Some movies are best left forgotten, but others seem so avant-garde that it almost feels like there was some sorcery involved. Rollerball is one such perfect example, a movie where a brutal futuristic sport took center stage – and I don’t mean the dreadful remake, but the 1975 original which was jam-packed with timely social commentary.
Amidst a barrage of Tom Clancy games, Roller Champions was one of the most surprising announcements from Ubisoft at E3 2019. I’ll eat my shorts if the designers didn’t take inspiration from Rollerball in any way, seeing that the similarities are too deliberate to refute.
But as they usually say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and considering the grand scheme of things, we do need more futuristic sports games. After all, even Rocket League gets tiring after a while.
Keep Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’
Roller Champions is the kind of game that may deceive you and tempt you to discard it as micro-transaction ridden, pay-to-win garbage. I understand where you’re coming from and it will take a few matches to properly tune your mind into it. In less than an hour you should have a clearer view of the whole picture and that view will probably include the words “thrilling” and “fun.” You will probably want to throw a “#$%#!” in there as well, but that is all part of the healthy. no-holds-barred competitive spirit of Roller Champions.
The E3 2019 reveal came with a demo that was as barebones as they come in terms of content, but it was more than enough to show how the game will play. In that respect, it was fairly finetuned, with the bulk of the work surely falling upon the physics department. The skating feel had to be just right, and it mostly is, with a convincing sense of speed as you ride up walls and dodge rival players, with many falls and hilarity ensuing.
The core mechanics look simple enough, but you’ll soon find that this is a sport where skill and teamwork are of utmost importance. It’s not a simple matter of skating in an oval arena, you must rely on your teammates to clear the way for a successful goal attempt. There are many variables coming into play, one of them called pumping.
Pumping is a maneuver where the skater gains speed by bending the knees, something that would instantly make this Daenerys’ favorite sport. You only use it when going downhill, picking up speed until it’s time to start skating again. Pursuing your opponent from behind will take advantage of their draft, gaining speed to ultimately dash and barge onto them, sending the unlucky fellow in a spectacular spin.
When you have the ball, you can press a button to perform a daring last-second dodge that will leave your opponent befuddled. Jumping is another option to potentially avoid the incoming burst of fists and elbows.
Scoring a goal is a matter of throwing the ball through the hoop. It’s not as easy as it sounds since you must consider timing and aiming to successfully throw the ball, not to mention the vicious rival skaters trying to barge you off the track. But this comes with an interesting mechanic that is going to affect the outcome of every match – your goals are worth a different number of points according to the amount of laps your team completes before scoring. You can make a full lap in any direction but losing the ball to an opponent will reset the neon lap counters. A one-lap goal is worth one point, a two-lap goal is worth three points, while a three-lap goal earns you five points. Since the first team reaching five points wins, there is a significant risk/reward factor at play that you mustn’t ignore.
If You Win It, They Will Come
Roller Champions puts a clever cosmetic spin to the XP system. Your performance in the arena will be rated according to goals, victories and other factors, increasing your fans, a.k.a. experience points. This will serve to unlock new gear, outfits, animations, customization items and even stuff for your fanbase, such as new celebration and outfits. It would be amazing if you could customize the crowd chants in any way, but that would lead us into dangerous territory that no publisher is willing to risk.
Sadly, the demo didn’t have any of the customization options unlocked. There was no way to mess around with your character – you couldn’t even pick a skater, in fact – and I can only guess what kind of options we’ll get. Hopefully Ubisoft won’t neglect this aspect since it is one of the areas that could make or break a free-to-play game – let’s have enough content to fiddle with without bumping into paywalls at every corner.
The Roller Champions demo featured two arenas set in Acapulco and Mexico. The sunny Acapulco arena feels cheerful and relaxed, but I preferred the Mexico indoor arena by a long margin. It’s best suited to the violent nature of the sport, the lighting is also tighter, and the overall mood is that this is in a more advanced shape graphically speaking.
Speaking of graphics, Roller Champions starts with a stylish intro that sadly doesn’t find proper correlation with the actual in-game models. The different personalities are patent, but these champions need a more refined art style, one that will make you hesitant when it comes to choosing one skater. I didn’t notice any specific stats differences between them such as speed or acceleration, but I’m willing to bet that this will happen when unlocks come into play, hopefully in a way that won’t break the game balance.
I’m convinced that many gamers scoffed when Ubisoft announced Roller Champions at E3 2019. I was one of them, rolling my eyes as I thought that this mix of Rollerball and Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe seemed too derivative and bland to stand a chance.
Mea culpa, then, as I learned the basics during the first few matches and suddenly, I was having a lot of fun pumping and dodging, delighted by the sheer speed and acrobatic take downs. I felt the adrenaline rush and I can see it earning a decent fanbase capable of turning it into serious eSports material. I just love a good underdog story and Roller Champions has all the makings of one.
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