Back in 2019 at a PAX (It’s been so long I can’t really remember which one) I played Roller Champions. To describe the game easily I would mark it as a cross between Rocket League and Alita: Battle Angel. Published by Ubisoft and developed by Ubisoft Montreal, Roller Champions is a free-to-game that gives players a ball, a rink, and some rollerblades and tasks them with lapping the track and shooting the ball into a hoop along the side alá ulama, a Mesoamerican ball game —something that is acknowledged in the game’s track design.
Set in 2032 Roller Champions takes players to arenas built all over the world and make them modern-day heroes, the eponymous Roller Champions. Games are set up with teams of three versus three. The rules are simple: take the ball, make a lap while maintaining team possession, and score. Each lap allows a player to score one point and completing additional laps before attempting a goal accounts for more points won. Manage to lap the track five times and boom, you win or chip away at the points slowly to score five and win lap by lap. After each match, players gain fans which allow them to compete in bigger arenas.
Additionally, Roller Champions allows you to create your own character, but don’t go in expecting to make it look like you. With limited options, the hyper-stylized art style allows you to customize your character in a limited capacity. Additionally, you can customize your outfit but this requires progression and the unlocking of new items that includes skates, helmets, outfits, gloves, goal effects, and a bit more. While all of these are directly gated by in-game currency, you can progress through the Roller Pass in order to gain season-exclusive items and currency which usually costs real cash akin to Pokemon Unite.
Roller Champions isn’t the best when it comes to lobbies and the connectivity issues do impact gameplay quite substantially. That said, when you do get to play, it is a hell of a lot of fun. Being a free-to-play game is what saves this experience overall. While lobby-making and connection issues cause problems, when you’re actually playing, especially with a team, the game maintains a pace that gets you into action and finishes with enough time to get many games in.
You can spend hours diving into matches and not get tired. Additionally, some tracks honor ulama’s influence but outside the Mayan track, the variation in aesthetic isn’t vastly different from tack to track and a larger variety of terrain would be a welcome addition as the game develops post-launch.
The short time spent in individual games while still getting the rush of success when your team scores make playing Roller Champions worth it. This is due in large part to the game allowing you to lap the track however you see fit. This allows you to continually change up your playstyle and adapt to the team you’re playing against. While the tackling system, particularly the uppercut, takes a lot of getting used to executing well, as you get into it, playing aggressive is the only way to do it.
There are annoying bits when playing against an aggressive tackling team for sure. I mean, no one wants to pick up the ball just to get knocked and lose it again, but that back and forth is what gives Roller Champions its strong pace and sleeps it engaging. When coupled with a short match length, tackles are key to getting an edge on the other team, as is launching yourself off of other players. While pumping when you come down a ramp can increase your speed, learning to effectively launch yourself from teammates or uppercut without wiping out helps you get in front and keep control of the arena. These mechanics easily make up for the game’s issues, when you have a full team to play with.
My biggest issue however is how aggressive the game is when it comes to microtransactions. I understand wholeheartedly that keeping a free-to-play alive necessitates microtransactions. That said when you create your character you don’t even get hairstyles to choose from. Instead, you have to use in-game wheels to buy them or open lootballs, which are well, loot boxes. The fact that even the basics of character creation are put behind paywall and grinding games usually directly help you achieve more fans instead of more wheels, and it’s a frustrating time for anyone who cares about how their characters look.
That said, at least the microtransactions are about aesthetics which helps keep the game balanced despite how much real money people into the game. Now, you can earn wheels in-game but it’s extremely slow-moving and frustrating more than anything.
Overall, Roller Champions is a true mixed bag. I’ve had a lot of fun playing and don’t regret any of my play time. But there are hurdles to overcome that range from annoyance to game-breaking if you experience game crashes as I did repeatedly. If you had to pay for Roller Champions, I wouldn’t say “grab two friends and start a match” but it is free and man that makes the difference. While this one is going to rely on patches to fix stability post-launch, there is something there to love.
Roller Champions is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.
If you had to pay for Roller Champions, I wouldn’t say “grab two friends and start a match” but it is free and man that makes the difference. While this one is going to rely on patches to fix stability post-launch, there is something there to love.