App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
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When I picked up Roller Drama I was not prepared for exactly how dramatic it would be. This game envisions an alternate or futuristic world that is basically ruled by a megacorp, while you and your housemates are just trying to get by. Any yes, before you think I'm talking about a completely different game, your housemates are all part of a roller derby team that you coach. There's an interesting dynamic at play in Roller Dramabetween interactive fiction and sports management sim, but it feels like a game that never fully realizes its potential.
The first tip that Roller Drama is more than just a sports management sim appears when you start a new game. The first thing that happens is you get hit with a content warning about "cat death," and then said moment involving cat death happens almost immediately. This sets the pace for Roller Drama, which is to say it's a game where a lot of things happen very suddenly and usually before you expect them to.
In any case, these things that can fly up on you include quests like searching for lost roller skates, hiding visitors from your landlord, and more ambitious things that are best left to be discovered as you play through. These moments are broken up with roller derby matches, which play out more like a traditional sports management sim, where you have access to commands to give your team but with the added twists of special powerup cards like bombs that disable defenses and pep talks to juice up your squad between rounds.
Stay on track
Through both the house sequences and the sports competitions, Roller Drama gives the impression that there's a lot of branching paths you can take. But, despite the wide range of dialog choices and league standings that shift after every match, you learn pretty quickly you are on a pretty narrow track to a specific ending. The first time you choose a response to something that isn't in line with Roller Drama's story, time may rewind, or you may simply fail whatever your quest is and be prompted to retry.
Guiding you through these quests is a zombie-like creature from Shakespearean times who provides quippy commentary on your performance and drops hints about how to approach and solve certain scenarios. This creature is the first oddity you see in Roller Drama and certainly isn't the last. I can't emphasize enough how much this game just drops ridiculous things like that into the game as if you already knew about them (hence, why I'm mentioning it again).
Stopping and starting
The abruptness of how Roller Drama builds its world and tells its story never really evens out into a satisfying flow. Just by the time you feel like you have a handle on how to work through both the drama and derby matches, the game ends. You can always go back into the game and see if you can hit certain milestones you didn't in your previous run, but the narrow band of choices makes it feel like the outcomes won't feel all that different.
If you're wondering how this affects the overall game itself, I'd say I'm pretty ambivalent about it. I like the chances the game takes at being weird and not trying very hard to explain itself, and its characters are also charmingly portrayed (though you don't really get a good sense of their personalities). That said, the mechanics of both sets of gameplay segments doesn't feel amazing, and both feel underutilized given the game length and pacing.
The bottom line
Roller Drama is an interesting game to say the least. I kind of enjoyed and definitely respect the way it just drops things on you and expects you to take those things in stride. I wish I could say I enjoyed the actual playing of the experience a little more though, and that it offered some more time in its world before ending.