Everybody has to have their own, right? Once a breakout game becomes a huge sensation, everyone scrambles to have their own version. PUBG did it for Battle Royales and Overwatch for Hero Shooters; these are a dime a dozen now, with series like Call of Duty and Resident Evil having their own takes of varying quality (or sometimes, multiple takes in CoD’s case). One of these breakout hits was Rocket League, and while not an exact analogue for Rocket League, Roller Champions is Ubisoft’s attempt to scratch that over-the-top sports game itch. Launching in May on PS4, Xbox One, and PC, Ubisoft’s free-to-play skater, Roller Champions has rolled onto the Switch out of nowhere, with a surprise launch on a Tuesday. A pleasant surprise, we hoped, but sadly it’s not looking good.
Roller Champions is a 3v3 team-based sport ‘em up. Half-roller derby, half-basketball, the basic gist is that teams must gain and stay in possession of the ball, do laps around the arena and score five points by throwing the ball through a ring. Once the opposing team gains possession of the ball, your lap progress is reset and it’s back to square one. One lap equals one point, two laps equal three points, and three laps equal five, the achievement of which ends the match instantly. We really like this lap system; it offers a great risk vs reward formula in which you could play it safe by doing one lap and guaranteeing a point, or risk losing all of your progress to go big.
As the name implies, the whole game takes place on rollerskates and the movement feels great. There’s a good sense of momentum as you skate around the arena, especially once you get the hang of drafting and the ‘pump’ mechanic in which your character crouches to gain speed while going down sloped areas. Accompanying the basic movement are the core combat mechanics in which you can tackle, dodge, dive, dropkick, and even uppercut opponents in order to gain possession.
Matches take place on one of the currently four arenas, and which arena that is depends on how many ‘fans’ (the game’s version of XP) you and the other players have accrued. Arenas take in places like the seaside resort of Acapulco or the dingy streets of Brooklyn. The catch, however, is the arena only dictates the background elements of the stage, and makes no impact on the playable area, which remains one huge oval no matter where you end up. This isn’t necessarily an issue — Rocket League only had one map to start out with. However, it would have been nice to see the developers integrate some varied arena shapes, or even adding elements like ramps or environment-specific hazards to give these maps some variety, even if they limited this to non-ranked modes.
There are four main game modes. Quick match, Ranked match, Skatepark, and Surprise Events. Quick match, surprise surprise, is your bog-standard match, and Ranked will be similarly familiar if you’ve played any video game ever with a ranking system. You play ten placement matches to determine your starting rank from one of seven, from ‘garage’ to ‘elite champions’. Skatepark is an online free-roam session in which you and five other players can hang around and practice your skating… and not much else. Finally, Surprise Events run every weekend, with past events having ranged from being as simple as a 2v2 mode on a slightly smaller arena to ‘Hot Potato’ in which the ball has a fuse and if it is not passed before it runs out it will explode before becoming free for an opponent to take.
The game is entirely free-to-play (without the need for Nintendo Switch Online, just as with every other free-to-play game on the system) and has cross-platform connectivity with cross-play and cross-progression included via a Ubisoft account. However, you’re unable to add players to a party from other platforms; this may potentially be patched in at a later date but as things stand at launch it’s worth noting as you won’t be able to play with your friends on Xbox and PlayStation.
We found online play to be a bit of a mixed bag. Some matches can go smoothly while others can be jittery messes, and obviously your own connection will be a factor here. At the very least, Quick matches are reasonably (and appropriately) quick to get into. Ranked match queue times are generally a bit longer but not excessively so.
Like most free-to-play games, the microtransaction focus is on cosmetics. You start the game by creating a butt-ugly character with the incredibly limited character creator, and you can earn gear to deck them out with. Gear is doled out through Lootballs (Roller Champions’ loot box mechanic), the ‘Roller Pass’, or through a premium currency called Wheels. However, it’s hard to understand why anyone would care about the cosmetics in the game when the characters are so bland and downright ugly. Ubisoft’s take on the Fortnite aesthetic has gone wrong somewhere down the line, you can’t escape the characters’ dead soulless eyes as they peer into the deepest reaches of your psyche.
The rest of the game isn’t so ugly on other platforms, although that can’t be said for the Switch version. The game has performance and quality modes specifically made for docked and handheld mode, respectively. In handheld mode, the game is a bit of a blurry, headache-inducing mess, blighted by that smeared-with-vaseline look that’s difficult to ignore. At the very least, it runs relatively smoothly in both quality and performance modes when played away from the TV.
Plugging the console into the dock does make things look better — as one might hope — however, we found that the game suffered from constant frame rate drops in both visual modes on the TV, really struggling to cope when more than three players are on the screen. We really would not recommend playing in TV mode until this is addressed, which unfortunately means vaseline mode is the only viable option.
Roller Champions has potential; the core gimmick and gameplay are both lots of fun and it’s satisfying blasting your enemy across the court with a dropkick as they’re about to score three points against you. However, it lacks in pretty much every other department and there’s just not enough content in here to satisfy anyone. Add in the performance and blurry visual issues on Switch, and we can’t really recommend the game on Nintendo’s console in its current state. It is free-to-play, so it’s worth a try if anything we’ve mentioned sounds interesting, but unless some serious updates are made to this version, you’re definitely best off playing it on a different platform if at all possible.