Rollerdrome is a Tony Hawk but you have a shotgun. Strictly speaking you’re on rollerskates instead of a skateboard, which I’m sure makes a big difference if you’re trying to ride these things in actual real life, but game mechanically this is pretty much exactly the same as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. I can’t totally remember the button inputs from those old games, but to my recollection they might be completely identical. They probably did have to clear out some room on the controller somewhere for weapon switching and shooting guys, though.

The way it works is that there are a bunch of guys scattered around a Tony Hawk style skate park, which might be an actual skate park, a mountain ski resort, a shopping mall, an ambiguously desert-y location, whatever. These guys have sniper rifles or rocket launchers or laser gauntlets or various other weapons with extremely well-telegraphed attack wind-ups (the sniper rifles, for example, draw an unmissable laser beam from themselves to you for several seconds before firing). All of these attacks can be dodged by doing a little flip with your do-a-little-flip button, which will cause you to dodge roll if you’re on the ground or grinding a rail and to somersault if you’re in the air. You only get so many i-frames and you can’t do another flip until your first flip is done, so you can’t chain them together for permanent invincibility, which means the challenge of the game comes when you’re being mobbed by enough enemies that the incoming attacks are sufficiently hectic that you might dodge roll away from one and straight into another. This is especially the case when area attacks get introduced late in the game, like the laser gauntlets that sweep across the arena chasing after you or the jetpack guys who spray out a bunch of acid that damages you if you move across it and which persists for several seconds (your i-frames still work on the acid, but your dodge roll doesn’t cover enough ground to get you from one end of the acid to the other, so you’ll still be in it when the i-frames wear off).

You have a variety of guns with which to sort these fellows out, all of which have shared ammunition. Each shot from your dual pistols consumes one pistol bullet, naturally, but a shotgun blast consumes two, a laser bolt consumes either four or eight depending on whether it’s double-charged, and a grenade from your grenade launcher consumes six. You start with twelve, and different weapons are more effective against different enemies, but you will generally have to completely mag dump a specific guy to kill him even if you’re using the optimal weapon.

The rocket launcher fellows, for example, have a shield they can activate that makes them temporarily invincible, but they can’t activate it while flinching. The shotgun, laser, and grenade launcher have enough windup between shots that he can recover from the flinch (which lasts only a split second) and activate his shield, but the dual pistols spam out bullets fast enough to stunlock him. If you mag dump about ten of your twelve pistol bullets into a rocket launcher guy, you can spam him to death before he gets his shield up. The shotgun is better on a damage-per-bullet basis, with a single shotgun slug dealing about three or four times as much as a pistol bullet, but requiring only two pistol bullets’ worth of ammo to fire. The grenade launcher does AoE, and I never really figured out what the laser was for. I think when double-charged it might be the single largest source of one-shot damage, so hypothetically good for when you need a specific guy to die fast no matter how many bullets it costs you to do it, but it was so hard to aim (even with keyboard and mouse) that I never really worked out if that’s true.

Since you often need to completely empty your weapon to kill one guy and there’s like twenty of them spread across the arena, you will need to reload, which you do by performing tricks. The more rad your sick moves, the more ammo you get back. Unlike in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, it’s impossible to wipe out, you will always roll back onto your skates no matter what angle you hit the ground, which means there’s never any points lost because you didn’t stick the landing, which means the game can and does give you the points for the trick mid-air as you complete each 180 degrees of a spin or complete rotation of a flip or whatever, which means you can ride off a quarter pipe with an empty magazine towards a guy with a rocket launcher on a raised platform that’s hard to hit from the ground, do a sweet 720 nose-grab backflip in mid-air, and mag dump your pistols (well, just one, because you’re using the other hand for the nosegrab – this doesn’t seem to affect fire rate at all) into the rocket launcher guy as you’re spinning through the air, firing the bullets as soon as they arrive in your weapons.

What really brings all that together is that you have a time-limited ability to enter slo-mo, which is on a fast recharge, which means you don’t just have to spam out bullets and hope for the best, you can enter slo-mo to aim and fire at a target (and the pistols and shotgun have a built-in aimbot, although the shotgun’s aimbot is pretty short range).

The Tony Hawk inspiration continues in the ten challenges each level has, which include getting a certain high score, collecting some tokens scattered about the arena, doing a specific trick in a specific place, killing a specific enemy with a specific weapon or in a specific way, and so on. The levels are presented in a specific order, but by default you need to not only complete each level in sequence, but also complete enough challenges across all levels to unlock the next few in the sequence. Just completing a level doesn’t automatically complete any challenges, and most challenges don’t require you to complete the level. A challenge to kill one of the polybeam enemies before they’ve teleported once, for example, can be completed in ten seconds if you drop in, skate over to a polybeam next to an exploding barrel, and lob a grenade at the right spot so the polybeam gets caught in both explosions. You still get credit for that challenge even if you go on to get killed or even quit out of the level immediately.

Rollerdrome is quite difficult, but it also has quite good difficulty options. As is the case in many indie games these days, these are labeled as “accessibility,” and every single one of them is a way of making the game easier which is turned off by default. While good difficulty options are definitely an accessibility thing, I do suspect that it’s not good for these games that they start you out on nightmare Hellmurder difficulty and you have to go into the settings menu to find the options to tone it down. There’s sliders to reduce game speed, decrease enemy damage, an option to remove the requirement to complete challenges so all you have to do is beat each level in sequence, and even outright invincibility. The only one I wound up using was removing the challenge requirements, and I don’t know if it’s good or bad that I subsequently accidentally spent four hours longer than I planned to spend on the game to beat the last three levels. Accessibility options don’t prevent you from getting achievements but do disqualify you from leaderboards. A very thorough system that covers everything difficulty options should, my only real complaint is that it should be broken out of the settings menu and given its own spot on the main menu.

Rollerdrome has some kind of corporate greed, police militarization, celebrities with political opinions kinda plot happening in the background. It’s not really fleshed out enough to be worth following, but leaving it vague was a good idea on the Rollerdrome devs’ part. Sure, it would’ve been nice to have some frame story about skate-murdering for police reform or whatever, but in order to do so properly would require adding things that would’ve required other things to be removed, just due to finite time and resources. Like, you’d want to have confrontations with rival Rollerdrome athletes, and while such a Rollerdrome duel sounds really cool, it probably wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as the spidertank boss fights we actually got, where you have to skate up the legs of the tank and use the quarter-pipe at its back to get above it so you can shoot its weakspot with a grenade launcher. The spidertank is a piece of the skate park that walks around shooting missiles at you, while a rival Rollerdrome competitor is just a regular enemy who moves around (half your guns have a built-in aimbot so you can use them while doing flips and shit, so a moving target will make almost no difference mechanically) and probably has way too much health.

Rollerdrome is Tony Hawk with guns, and it’s really, really good at being exactly that and not anything else.

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