Open Lab S.R.L.’s latest offering Roller Drama comes from the team behind Football Drama and is an ambitious amalgam of mechanics and moods, featuring fully-controllable roller derby matches, little love stories, and hare-brained schemes to complete.
Roller Drama quickly introduces your character, Joan, who is a new coach of a feisty team of ladies heading to the roller derby championships. Your job is to keep the team together, improve them, and help them in their personal lives. In order to do this, the team moves into one big house together.
However, some bizarre instances pop up quite quickly. The first character Joan meets is a ghost who is very similar to William Shakespeare and speaks in antiquated language… Why is Shakespeare there? Who knows. I got no answers so I chose not to question it. All I know is he decided to give career advice and tell me how to coach my team. From there, things continue in an odd sense.
There’s a cat owned by the landlord hanging around, though it meets its end and then becomes embalmed. The kitty isn’t let to rest though, as it becomes a point of contention between the girls in the house and a policeman that turns up. Again, there’s little to no context to this so take it how you want.
The five girls on the team all have their own unique personalities and fun designs setting them apart from each other, but it feels like there isn’t enough time to really get to know any of them. There’s team captain Portia, Anne the jammer, Juliet, Cordelia, and Lily. You can visit their rooms and try to have a chat, but unless it’s a quest-related conversation, they’ll give the same short answers a lot of the time.
Of the five teammates, Portia seems to get the most screen time as she’s involved in the cat fiasco, and gets a boyfriend out of nowhere that we need to – let me check my notes – rescue from being trapped in an AI company’s office. Is this a bit confusing to you? Yeah, me too.
Really, the game should be longer, and add a lot more context to what happens – especially padding out the personalities of the teammates. At one point Cordelia comes to Joan and asks to be involved in the extra-curricular mischief that’s going on, which kind of feels like a way to shoehorn her in for more time.
You play Roller Drama in three sections: the first is getting an earful from the Shakespeare ghost, the second is chasing your team around the house you share – which only allows one person in the elevator at a time -, and the third is the all-important derby matches.
You can freely explore the house that the team shares to a point. The ‘map’ is a cross-section of the building which allows you to click a room and visit it to check what’s inside or talk to who’s there. The screen has hints to the side from the Shakespeare ghost, as well as thoughts from the girls as they move around. These are sometimes written in an odd way as if words were cut out to keep them shorter.
In terms of the quests, they’re all part of a linear story but are all quite short. There isn’t any ‘downtime’ as such between things to do. The good news is if you mess something up and fail the puzzle to find the solution, you can restart as it was all part of a ‘dream’ that Joan had.
This brings us to the most interesting part of the game: the roller derby matches. These are the whole point – you want your team to win the championships and thwart the opposing teams in every round.
Each match is made up of three rounds, called jams, where your jammer (in our case it’s Anne), must skate around the whole track and ‘loop’ the other team. Each time you do, you score. But, the other team’s four members – the blockers – are there to hamper you and get in your way – just as your team must try and stop the opposing jammer.
You have options as the jammer and can tell the blockers what to do, including how much energy to spend, and what formation to take. There are also cards you can earn through the story that give energy boosts and other buffs for your team. There’s a short tutorial before your first match, but it can still be hard to get a hang of what on earth you’re doing. Despite feeling totally out of my depth, these jams are addictive. My advice is to keep playing team actions constantly and run as much as you can.
You can play the second and third rounds yourself, or let the game automatically play them. I did find though that it’s a total coin-toss as to whether the auto-play is any good; sometimes you win by a landslide, and sometimes you take a huge loss – this would be fine if it matched with the scores I got while playing it myself, which were usually much closer with a two to six point difference.
The control scheme for Roller Drama is super simple – for the most part. Part of the scheme I find tedious is when in the heat of a jam, you open the menu with X, and then have to awkwardly hop between items in only one direction using the joysticks. I recommend using the touchscreen controls for this.
My biggest letdown with Roller Drama is that there’s weirdly nothing to do with the actual skates and skating equipment, which is a huge part of roller skating and roller derby life – but maybe that’s just my own obsession shining through.
The game is marketed as a ‘visual-novel and sports management’ mashup, but it feels more like a point-and-click deal. I expected something akin to story-based games like We Are OFK, but Roller Drama feels more like Death and Taxes with a skating minigame.
Roller Drama takes approximately three to ten hours to finish, depending on which ending you get and how many quest re-dos you need. I found myself a little disappointed at the lack of story and depth that these cool characters were given in that time. It’s best to imagine it like a comic book as if more things happen between the jumpy quests that you get to see.
All in, it’s a good, albeit quite strange, time, and I feel I will replay it at least once to try and find the different endings, and figure out how to properly coach my team in the jams.
Roller Drama Switch review
Roller Drama provides a short experience that gets your wheels turning, but has a couple of bumps in the road. I recommend it for those of you who want to play roller derby from the comfort of your own home.