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'Roller Champions' is a surprisingly fun sports brawl on skates

This game is confusing to watch but ludicrously fun to play.
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Roller Derby is the cult classic of semi-pro sports. But aside from an objectively bad James Caan movie in the '70s and an even worse 2002 remake starring LL Cool J, the game hasn't had a significant amount mainstream exposure in years. But that could change once Ubisoft's new team-based esport hits the streets.

Roller Champions is a 3-on-3 roller derby. Players must skate around an enclosed oval track while maintaining control of a ball. That's not a as easy as it sounds as roller derby is a full contact sport and the defense's main strategy is to hip check the ball carrier into the nearest wall. To counter that, the offense is able to dodge, jump and wallride out of the way, as well as pass the ball between teammates.

If a team can make a full lap without losing control, they'll have the chance to score a goal by throwing the ball through a vertical hoop attached to the outer edge of the arena. If the team can hang onto the rock for a full three laps, the resulting goal will be worth 5 points. Each match lasts 7 minutes or until one team scores 5 points. Each team must therefore do everything in its power to hang onto the ball, or at least keep it out of the hands of their opponents.

Players can pick from a diverse range of avatars and equip them with increasingly better gear as they progress through the game. You start off in a rinky-dink coastal arena but as your team wins, they'll draw in more fans. Keep winning until you fill the stadium to move onto bigger and better venues, all while unlocking new and better gear, unique fan celebrations, and victory animations.

I was afforded a brief hands-on demo with the game during E3 and was delightfully surprised as to how fun the game was and how intuitive the controls were. It's a confusing game to watch at first, but as soon as you start playing the whole thing makes sense. You accelerate around the track and pump through turns to gain speed, which translates into how hard your hits will be and whether it'll be you or your opponent smeared into the boards. If your team has the ball, you've got to circle the arena counter-clockwise in order to "power up" the goal and create a scoring opportunity.

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Not so on defense. I quickly learned that the fastest and most fun means of separating the ball carrier from his cargo was to turn around and skate clockwise, against the flow of traffic, and crushing into the opposition head on. Of course, this strategy only worked for so long as this game, by its nature, requires teamwork to win. The strategies that my team employed were rudimentary and straightforward -- not much more than "aim for the guy with the ball and don't get hit if you have it," really -- but there are enough moves, dodges, and physical quirks in how you traverse the rink that folks will surely be able to devise complex tactical plans for winning matches once the game launches.

Roller Champions is free-to-play and the pre-alpha build will be available to try out on UPlay between June 10th (hey, that's today!) and 14th.

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