‘Rollerdrome’ review: flipping magic

Rollerskating and shooting combine in a memorable arena shooter

I wish that every game had a sense of identity as strong as Rollerdrome’s. From the stunning title screen to every shot fired and explosion dodged, Rollerdrome feels like a cohesive package, sleekly put together to deliver euphoric shootouts one after another.

Rollerdrome is a game of both rollerskating and shooting that will look more than a little familiar to fans of sci-fi classics like Rollerball and The Running Man, chucking your protagonist Kara Hassan into a dystopian gameshow where ultraviolence and slick skating is the key to success.

It’s easy to think developer Roll7 might have bitten off more than it can chew here, because making a rollerskating game and a shooting game means that Rollerdrome needs to ace both parts, and it mostly manages it: once you hit the magic flow state that has you rocketing around abandoned shopping malls and muddy dustbowls, you’ll be pulling off tricks, flipping and taking out your enemies with aplomb.

Rollerdrome. Credit: Roll7.
Rollerdrome. Credit: Roll7.

The standard loop of play will feel familiar to fans of other Roll7 games: you run a level and when you pass it you’re sent into the level again to complete the challenges. Do enough challenges and you’ll unlock another series of levels to run your way through. This will be familiar for fans of OlliOlli or Not a Hero, and it’s good here because it means you can play in a quick burst, or you can sit down and try to master a level, ticking off each challenge in a cornucopia of speed and violence.

Rollerdrome isn’t a big game: you’ll run the same levels again and again, ticking off challenges as you hurtle around compact arenas, dishing out death and dancing through the sheer carnage that each level becomes. What does become apparent, whether you play for five sweaty-palmed minutes or 50, is the quality that oozes out of every aspect of Rollerdrome.

You expect a Roll7 game to have slick movement, and it has that. But it’s also easy to see the work that has gone into the narrative, the world design, the user interface. Rollerdrome nails everything it attempts, and makes it look simple.

Rollerdrome
‘Rollerdrome’. CREDIT: Roll7 and Private Division

The storyline is delivered in an interesting way, and is put across in a variety of different ways. The most immediately obvious is a series of explorable areas, beautifully cel-shaded. Here, you get to explore the world and find out little snippets from the detritus left in locker rooms, TV studios and trains. Hit a certain point and you’ll move fluidly into the game, skating slowly down towards the arena.

More impressive is the way snippets of story are delivered in the game’s challenges: every level has a top score challenge set by Morgan Frey. When you find out Frey is a competitor in the games, you immediately know they’re a badass, and it’s way more interesting than merely dropping in a “Score X” goal, even if it’s mechanically the same.

However, it doesn’t always stick the landing. While initially you’re just engaging with enemies with avoidable attacks and easy-to-read patterns, later these bat-wielding attackers, riot guards and tooled-up enemies give way to people who fire freeze-rays and fall from the skies spurting acid in every direction. The answer to these is often just to pour the damage on them as quick as possible, but sometimes the movement you want isn’t necessarily the movement that the game gives you: you’ll try to wallride up to a good shooting position and instead scrape against the wall heading downwards, with the controls understanding what you want but not necessarily your intent.

Rollerdrome. Credit: Roll7.
Rollerdrome. Credit: Roll7.

Similarly, I think the game is a little too tight with its ammunition: you only get a handful of guns in Rollerdrome and they all share the same ammo pool. You get ammo for dodging attacks at a critical time and for pulling off tricks, but what this can mean is midway through killing an enemy you need to rocket off and pull off a few tricks. This happens more in the late game, which is about the time that the enemies become way more dangerous too, so you want to kill them quickly.

Nail the flow of a level and you will barely notice, but Rolledrome feels like a game based on momentum and nothing robs you of that momentum faster than rocketing up a quarter pipe, unloading on the nearest enemy and running out of ammo for every weapon simultaneously. It’s a shame because it’s the only real misstep, and despite the fact you can just get over it with practice, the game definitely gets a lot less fun in the final third as you’re trying to do enough tricks to make sure you have enough ammo to shoot the near constant flow of enemies, until it feels near suffocating. Yet, even when you do get bombarded with enemies, the elation when you manage to break the back of a tough fight and survive is one of the best moments of the year.

Still, until that jars you out of the bliss, it’s hard not to admire the kineticism in every single second of play. It’s clear to see the influence of games like Vigilante 8 and Interstate 76 – namely that 70s timeframe – but there isn’t a game out there that plays anything like this. When it clicks, and you’re grinding around the place taking out enemies on all sides, it’s hard to think of any game that does it better than this.

Rollerdrome launches on August 16 for PS4, PS5 and PC. This review was played on PC.

The Verdict

Rollerdrome’s moment-to-moment action is tight and feels fluid – so far so Roll 7 – but it feels like a real step up for the studio in the way that Rollerdrome has presented itself both in terms of the game’s world building and visual identity, but also the UI and story underpinning everything: Rollerdrome is dense and compact, like a diamond.

Pros

  • Smooth movement
  • Real sense of kineticism
  • Beautiful world design in both aesthetics and narrative
  • Incredible music

Cons

  • Replaying the later levels can feel draining
  • Difficulty can get intense
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