In a match of Roller Champions, your objective is convoluted, but fairly simple to understand once you’ve played a match. Two teams of three will do laps around an oval arena – all on roller skates, of course – and compete for a ball. Once your team has the ball in its possession, you need to take it on at least one lap of the map before the goal opens up for a chance to score. Taking the ball for extra laps around the arena will increase the points you’re given for scoring, but invites the risk of a rival player smacking it out of your hands like a playground bully – and if that happens, you’ll have to repeat the process all over again.
Having to take the ball on laps of the arena before scoring is strange, but serves to add a little bit of order to what could have been total bedlam. As to how you’ll make your way around the arena, skating in Roller Champions takes some time to master, but it’s rewarding to get the hang of. Leaning in at the top of a summit will send you careening forward with a burst of momentum, and trying to maintain that speed becomes integral to staying one step ahead of the competition.
All of this is easier said than done, because Roller Champions is by no means a pacifist sport. To get the ball from a rival player, you’ll need to take them out with a full-body tackle: time this right and you’ll leave them sprawled out and left in the dust, but make one too many tackles and your character will lose control and topple over. Likewise, once you’ve got the ball your tackling button becomes a dodge. This turns into (surely) the world’s first roller skate-based parrying system that feels fantastic to pull off – reading an opponent’s behaviour, knowing when they’re coming in for a tackle, and neatly sidestepping out of the way is a thrill that rivals actually scoring a goal.
When all of this works in tandem, Roller Champions is a blast. However, it’s unclear whether these systems are deep enough to promise too much replayability: skating feels fun, but doesn’t take too long to become disengaged to muscle memory, and it’s still unclear how much skill expression is available for better players to discover. On a pettier note, the ever-present announcer for Roller Champions sounds like Claptrap on MDMA. It’s grating and loud, and makes enjoying the game’s curated up-tempo soundtrack a nightmare.
Roller Champions can feel a bit shallow at times, but the game has plenty of shine – in its own weird way. Ubisoft’s real test will be to see whether it’s created a sport interesting enough for fans to latch onto, but for now it’s a free-to-play joy ride to throw away an evening on.