If you were tuned in to the cultural zeitgeist in the early 2010s and beyond, you’ll know that the ‘battle royale to the death’ concept has pretty much been covered to death. This has been done to varying degrees of success, with the best example being the critically acclaimed Hunger Games series, and the more regrettable examples being movies like The Condemned, starring Stone Cold Steve Austin as the lead. However, within the world of gaming, there have been few games that have truly embraced this in a narrative-focused format.
Sure, we have more battle royale games than we can count, but these are usually pretty lighthearted and gameplay-focused. Well, what if you could have an interesting narrative, killer gameplay, and you could do it all while zooming around on roller skates with guns akimbo? It seems ridiculous, and it is but in the best way possible. I am, of course, talking about Rollerdrome.
Now, as a skateboarder that is skating well beyond the socially acceptable age, I’ve lived through a time where rollerskating and Inline skating were seen as just about the lamest things ever. However, in this modern age where scooters are filling the skatepark, I am more than happy to champion rollerskating, and to Rollerdrome’s credit, the game makes it very easy to do so.
The title has an incredible arcade feel, the art style is unique and eye-catching, the soundtrack is punchy, and as someone that likes a challenge, this game provides that and then some.
However, I’m sure you came here looking to uncover the finer details, and draw your own conclusions, and I am here to support you in doing so. In this Rollerdrome review, I’ll be looking at Rollerdrome’s unique take on the Extreme Sports genre, weighing up whether the narrative content hits the mark, I’ll be diving into the accessible but hard-to-master mechanics, and I’ll also be discussing whether the difficulty is a little excessive for the casual player.
Okay, lace up those skates, and load your weapons; this is Indie Game Culture’s Rollerdrome Review, conducted on PS5; enjoy!
Comic Book Chaos
Let’s kick things off with the visuals on offer within this game, and when it comes to the world, the level design, the blend of futuristic and 1970’s inspired assets, and the overall approach, I have nothing but praise for the artists responsible at Roll7.
When I laid my eyes on this one for the first time, I immediately thought, I’ve seen this before quite recently, and I had in the form of Sable, another game that uses visuals that pay homage to Graphic Novels and older animated media like Studio Ghibli movies for example.
However, Rollerdrome still manages to put its own spin on things, and does so while everything moves at breakneck speeds.
The title has a unique blend of modern and retro, with decor, subtle narrative aspects like live TV still being king, and unique settings that feel very much rooted in the 1970s, yet the game places us in this uncertain future of 2030 where advanced weapons are commonplace, and gargantuan robots are out to ruin your skate session. It’s a peculiar world, but one that feels oddly believable, and that’s largely down to the presentation.
It’s also worth stating that this game runs like a dream, and with so much going on at all times on screen, that is a real achievement. I played this game, and the Out For Blood mode in full, and I didn’t witness a single frame drop, or any performance issues throughout, which is always great to see from an indie developer.
A Booming Backing Track
Let’s move on to the soundtrack, and as readers will know from my recent Indie Soundtracks article, I am a sucker for a good soundtrack. The good news is that Rollerdrome delivers on this front, offering a punchy electro score that really gets the blood pumping. The entire soundtrack is produced by Electric Dragon and includes some absolute bangers, including the track for Echo Basin, Kara’s Theme, and Matterhorn’s Rise.
The soundtrack serves as a perfect backing track to the fast-paced killing and shredding on screen, and it feels as if the racing BPM is carrying you through the arena and onto your next encounter with a house player. It’s somewhat like what Hotline Miami has to offer, but I would say that it’s much closer to the brand of electro brilliance in Furi, as Electro Dragon and Carpenter Brut’s work are very similar in a lot of ways.
Then to add even more value to the soundtrack, the developers took all the tracks you nodded along to in the main game, and then had a collection of prominent electro artists step in to offer their own unique remixes to these tracks for the Out For Blood mode.
This includes the stylings of artists such as Nightcrawler, Vincenzo Salvia, and Cartridge 1987. It’s little extras like this that have to be appreciated, as a AAA developer would sell this as DLC content for sure. Overall, an incredible, motivating, and high-quality score.
Modern Gaming Meets Arcade Action
With the presentation covered, let’s talk about the gameplay on offer, as it’s really the star of the show here. Let me give you the skinny on what you do in Rollerdrome.
You are a Rollerdrome competitor who must enter different arenas on rollerskates and kill all the enemies that pop up around the level. You can do so with a series of weapons, you begin with pistols, but more weapons become available as you work your way through the early levels.
You also have a multiplier that you have to try and maintain by killing enemies in quick succession, and you will also have to try and chain together unique tricks and grinds, which in turn will also refill the ammo you use, all the while avoiding the onslaught of attacks from the House Players out to kill you. Basically, it’s kill or be killed, but with some tricks thrown in there for style points.
Now, it’s very hard to review this game without drawing comparisons to Tony Hawks Pro Skater and games of this ilk, but I feel that Rollerdrome does more than enough to set itself apart from these games that served as inspiration.
The progression through the game is very similar to the old THPS model, where you complete challenges; however, you are not limited by a time limit. You instead have to kill all the waves of enemies in the level, and you will be graded after completion, much like a Sonic title.
The challenges are, for the most part, pretty routine. You need to perform certain tricks, collect tokens and kill enemies in certain ways, but the added jeopardy of having to dodge bombs, mines, bullets, and flames makes things a little more intense than trying to land a kickflip over a kicker gap.
A Match Made In Heaven
The thing that I have to praise above all else is the incredible synergy between the rollerskating and combat aspects of this game. It would have been very easy to focus on one and make another an afterthought, but each is refined, and this leads to gameplay that flows and feels very satisfying, even when you are still learning the ropes.
Then I have to also praise the simplicity of the controls, too, as, with so many moving parts, this had the potential to be overwhelming for players. Yet, even with the need to deal with a series of enemies and land a 720 Seatbelt Grab while also grabbing all the combo tokens, you never feel like the game is on top of you, and that is down to the very impressive and accessible game design.
The praise doesn’t stop there, as the weapon system is excellent too. The player will only ever unlock four weapons, the pistol, shotgun, grenade launcher, and the Lazer Gun. However, this feels like a perfectly crafted arsenal to deal with the variety of enemies on offer. Then speaking of the enemies, these are designed with care too.
With melee House players, Snipers, Teleporting Lazer Gunners, Warheads, RIOT Soldiers, Stompers, and Walking Robot Turrets to deal with, the player has to always be on their toes, thinking ahead about how to eliminate the threat in the fastest way possible.
This might seem like something that would be near-impossible to do in real time, and you would be right. This is why Rollerdrome employs a Max Payne Bullet-time mechanic to allow players windows of opportunity to slow things down, pick off enemies, and then race onto a ramp to do some killer tricks and refill their ammo.
All-in-all, Rollerdrome’s gameplay is seamless high-octane fun that gives you all the tools to succeed, but equally puts up one hell of a fight to keep you from beating every level you encounter. The only criticism I could throw its way would be that the trick system isn’t anywhere near as deep as other extreme sports games, but that is by design due to other factors on screen like, oh, I don’t know, the bullets sailing past your head at any given moment.
That I can overlook, but what was a little annoying was the inability to perform advanced tricks consistently when I was gunning for scores in the millions. A small gripe for otherwise sublime gameplay.
Let’s talk about the narrative within Rollerdrome, something I was rather surprised I would have to mention at all in this review. With games like these, the gameplay is everything, and that is still the case here, but Rollerdrome adds value in the form of an interesting world, and narrative aspects throughout the level segments. The narrative follows Kara Hassan as she begins the journey as an unknown entity within the Rollerdrome scene, and overcomes the odds to become champion.
The narrative is told through first-person exploration of locker rooms, radio stations, and other settings before you jump back into the action again, and in these sections, you can read notes, and newspapers and interact with objects to learn more about the world, your competitors and the ongoing political and social issues linked to the Rollerdrome higher-ups. It’s a story of corruption and scandal, and it’s an excellent addition that helps to place you within this pseudo-dystopian world.
Now, I have seen criticism leveled at this game regarding the narrative and how it is very bare-bones, and I’m not here to argue that. However, I don’t think it is a negative at all. Think of it this way, in a game like this, do you really want to be bogged down with long, tedious narrative sections that keep you away from the running and gunning? Or, do you want a little bit of flavor that paints the picture and lets you fill in the blanks? For me, it’s the latter, and I think Rollerdrome nails this balance with interesting twists and turns, and excellent world-building through environmental clues.
The only small issue I had with these sections was that you were given a few choices throughout the game, like stealing things from competitors, aligning yourself with the higher-ups, and so on. These choices felt pointless and superficial, and I question whether they were really needed as they gave the illusion that I had some say in how the narrative would pan out, and that was not the case. Again, a small issue, but I’m just glad that there were strong narrative features at all, as games like these have no obligation to do this.
Get Good Or Die Trying
I don’t have a lot of harsh negatives to level at Rollerdrome. On most fronts, the game excels and nails exactly what it tries to accomplish. However, I have to say that this game does not cater to the casual gamer that may like the fun concept, but simply doesn’t have the reaction times to progress through the game.
Rollerdrome gives new players access to four opening stages by default, and players will need to complete challenges and survive all of these stages to progress. With a reasonable level of skill, players will manage this, but from then on, the game really steps things up, and unless you are pretty handy at games like this, you will really struggle.
This wasn’t something that burdened me, but I did notice that simply by clearing the later stages with a pretty low/average score, I was in the top 2,000 players globally. While flattering, this indicates to me that very few players are actually clearing these stages, and therefore a lot of players aren’t actually seeing all the content, be it gameplay or narrative, that the game has to offer.
It’s a game that doesn’t hold your hand and expects you to excel if you want to progress. I personally loved this, but I know this isn’t the mindset of all gamers and if the game would have included a difficulty setting or some cheats that gave players more room for error, that would have been a good move.
When it comes to indie games, I always look to replayability, as there are very few games that can truly offer a core gameplay loop that will keep you coming back time and time again. That much is clear if you read my recent Cult of the Lamb Review.
However, Rollerdrome manages to provide this through a couple of features. The arcade scoring system offers a competitive aspect to every single run you perform, and means that you can earn bragging rights if you get your flow just right. Then you also have the challenges, which range from attainable to damn-near impossible.
However, the chef’s kiss when it comes to Rollerdrome’s replayability is the Out For Blood mode, which is essentially new game plus, with stronger enemies, all the guns right from the first stage, higher player damage, and challenges that redefine ‘damn-near impossible.’ In short, if you want a game that offers value for money, Rollerdrome is an excellent option.
Whether you are looking for a game where you can showcase your skills by doing slick tricks, or you just want to showcase your proficiency with a series of weapons, I have a handful of excellent titles that you can take on after you finish Rollerdrome. Check them out below:
- Tony Hawks Pro Skater 1+2
- Hotline Miami
- Sonic Adventure 2
Overall, Rollerdrome delivers on all fronts, providing an incredible new take on the extreme sports genre, and providing high-octane, free-flowing gameplay with no off-ramps, which will have you hooked from start to finish. The game has stellar visuals that feel like they have been hand-drawn by top-tier graphic novelists, the soundtrack has a bouncy electro-vibe akin to Hotline Miami and Furi, the narrative aspects offer exposition without slowing down the experience, and when it comes to replayability and the amount of content on offer. Unless you are a super-human-skater, the challenges and the intimidating ‘Out for Blood’ mode will keep you busy for quite some time.
The only criticism I have for this game is that the content, especially from the quarter-finals onwards, is locked behind skill barriers that casual players might struggle to overcome. Plus, when you get into the finer details of the gameplay, the cracks begin to show when you want to perform more advanced tricks consistently. However, as a whole, Rollerdrome is a fantastic non-stop adrenaline-fuelled experience, and I, for one, will be playing this one for quite some time.
- Incredible comic-book style visuals
- An incredible electro soundtrack
- Seamless Rollerskating meets gunplay mechanics
- Lots of end-game content in the form of Out For Blood
- Bare Bones narrative will be too thin for some
- Advanced tricks can be quite hard to perform consistently
- Difficulty will gatekeep a lot of content from less adept players
Question: Is Rollerdrome Hard?
Answer: This really depends on what you want to get out of the game. If you simply want to try this one out and aren’t too worried about making it through the entire game, then you don’t need to worry too much. However, if you do want to see all that this game has to offer, then this could be an issue.
The game is pretty tough, and it only gets tougher as you push on to the final and into the Out For Blood mode. The best thing to do, if you are a Playstation Plus Extra subscriber is to make use of the one-hour trial on the Playstation Store, see if this is a game that’s up your alley and if you hit a wall in that hour, then that’s probably a good indicator.
Question: Is Rollerdrome A Battle Royale?
Answer: No, it’s not a battle royale, but you do fight against AI combatants and have to be the last fighter/skater standing at the end of the game. It has a lot of similarities, but you don’t play against other players in an online format, you can’t pick up weapons or power-ups, and you can’t work as part of a team, so it’s not quite the same.
Question: Is Rollerdrome like Tony Hawks Pro Skater?
Answer: In a lot of ways, this game is like THPS. The game has a similar challenge-based progression system, and the trick system feels quite similar. However, that’s where the comparison ends. Rollerdrome is a truly unique experience that carves its own path in the extreme sports genre.