Review – Jam City Rollergirls
The Scoop: Jam City Rollergirls is the first known effort (At least as far as I know) to make a game out of the American tradition of the roller derby, a sport in which two teams of women roller skate along a circular track in an often violence-filled attempt to get one team member to lap the opposing team. Instead of being a realistic depiction of the sport however, developer Frozen Codebase mixes elements from the kart racing genre to bring more fun into the mix.
The Setup: Jam City Rollergirls is actually the first game I ever downloaded from the WiiWare channel; as a long time critic of the Wii’s online capabilities I often found myself spending my time and money on Xbox 360’s Live Arcade or Playstation 3’s PSN Store. I was rather excited to finally try out one of the Wii’s downloadable titles, especially since they have the reputation of supporting indie developers while still maintaining quality control (let’s face it, you have to sort through a lot of crap on the 360’s Indie Marketplace).
In Jam City Rollergirls you control the “jammer” of a roller derby team which you select from a small roster of five real teams. Your role is to lap the opposing team for points, while issuing commands to the other girls to either defend you, help you get through the line, or block the other team’s jammer. Because a realistic game would only involve going around in circles on the track, the developers decided (wisely) to introduce some elements from kart racers into the game. As you go around you can hit speed boosting icons or collect power ups which was be used to increase your speed, give you a shield, or attack the other team.
The game includes the standard array of game modes. There is season play, which allows you to earn money and customize your own derby girl, I guess it is the equivalent of a story mode, minus story. You also have a quickplay which allows you to play just one match against a team or your choosing on a track of your choosing. Two player multiplayer is done through split screen, and a rather necessary and highly recommended tutorial is included to teach you how to play the game.
In the end you are left with a more simplistic video game in which the core idea is to have fun, much like the games of old; unfortunately, I feel the game may have been more hindered than helped by the decision to go onto WiiWare as a distribution outlet. What I was hoping would be a way to alleviate my criticism on the WiiWare Channel may actually have boosted it, proving my point that when you limit the developer, you limit the quality of the game.
What’s Hot: For a WiiWare game the graphics are pretty good, especially considering the file size limitations of the WiiWare channel. The character models are reasonably sharp, though the textures are pretty bland. The tracks are pretty good looking too, in the end I won’t say it looks much better than a higher res Playstation 1 game, but most of those games were well over 50MB in size.
A few of the tracks aren’t half bad, most of them separate themselves from just being an oval track which is, from what I am to understand, the usual case for a roller derby track. Some of them can actually make the matches pretty tough to score points in. I found myself wishing that some of the tracks had more too them, but this was me just thinking from a kart racing point of view, as if they had more too them scoring would be near impossible without being on the easiest setting.
What’s Not: As long as I played the game I only heard one song, which was maybe 15-20 seconds and looped. Anyone ever played Terminator for the NES? It was kind of like that. By the end of the first hour I wanted to beat my head against the wall, by the end of the second I got a great idea and muted the television.
The character creation and season play mode only provide so much in terms of content, before too long you begin to notice that repetition is kicking in. It’s the music all over again and I know what the problem is. The internal memory of the Wii is very small, only like 512MB (though they measure it in ‘blocks’ which is a size I am unfamiliar with). When you make a WiiWare title you are limited in the size you can make the whole game, I believe the size is 50MB and in this day and age that is just pathetic. More modes and more music require more space and I think that given more space Frozen Codebase could have released a game that may be pretty decent fun with a group. Perhaps a series of derby inspired minigames? a more in depth season mode? I just think it could be more variable than it is, instead of just, what I feel, is only slightly more content than your average demo. Oh and more offense based powerups, that bomb is useless and the fire burst thing is a little too overpowered.
Control is what killed it for me more than anything else. I see this problem with many of the games on the Wii, I think other people have noticed it too, but I don’t think anyone is will to stand up and say it. In my opinion they don’t make the game any more fun in 98% of examples. Seriously, they are almost always unresponsive, pointlessly confusing if your game involves more than pointing and shooting, and as I said before they seldom add any fun to a game. Here is the breakdown on the controls with Jam City Rollergirls. You move with the control stick on the nunchuck, that works. You move faster by tapping A, it’s a little annoying but I can live with it. The Z and B buttons are used to attack on your left and right side respectively and the C button uses your current powerup, makes sense so far so why is it that I can’t use the classic controller? To jump you need to waggle the nunchuck up, okay now we have a problem. If you waggle the remote you can get a boost from one of your teammates (this move is key to getting through the crowd), and again, we have a problem. Are these waggles really needed? They seldom work right, especially the jump, and while the jump is honestly useless on most of the tracks you end up jumping every time you move your left hand (if you’re a righty), especially when you don’t actually want to jump. The Wii has the classic controller and if you must make the game for the Wii than you should have it as an option, because otherwise you leave it open for guys like me to complain that the controls are horrendous… and these controls are most certainly horrendous.
Final Verdict: I am still open to the idea of a kart racing inspired game based on the American Roller Derby, I think it had potential to be a very fun downloadable game. In the end I think the main problem was very poor controls and hardware limitation. Perhaps if we were to see this on Live Arcade or, if you must have the motion controls, PSN it would fare better.Review - Jam City Rollergirls,