Giant Bomb Review

48 Comments

Rock of Ages Review

4

Rock of Ages is as belligerently weird a game as you're ever likely to play, but by all means, you absolutely should play it.

I think we all need to take a moment and thank whatever it is we thank that a game like Rock of Ages can, and does exist. We live in a time full of seemingly limitless creativity and independent spirit in game development, and yet even in the decidedly indie realm of downloadable games, there is something of a predictable pattern for what tends to make for a successful game in that space. Nothing about Rock of Ages is predictable. Hell, it's barely successful. Essentially a hodgepodge of tower defense, bowling, and absurdist humor, Rock of Ages darts in so many weird directions at once that the whole endeavor is constantly on the verge of falling apart at the seams. And yet, by the barest of threads, the developers at ACE Team manage to keep this jalopy running--or, in this case, rolling.

It's a few coats of polish and one Def Leppard song short of perfection, but dammit if Rock of Ages isn't amazing anyway.

What is Rock of Ages? That's a completely valid, if also barely answerable question. Half the fun of Rock of Ages is just trying to smoosh descriptors together to try and create some semblance of sense out of the thing. Yoot Saito's Odama meets Monty Python is a perfectly valid combination. History of the World: Part I meets Super Monkey Ball also sort of works. You could probably toss skee-ball, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Gardner's Art Through the Ages, Katamari Damacy in reverse, and 4Chan into the mix too, for good measure.

Here's a premise for the ages, so to speak: You are Sisyphus, the character of ancient Greek tragedy who found himself doomed in the afterlife to forever roll a boulder up and down a hill. In this version, he's mostly tormented by a gleefully dickish demon, who pokes him in the ass every time he gets that boulder up to a point of progress. Fed up, Sisyphus pulls a Nic Cage and escapes from the underworld into our world--or, at least, some bizarre, time-traveling version of it. Here, Sisyphus finds himself pitted against a range of personalities from history, both mythical and real. Everyone from Bacchus to Socrates are represented as opponents of varying levels of vileness, each of whom seek to fight Sisyphus with their own giant boulders, presumably because of reasons.

The whole thing feels like the result of a psychotic episode, stemming from an absinthe- and peyote-fueled night of abject debauchery that eventually resulted in someone on ACE Team's game design team chewing on an art history textbook in an effort to avoid swallowing their own tongue. Whatever pages were left undigested found themselves re-appropriated for use within this game, albeit in the form of cut-and-paste animated sketches that might as well be plucked from Terry Gilliam's earliest nightmares. Much the way Monty Python re-appropriated classic art for its own nefarious, deviant purposes, ACE Team has eschewed anything remotely resembling reverence for classic art in favor of turning Leonardo into the butt of a prolonged, fourth-wall-breaking Matrix: Reloaded gag, and presenting Louie the XIV as a prancing, farting dandy.

It's amazing, bizarre stuff that perhaps most closely resembles Microsoft's barely-playable yet fondly-remembered snowboarding debacle, Amped 3. That was a game far more noteworthy for its insane sense of humor and scatterbrained art style than for its gameplay. In Rock of Ages, you'll likely take a great deal more from the hysterical cutscenes and whimsical artwork than you will from any of the tower-defensey ball-rolling mechanics on display here--though that isn't to say you'll hate them, either.

It's about time someone took that snooty Napoleon down a peg.

If anything, Rock of Ages is at least modest in its ambitions as a game. Each stage is essentially a downward maze to be navigated. Your boulder, emblazoned with a face of some fashion, is controlled via the left analog stick, while the camera is assigned to the right stick. You can jump over objects, but otherwise, your job is just to roll, roll, roll. Oh, and periodically obliterate, too.

The tower defense portion of Rock of Ages involves units that you and your opponent can lay down in a boulder's path. Everything from giant turrets, meant to simply slow down and/or block the path of your boulder, to catapults, war elephants, and wind-generators meant to send you off the path (and screaming into the empty abyss below it--wait, why is a boulder able to scream?) can be placed on any colored square on the map. Many of these obstacles are best avoided, but by wrecking into them, you can earn more cash with which to buy more units and upgrades for your boulder on the next go around. From time to time you'll encounter boss fights with great figures from history, including giant dragons, and a behemoth-sized Statue of David equipped with cannons who can only be defeated by repeated boulder blasts to the fig leaf.

It's a really neat, if utterly peculiar idea for a game that, unfortunately, doesn't always quite work out. The game's idea of defense seems, at times, barely sketched out beyond the notion of, "PUT STUFF HERE I GUESS WHATEVER." There are certainly spots that seem best-suited for certain types of units, but it's remarkably easy to just blow past a lot of whatever's in your way and roll right to victory. In this case, victory involves busting through the gate of your opponent's castle, and flattening the screeching, terrified paper person with an oddly satisfying wet fart sound (set to the tune of Mozart's "Dies Arie," which is perfect, given the man's apparent love of scatological humor).

Unfortunately, the strategy for doing so always seems to revolve around whichever player manages to hit that door three times first. Purportedly, wrecking into the gates with greater amounts of speed/power-ups intact will cause greater damage, but at no point did I ever destroy a gate in less than (or more than) three tries. If you play your defensive units right, sometimes you can overcome a time deficit and come back to beat your foe, but more often than not, whoever gets their boulders rolling fastest ends up the winner.

More minigames along the lines of skee-ball would have been nice to have.

That lack of strategic variety does hinder the game's ability to function as a multiplayer game, though it can work to your advantage against the computer, which sometimes just can't deal with turrets set in one particular corner, or a herd of cows placed just so. Rather, you and any interested friends will likely spend more time playing through the skee-ball minigame. Here, you and another player directly race against one another to the bottom of a stage while hitting targets to amass points along the way. The first player to reach the bottom and slide their boulder into one of the holes in the skee-ball target at the bottom ends the round, and the player with the most points wins. It's a game that distills Rock of Ages down to its best parts; namely, the act of rolling a seemingly sentient boulder around and destroying everything in your path for fun and profit. It's just a shame there aren't more minigame options like this. A few extra offerings in place of the relatively dull time trial mode would have gone a long way to adding some girth to Rock of Ages' admittedly meager package.

That said, this is a $10 game, and at that price, you can almost forgive some of Rock of Ages' more rickety elements. This is not a game you play for weeks on end, looking for minute strategic details to latch onto to best take advantage of the top tier boulder-rolling multiplayer competition. Rock of Ages is a curio, a weird art piece that you will instinctively want to show anyone and everyone who dares hover too close to your home gaming setup. And like most art, Rock of Ages is a perfect example of form over function, an aesthetically pleasing (if bewildering) piece of work that demands appreciation, if not necessarily enjoyment in all contexts. Put simply, Rock of Ages is kind of a busted game that I can't recommend to you enough. Play it, experience it, and laugh at the absurdity of it all. You'll get your money's worth.

Alex Navarro on Google+
48 Comments
Posted by imsh_pl

Damn I gotta get this.

Posted by heatDrive88

Cool review. We really gotta get Alex some custom art to correlate with the stars in his review now.

Posted by Lotus

Que bueno, i might check it out.

Posted by MEATBALL

Great review. I've yet to give the trial a go, but I'll be sure to do so asap.

Posted by ClaritySam

I'm totally sold just from reading the description!  Really well written review as well Alex.

Posted by Romination

Please, people, buy this game! It's so good, one of the best things I've played all year.  
 
Also I'm tired of waiting 5 minutes for a match to be found.

Posted by jozzy

Man, that mr. Navarro bloke sure can write reviews alright.

Posted by Foggen

Do you think you'll address control differences with PC?

Posted by Sign

Do we have a release date for PSN yet? It is out on Steam now as well.

Posted by beefmotron

I played quite a few multiplayer matches where it took 4 or 5 boulders to finish. Sometimes you get a trap set up just right and it will actually kill the other boulder, or at least make it so weak that it takes 4 smashes against your gate to break it.

Edited by lockwoodx

Super Monkeyball mini-games were a staple in the house for many years by request of my friends. They are going to shit bricks when I show them this.

Posted by beard_of_zeus

@Romination said:

Please, people, buy this game! It's so good, one of the best things I've played all year. Also I'm tired of waiting 5 minutes for a match to be found.

Agreed on both.

Great review, Alex! Well-written, and I agree with you on all counts. Busted, weird as fuck, and fun as hell.

Posted by rmanthorp

Wanting to get this but can't decide on platform.

Moderator
Posted by csl316

Cool game, good review. But surprisingly, the most interesting tidbit I got out of this is Mozart's sense of humor.

Posted by AxleBro

why don't we have a quick look of this? this is perfect quick look material.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

Aw, come on, Amped 3 was pretty damn playable and fun!

Errr... also, great review. Good talk. Good talk.

Moderator
Posted by fedorajay
@Axleisbored said:
why don't we have a quick look of this? this is perfect quick look material.
There is one. Pretty recent, too.
Posted by Alex
Staff
Posted by kalmis

Good review Alex.

This will be on my 2011 GOTY list for sure.

Posted by themartyr

Sounds like Katamari Damacy meets Marble Blast crossed with Tower Defence.

Posted by kollay

First time a TD-y game ever caught my interest.

Posted by 234r2we232

  My response to this review...

Edited by Mento

Good review. I see you're fond of the "because of reasons" absurdism finisher too. When doves cry, and all that.

Your tangent into the skeeball mode and why excising the tower defense element would make for more fun is what resonated most with me. I generally despise tower defense at the best of times, but it's worse here as it just seems egregiously tacked on because simply controlling a giant face boulder that squishes things with this crazy sense of humor wasn't deemed to be enough to carry a game.

Moderator Online
Posted by TwoLines

A really well written review Alex!

Posted by Kung_Fu_Viking

This game is fun. I like playing as the boulder.

Posted by Foot369

Great review, completely described the bananas that is Rock of Ages perfectly.

Posted by coakroach

Dear Video Games, 
 
More like this please 
 
Thanks.

Posted by Afroman269

4chan? So the troll face is actually one of the optional faces for the rock?

Posted by zombie2011

Amped 3 was awesome not "barely playable".

This game looks pretty awesome.

Posted by MjHealy

Sold.

Posted by Besetment

I was thinking about this after watching the quick look and Alex convinced me not to get it, despite the recommendation. The "just hit the door 3 times and you win" strategy does not sound fun.

Posted by deerhaunter

Installing it now. The quick look was intense and convinced me.

Posted by vinsanityv22

This game looks amazingly fun. I wish it'd come to the PSN, but it probably won't since these guys never brought Zeno Clash over.

Posted by BDKMat

I always see this game compared to so many others - Super Monkey Ball, Odama, Katamary Damacy - but never the one that jumped most instantly into my mind when I saw it played: Rampart.

Posted by kblood

Grate Game!

Posted by Terjay
@Sparky_Buzzsaw said:

Aw, come on, Amped 3 was pretty damn playable and fun!

Errr... also, great review. Good talk. Good talk.

It gets a bad rep for not being goddamn impossible like the previous Amped games. "You can actually land jumps? That's bullshit man!"
Posted by Animasta

@vinsanityv22 said:

This game looks amazingly fun. I wish it'd come to the PSN, but it probably won't since these guys never brought Zeno Clash over.

they said they would bring it over, but they don't have a date yet.

Posted by ItalianStallion

Well-written as usual, Alex!

Posted by dropabombonit

Great review. Any word of when it's coming to PSN?

Posted by Eyz

This one totally took me by surprise!
I love it!
 
I wouldn't compare it with Katamari like many of you guys are doing. More like Super Monkey Ball in term of sense & feel.

Posted by Slaker117

My God. You just put a direct link to 4chan in a professional review.

Posted by LetsRockBaby

Man this game seems fucking rad. Can't wait for it to come out on PSN.

Posted by Gordo789

This looks like it is right up my alley.  Bood Rayne is out now too though. WHAT DO I DO?!?

Posted by OrigamiDriller

Whenever I get even slightly upset with this game, the silly humor makes it all better. 

Posted by PaulRevere

I bought this game yesterday because of this review and I'm loving every second of the game. Glad it got coverage, otherwise I'd have never heard about it.

Posted by denzil3009

Look an ok game.
 
But it would get boring after a short while.

Edited by sanzee

"...this is a $10 game, and at that price, you can almost forgive some of Rock of Ages' more rickety elements."

Agreed

Posted by Derekreation

Good look at the game. Interesting but gotta wonder if it's worth the price tag. No offense but you guys are terribad at a lot of these games haha