sports franchises of all time is quite the compliment! It is so much more than just a skater with a tacked on shooting mechanic however, and I found myself going back for a few rounds long after the credits had rolled, not just to check those last few challenges off the list, but just because it’s so much fun to play.