In the early 2000s, Neversoft released Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and forever changed the sound of skating (and thus, landing a virtual kickflip without the sweet sounds of Goldfingers or “B Boy Document 99” blasting in the background was unheard of). Around the same time, Jet Set Radio came along and did exactly what Tony Hawk has done to virtual skating landscape but for rollerblades. Now, 30 years later, after every imaginable sport was put on steroids – or, in Rocket League’s case, injected with sometimes exploding, gravity-defying RC cars – and got its definitive sound, Roll7 comes with Rollerdrome asking the question: “How should shooting on roller blades sound like?”.
Electric Dragon’s retro-futuristic synth beats for Rollerdrome won’t be forgotten.
But first things first: the year is 2030 and somehow humanity drifted into a dystopian timeline where people get entertained by rollerbladers shooting and trickstering for their lives. Fair enough. As if things couldn’t get better, there’s also slow-mo added to the mix. So if you’re imagining Max Payne on rollerblades with the flexibility and skillset of (younger) Tony Hawk – you’re not far off. Add some mini-mechs with homing missiles, bat-wielding enemies, ones that can teleport if you don’t shoot them fast enough – here simply called “house players” – and the entire trick set from Olli Olli, the indie skating darling Roll7 is well-known for, which you’ll be using to replenish your ammo, and that’s Rollerdrome in a nutshell. To say that it’s a bit nuts, is a big understatement (in a good way, of course).
This isn’t the first time that Roll7 dips its toes into dystopian bloodsport. More than 100 years from the events of Rollerdrome, somewhere in an alternative timeline, Laser League (2018), Roll7’s second departure from Olli Olli, is taking place, pitching players in Tron-like team fights. And while its techno-dripping soundtrack was the perfect companion for the pixel-perfect madness occurring on screen, it was hard to appreciate, or even acknowledge it, for that exact same reason (watch the gameplay and imagine paying attention to the music). Luckily, Electric Dragon’s retro-futuristic synth beats for Rollerdrome won’t be forgotten behind the mountain of eliminated house players players will leave behind.
I have to admit, watching Rollerdrome’s behind-the-scenes before the game was at my fingertips, I was both filled with joy and skepticism hearing Super Meat Boy-esque music playing in the background (the track in question is called “The Test”) – I will gladly participate in futuristic bloodletting with tricks listening to Danny Baranowsky’s driving-you-mad-125-beats-per-second (in the best possible way) soundtrack. Yet, all my doubts faded away as I was dodging missiles by doing slow-mo backflips and landing perfect ‘slug shots’ (Gears of War’ Active Reload but for perfectly timed shots that deal extra damage) in the rhythm of pumping ‘80s synths.
Either Electric Dragon has played an admirable amount of Super Meat Boy, to the point where its music is still there even if you mute it; or the guy is clearly a gamer. Either way, the 2030’s bloodiest sport is in good hands. By now, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Roll7 never misses a mark with their carefully selected music people. Electric Dragon, a passionate first-time game composer, who comes from ‘Dark Electronic’ scene himself and loves to fiddle around with synth systems ever since he first laid his hands on Commodore 64 in mid-80s, might not have reinvented the 70s synth-pop genre here (which is ramped up to the speed of sheer, fun lunacy), but definitely unearthed something that we haven’t heard since, well, Danny Baranowsky, the composer behind both Crypt of the NecroDancer and Super Meat Boy, stopped making music.
Starting from high-octane “Zabriskie Point”, which really sets the stage for all the mayhem that’s about to be unleashed, going to groovier “New Action Army”, where motifs of 80s disco start to leak in if you listen closely – this sort of stuff you’d expect to listen if you were about to do a Pretzel Grab 360 Back Flip whilst heat-seeking rockets wheeze past you. And the only way you can extract these sounds is by going deep into the guts of the synthesizer, reaching into “the spaces between the spaces.” Exactly what Electric Dragon did, knowing by heart the standard rhythms of frenetic blast-em-alls like DOOM, by employing a modular synthesizer to great lengths (although, it’s fair to say, the difference between standard virtual synth and analog synth is no greater than spotting the difference between real film grain and fake one; something for real video game music aficionados).
The beauty of Rollerdrome, and Electric Dragon knows it, lies in its ability to put players into that soothing, hypnotic trance (called “flow” mode) all great games, from Pac-Man to Olli Olli to Luftrausers, have. You shoot, you roll and blast your way through countless waves of enemies, all done while competing in dystopian X-Games and looking cool about it. In that sense, Rollerdrome is the Pringles of video games. It’s the simple joys of occasionally putting on some mind-numbing, loud rock: your blood is pumping but you don’t have to think too hard about why.
Rollerdrome is the Pringles of video games.
When I’m long finished with Roll7’s Rollerdrome, all I hope is that in 2030, when we’re all going to be rollerskating for super elite’s entertainment, I will remember my time here the same way I do with Super Meat Boy and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater – their music etched deep into my hippocampus, sounds arriving first before visuals. Something that I consider the ultimate appraisal to any musician’s work.