Strap on your skates and hit the rink.
Jam City Rollergirls, developed by Frozen Codebase, is the video game debut of women's Roller Derby, a sport which has been gaining popularity in the past few years in cities throughout North America. The game features a mixture of team-based sports combat and Mario Kart-style racing action, culminating in something that's quite a bit different than anything else on WiiWare.
Frozen Codebase managed to license five real-life Roller Derby teams for use in the game: the Dairyland Dolls of Madison, WI; the Rat City Rollergirls of Seattle, WA; the Brew City Bruisers from Milwaukee, WI; Gotham Girls Roller Derby of New York, NY; and the Texas Texecutioners from Austin, TX. Each licensed team has six licensed skaters. For most people these names and teams are unfamiliar, but to the roller derby fanbase they are popular national brands.
The object of the game - as in real roller derby - is to gain points by passing other skaters on the track, and jockey for control of each round ("jam") by being the first skater to break through the pack of other skaters. The first jammer that skates through the pack is referred to as the "lead jammer", and can end the jam at any time. A series of tutorials does a nice job of laying out the goals and controls for the player, and it's a nice touch that players can proceed through each tutorial without having to select it from a menu. Gamers with little or no experience with roller derby won't have any problem picking up the rules and strategies of the game, especially since not all of the intricacies of the sport's rules and strategies are represented in Jam City Rollergirls.
Players are only allowed to play as the "jammer", the player in each round who can score points. While it would have been nice to be able to play as one of the other positions, a blocker or pivot, being able to play as only the jammer keeps the game simple and fast-paced. As the game clearly isn't meant to be a sports simulation, the inability to play as these other players isn't too sorely missed, but it does present a bit of a narrow focus in terms of gameplay.
The game itself plays like a mix between Road Rash and Mario Kart. The triggers on the Nunchuk and Wii Remote act as left and right elbow attacks, and the C button on the Nunchuk unleashes items that can be picked up by skating over certain areas of the track. Items range from a simple missile attack in the form of a water balloon, to a game-changing, point-stealing long-range bomb that, if well-timed, can completely change the outcome of a bout. These more devastating weapons can be heard several seconds before impact, so if you are the lead jammer, you can call off the jam before being hit with a bomb and losing your points. All in all, the game isn't particularly challenging. On the default difficulty, I only lost one - the first - of the 20 or 30 bouts that I played during my two seasons and several exhibitions.
The presentation in the game is good, but not great. There are five tracks, one to represent each team, and each has a lot of personality and color. The Dairyland track in particular is lots of fun as you dodge a rotating tractor, avoid bales of hay in the track, and try to hit a ramp so you don't lose speed while skating on a straw floor. The framerate stays consistent even in split-screen multiplayer. The music, however, is fairly bland with only a few different songs in the game, if that, and some generic shouts of "Cheater!" from the girls. There is no crowd presence at all in the arena, a bit of roller derby atmosphere that is sorely missed, but the types of wacky tracks that are included makes up for it.
The controls only use the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, which work adequately. Most of the controls are mapped to buttons; however, you need to shake the Nunchuk to jump, and shake the Wii Remote mid-jump to do stunts, which earn you more money at the end of each bout. Skating in the game feels good, but there are some problems with hit detection when you get into the pack of other skaters. Sometimes you can slide by with no problem, but sometimes you will get stopped cold by a blocker, even if the blocker doesn't really appear to be doing any actual blocking. If you line up directly behind a team-mate, you can wave your remote to be "whipped" forward, but more often than not you will end up either being whipped into a wall or passed by the rest of the pack, trying and failing to get the wave motion to be recognized.
The game contains both an exhibition mode in which you play a single bout of ten minutes, and a season mode that lets you play a ten-week season of ten minute bouts, with two bye weeks. You can earn money after each bout by winning, performing stunts, collecting stars which are littered around the track, and by getting lead jammer status often. The money is used solely to unlock additional gear and outfits for your customized jammer. The amount of items you can buy to customize your jammer is fairly limited, but it's nice to have the option.
Split-screen multiplayer is present, but the only multiplayer option is a single ten-minute bout. The game is kind of hard to fit into split screen, but it plays just fine. There is no online play present. Jam City Rollergirls is a fun experience, if a bit rough around the edges. If you're interested in a racing game with a bit of combat and a team sports element, this might be for you.