Roller derby is an intense sport. Points are based off one team member, the jammer, lapping members of the other team while the rest of their squad protects them from opposing players (all while trying to stop the other team from scoring). There is no ball and team coordination is more important than anything else.
Roller derby is also the first thing that popped into my mind (and anyone’s mind who watch the reveal trailer) when I sat down to play “Roller Champions,” a new sports game from Ubisoft that was announced at E3. It has the same track and team mechanics from roller derby but throws in a new element that makes it a completely different sport: a ball and sideways hoop.
In “Roller Champions” the objective of the game is to grab the ball, take at least one full lap around the track, and then throw the ball into a big sideways hoop on the edge of the track. It’s a challenge though as the enemy team of three will do everything they can to prevent that ball from making it around the ring. As soon as they hit you and touch the ball the progress made is lost.
Outside the similarities to derby, “Champions” also feels a lot like the Mesoamerican ball game featured in “The Road to El Dorado,” where two teams try and get a single ball through a hoop that’s placed incredibly high on a wall. There aren’t any rollerblades or wheels of any kind for that matter in the movie, but the central premise is very similar.
It’s a real sport too. It’s known as pitz in Classic Maya (which is one of the versions that actually had hoops placed high up), although there were many versions of it. It’s still played in Sinaloa, although it’s a slightly different version called Ulama without hoops that resemble volleyball more than what was shown in the DreamWorks movie.
Ubisoft’s take Roller Derby captures a lot of silliness that was done so well in “The Road to El Dorado.” Characters have large hitboxes making checks easy to pull off, the futuristic setting makes the whole game feel surreal, and scores are celebrated with replays and confetti. Everything about “Roller Champions” feels polished and enjoyable.
It’s a lot of fun, although it completely loses its luster if you don’t have a competent team. This is nothing like Rocket League where you can make insane trick shots by avoiding the enemy team with over-the-top aerial moves, it’s a grounded game where taking someone out is as easy as a button press. Getting taken out is just as easy. Unless both groups are clueless it’s difficult to score points without help from your teammates.
Rollerblading, skating, checking, and even shooting are all fairly simple but combining the different elements while working with your team to create a defensive perimeter to get the jammer into scoring position is a completely separate challenge. But when done right, like my partner and I did during a short session with Ubisoft at E3 this past week, it provides a jolt of joy and adrenaline.
Luckily “Roller Champions” will be free-to-play meaning player base should come built in on launch. It’s three vs three gameplay sessions are perfect for short, casuals bursts making “Champions” a more approachable competitive game. We don’t have a release date yet but there is a playable demo available until June 14th. If you’re a fan of smooth and coordination heavy team-based gameplay then “Roller Champions” is definitely worth a look.