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by David Low - August 14, 2015

Apparently the RollerGames TV show was a big deal in the USA in 1989. A professional wrestling-esque dramatised fictional version of roller derby, its short-lived nature meant the only part that made it outside of the US were two Konami developed games. While the TV show is a pretty fun retro experience if you have some nostalgia for that era, Konami's games are surely the most enduring related products, in particular the NES game.

RollerGames TV Show

RollerGames (Arcade)


RollerGames - Arcade (1991)

American Arcade Flyer

Japanese Arcade Flyer

First out of the blocks is the RollerGames arcade game, which is a relatively faithful recreation of the TV show, and features crude digitised versions of many of the real skaters.

RollerGames

You play as your team's "Jetter" who is the only team member who can score points. Player 2 or the CPU control the other Jetter. Each round begins with a whip around the "wall of death" section, and amounts to a classic Konami Hyper Sports style button mash to gain some bonus points.

After the initial run around the wall of death and "Jet Jump", the rest of the round moves to the standard circuit. You don’t have to worry about staying on the track, as the game handles this automatically, scrolling the scenery by, leaving as your only concern beating up a stream of constantly re-spawning opponents to score points. Unlike the show (and traditional roller derby) where you get points for the lapping opponents, here you're considered to have lapped them when you knock them down.

What you're left with is a chaotic but otherwise fairly standard beat em up. The only real difference is that the enemies come to you, rather than having to walk over to them. You have a few moves available aside from the standard attacks and jump kick, the most fun being a throw where you can swing your opponent around to knock out multiple others.

To win, you simply get the most points at the end of four cycles. If you get beat up too much, you lose a life, but losing lives does not affect on the outcome other than encouraging pumping more cash into the machine.

It's an okay time waster, and in two player mode is an interesting take on a versus-mode beat em up, effectively making it a "race for points Double Dragon". But there's not that much more to it. Some limited one-on-one fighting bonus rounds, and multiple backgrounds for tracks (though they remain functionally identical) are the only elements to add variety. the whole thing is very much designed for brainless button mashing quarter-chomping casual arcade fun.


RollerGames (Arcade)

RollerGames (Arcade)

RollerGames (Arcade)


Additional Screenshots



RollerGames - NES (1991)

American NES Cover

While the arcade game is pretty much an accurate videogame version of the TV show, that level of simplicity wouldn't really cut it for a home release. In RollerGames for the NES' case, it appears Konami management showed the developers the source material, and said "make an NES style action adventure game from this". Non-Americans without exposure to the source material could easily assume it was a purely original Konami title, given the regular arcade-style setting and progression.

The gameplay is a unique mixture of beat-em-up and action platformer. Taking some cues from Double Dragon and Konami's own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games, and combining it with speedy momentum-based movement, isometric platforming, and Konami's own brand of tricks and traps. Ultimately it can be described as a beat-em-up action platformer on wheels.

In some ways RollerGames is the sister game to another Konami release heavily adapted from an external source: Skate or Die: Bad 'N Rad on the Game Boy. Similarly based on an existing property (in this case Electronic Arts' Skate or Die series of games, which Konami published on the NES), like RollerGames it deviated from its source material so much as to be basically a unique property. Bad n' Rad is a sort of racing action platformer, and has a very similar setting and feel to RollerGames.

Skate or Die: Bad 'N Rad

RollerGames has a setting and story that takes the basic branding and teams from the (nominally) sports-based show, and throws them into a standard videogame fictional world. Bad guy has taken the head of the league hostage, pick a RollerGames team and set out over a variety of themed stages to defeat bad guy. You pick a team at the start of each round, but in the NES game's case teams are represented by a single individual.

T-birds

Chunky fat dudes (evidently based on a particular fan favorite character from that team). Slow to accelerate but powerful.

Hot Flash

Pink clad women, Hot Flash girls are fast but weak.

Rockers

Axl Rose lookalikes, Rockers dudes are the Goldilocks selection.

Hot Flash is generally the best because quicker control is more valuable in platforming (which are the most difficult parts of the game), and who can resist 80s girls in hot pink?

Most stages are centred around an evil team, with a set theme and featuring the team leader as the end boss. Main levels are broken in two, and you get an energy bar refill at a mid-stage checkpoint. They're a mix of platforming, beat em up, and traps. The alternate stages are constantly moving highway stages, where a variety of traps appear to try and stop you making it to the next stage. These are very similar to the skateboarding levels in Konami's TMNT games. The beat-em-up elements feel a lot like TMNT too. Fast and smooth, but relatively loose and forgiving hit detection. Once you work out the exact angle to attack enemies from, you feel pretty powerful.

Bosses are atypically well designed for a beat-em-up. They follow unique patters of attack, more like a good action platformer boss than your typical "big brute" fighter boss. While they are cheap at times, you can see how you could technically not take a hit with a perfect run. There is also more variety that normal as afforded by the premise, so not all bosses are just guys to beat up.

The platforming has two things going against it. The belt scrolling movement makes judging jump distances much more difficult than in a standard 2D space. You are also on wheels, and have momentum to deal with. In a sense the whole game plays similarly to an ice world in a Mario game, all slip and slide. Combine the perspective with the momentum and it's a recipe for frustration for those without quick fingers. Add to this banked surfaces (which feature heavily in a later stage) and speed and this becomes a tough game to beat. But it's not unfair or impossible. It will require level memorisation and quick reflexes, but all traps are passable every time.

Presentation wise, it's classic high-quality Konami. The graphics are fantastic, Konami's trademark "faceless" characters are big and well defined. Detailed colorful environments, a rock solid engine with basically no sprite flicker, and some excellent parallax effects on the highway stages mean this is a top-shelf NES game graphically. Sound effects are good standard NES stuff, and the accompaniment is a series of excellent catchy tunes (by one of the Castlevania series' composers) which perfectly match the solid game mechanics. The music also has a very "Konami TMNT" feel. Altogether, RollerGames is a hidden gem on the NES.


RollerGames (NES)

RollerGames (NES)

RollerGames (NES)

RollerGames (NES)

RollerGames (NES)

RollerGames (NES)

RollerGames (NES)

RollerGames (NES)


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