Released: September 1990
US Cartridge ID: NES-U5-USA
Genre: Beat ‘Em Up
Supported Peripherals: Controller
ROM Size: 2 megabit
Mapper: MMC3 (128k PRG, 128k CHR)
Rollergames, Konami’s contribution to the blitz of marketing and merchandising accompanying the first (and only) season of 1989’s television show Rollergames, brings all of the cheese and drama of extreme skating home to the NES courtesy a cartridge officially endorsed by WAR (World Alliance of Rollersports). Bearing a number of similarities to Konami’s Skate or Die – Bad ‘N Rad released the same year for the Gameboy, Rollergames throws a ridiculous assortment of unlikely obstacles in the way of the roller derby champions, hoping not only to thwart their efforts, but to maim them in the most random and painful ways imaginable.
Elevating the show’s already ludicrous scenarios to a whole new level of absurdity, Rollergames takes the action out of the studio and into the streets in pursuit of reknowned terrorist organization V.I.P.E.R, the Vicious International Punks and Eternal Renegades. V.I.P.E.R. has kidnapped the Rollergames’ commissioner and turned three teams, Bad Attitudes, Maniacs, and the Violators, to their nefarious plot involving winning the prize money to fund a mass takeover of the city.
The player takes control of one of three selectable stars from the show: Ice Box of the Thundercats, Hot Flash of Rolling Thunder, and the California Kid from the Rockers. Since, according to the story as outlined by the manual, “the CIA and FBI lack the speed, cunning and sheer brute force for this job,” these representatives of the remaining loyal Rollergames‘ teams must save the commissioner, the city, and the sanctity of their beloved sport. Each of these skating pros come with their own “Patented Punishing Technique” that plays to the strength of each star: Ice Box, the burly titan, has a body splash that throws his considerable weight on top of his opponent; Hot Flash, the lithe female addition, launches herself into air with a bicycle kick that can crush skulls; and California Kid, the skater bringing balance between speed and power, jumps at his opponents with a one-two kick, smashing opponents in the face with his skates.
The fight for justice takes place across twelve different stages, including a run-down cityscape littered with potholes, a junkyard, a jungle, destroyed freeways, and finally the terrorists’ lair, the “V.I.P.E.R.’s Pit.” Playing much like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game, Rollergames’ gameplay is largely comprised of platforming beat-em-up action. Skating through each of these hazardous zones, the player must not only avoid the army sent to foil the heroes’ crusade for justice, but must also watch out for feral dogs and
birds, gunfire from helicopters, flame jets, and more.
The action is staged by the well-done likenesses of Rollergames‘ television commentators David Sams and Chuck Underwood and Rollergames’ side-line reporter Shelly Jamison. After selecting which team to play as, the player is thrown into the streets to battle it out, Double Dragon style. Each skater, in addition to their Patented Punishing Technique, can punch, kick, and throw their opponents while avoiding harmful obstacles in their path.
The graphics are excellent, with minimal flickering and large character sprites that are easy to differentiate from one-another. The freeway stages feature an impressive parallax scrolling effect in their backgrounds, and though much of the game seems to have a bizarre fixation on the colors pink, purple, and green (especially in the cinematics), the visuals are easily on par with the great majority of Konami /Ultra’s late release NES games. The sound is typical of Konami games, which is to say it is of high quality, being loaded with bass and heavy drum samples (fans of The Adventures of Bayou Billy may notice the heavy “sharing” of digital samples between its Stage 1 music and Rollergames‘
jungle level theme).
The gameplay, unfortunately, does not excel in quite the same manner that the presentation does. While the fighting controls and smooth and responsive, the character movements are exceedingly difficult to control. Wearing roller-skates for the entire duration, the inability to instantly stop or turn around makes some of the platforming sections an absolute nightmare. The game moves at an impressively fast clip for an NES game, but this speed, combined with the inability to see more than a second or two in front of the player at any given time, makes memorization of level layouts essential for surviving the later stages. Additionally, tiny ledges and moving platforms that have to be perfectly navigated become headaches due to the perfect timing required to successfully land on them: if the player hasn’t landed in the right spot, they will not be able to turn to face the direction they need to jump in without falling off (since the character has to move to turn), nor will they have the momentum needed to make the necessary length leap to land on solid ground. While these things do add to the overall challenge of the game, they do so to such a degree that they compromise the overall fun – Konami’s reputation for making difficult games is well deserved, and this is among the toughest they ever produced on the 8-bit platform, surpassing both Contra and Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. Furthering the potential for frustration is the complete lack of a checkpoint system; though there are unlimited continues, each death will send the player back to the beginning of the current stage, even if they meet their demise at the boss of an area. The first few levels are extremely fun, but only those with exceedingly well honed reflexes and an masochistic need to punish themselves will ever make it through the final areas of Stage 6.
Rollergames‘ represents everything corny and hilariously over exaggerated by 1980s culture, and holds a lot of charm because of it. The excellent presentation, the outrageously excessive premise, and the sheer satisfaction of using a roller-skate as a weapon on someone’s face all make Rollergames an appealing prospect for an afternoon’s entertainment. Just be prepared to invest a lot of time in this one – the end, though satisfying, won’t likely arrive before thumbs are bleeding and tears are shed. It’s a shame that its difficulty level provides such a tall barrier to entry, since Rollergames is an otherwise excellent game.