Rollerdrome, from OlliOlli World developer Roll7, is a game that involves wheels and guns (the peanut butter and jelly of gaming) and manages to feel both new and familiar all at once in the best ways. And that is great news for anyone who’s ever enjoyed the likes of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Max Payne, Rez, Splatoon, Twisted Metal, and all other kinds of flavors of delicious Electronic Gaming. Rollerdrome is a third-person action game on X Games mode.
I know it’s easy to just point at other things that already exist and use them as references, but honestly, it doesn’t really paint the entire picture of how fun it is to move around these mini Tony Hawk-style skate parks and carry your momentum from one trick into a series of satisfyingly mesmerizing combos. The way your character’s body glides through levels as you perform stylish kills turns your plastic controller into a finely-tuned Steinway piano.
Movement controls are pretty simple too. You glide around as you would expect, careful to carry enough momentum off of ramps, onto grindable rails and rideable walls. The beauty of Rollerdrome is that a major point of friction in these kinds of games — bailing or messing up a landing — doesn’t stop you. Rollerdrome brilliantly leans away from that and turns those accidents into a simple roll that your character will just move on from. Your trick score might take a hit, but it allows you not to get hit. If you’ve ever played something like Tony Hawk, Skate, or Jet Set Radio you’re probably familiar with how deflating that can feel after finally stringing together a good line of tricks.
Instead of punishing you for failure, Rollerdrome encourages you to go for that move anyway because the reward justifies the risk. If you mess up, at least it won’t stop you in your tracks. Half of your time is spent doing these simple, but satisfying strings of combos and the other half is you absolutely annihilating combatants who are also attacking you in different ways that also require their own special response. Rollerdrome tunes that Steinway piano for a call-and-response jazz performance where the game is constantly introducing puzzles for you to solve as you improvise a way forward.
Shooting is extremely straightforward in Rollerdrome because outside of weapons that do more splash damage like grenade launchers, you just have to aim near a target and the game will automatically lock onto them. Lock-on targeting allows an opportunity to let the player switch between weapons in ways that eventually become difficult to master, but crucial to learn. Say I’m double backflipping over an enemy with homing missiles (stop me if you’ve heard this one before), it would be best for me to shoot him with my shotgun first and then switch to my double pistols and slow-motion shoot the missiles in mid-air as I twist my body into a pretzel of pain.
And just like that handy roll I mentioned earlier, you obtain more ammunition by just pulling off tricks in a string of combos that fund your carnage. It’s the classic Tetris “effect” that swaps between creation and destruction that plays out on your screen like a bloody ballet scored to a synth-saturated electronic dance beat. All of that flavor wrapped in a gorgeous comic book art style that manages to blend it all into a super appealing package made for social media sharing.
The little bit of the campaign that I played tells the story through moments of first-person sequences, where you explore a space that lays out the story. So you explore an empty locker room or media areas at Rollerdrome HQ. It’s a pretty elegant, if also a little empty, way of allowing the player to listen and pick through a surprisingly dark premise. As a trashy reality TV show connoisseur and Formula 1 fan, if a bloody Rollerdrome league popped up tomorrow, I would not be shocked. I mean I’d be shocked, but I’d also probably tune in too.
In comparison to how loud the rest of the game is, these quieter moments feel a little odd, but the story does pull on some thorny threads that I am extremely curious to see unravel. It won’t be the main reason I’m here, but it is cool that it has some potential at least. It’s only being featured as a single-player game at the moment, but it’s easy to see the multiplayer potential. That must be some hell of a magical blender they got over there at Roll7, but kudos to them for remembering which ingredients to also keep out so that consistency remains vibrant and silky smooth.
Rollerdrome comes to PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and Steam on August 16.