If I had to think of a sentence to describe Rock of Ages, it would be something along the lines of: Super Monkey Ball combined with tower defense as drawn by Terry Gilliam. It may sound odd, but it is a quick and unique game experience full of originality, humor, fun, and who knows, you might even learn a little bit of history. Well, no, you won’t learn much besides how much fun it is to run people over as a giant boulder.
Rags to Riches
The story is derived from the Greek myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was a king who was kind of a jerk. When he died, he was damned to an eternity of rolling a boulder up a hill, having it roll back down partway up and then starting all over. When I say the story is derived from, I really mean that this is the core gameplay mechanic, but more on that in a bit. The game is really lacking in the story department, as far as explanations go. You will find yourself in a few different periods, from ancient Greece all the way up to the Romantic Period. Why? Well, Sisyphus is serving his time in the Underworld when he suddenly formulates a plan: use the boulder to destroy the gate blocking the portal out. After destroying one gate, it seems he can’t quite get enough of it, and so he goes, destroying various gates throughout history for no apparent reason other than to continue being a jerk.
The game is full of references both historical and cultural. You’ll face enemies (personally, I prefer the term victims) of all backgrounds throughout history, from Agamemnon to Leonardo Da Vinci, Leonidas (yes, that Leonidas) to…the Great He-Goat. Then there are the boss battles, which range from the statue of David, to…a really creepy flying baby head. Yep. Still having nightmares from that one. Besides the enemies you fight, there is a cut scene to introduce you to each new era and there are many pop culture references, such as Gandalf’s “you shall not pass” and…well, there’s a Sparta level, so you can imagine the 300 jokes.
They See Me Rollin’…
You don’t ever control an actual character in Rock of Ages, you only control a boulder directly. Your goal is to navigate an obstacle course that leads directly to the enemy gates, then hit those gates as hard as you possibly can. At the same time, your enemy is using their boulder for the same purpose against you. This is where the tower defense aspect comes in. You must place everything you can in their path, from basic towers, to mammoths, fans, flying ships and of course, explosives. The enemy does the same for you and the real challenge of the game is getting through the maze they lay out for you without taking too much damage.
The boulder rolling gameplay is relatively smooth and polished. For the majority of the game, it all feels very fast paced and you will be able to get a good amount of momentum for the final assault on the gates, but towards the later levels, the courses become much more winding and it can be a challenge to gain any momentum at all as you lose it all when you attempt to turn around corners. It can also be tough to keep your health up, and there are plenty of stairs just tall enough that you have to jump up. This is irritating only because every time you jump, you take a tiny amount of damage when you land and it can add up to significant levels of damage. Sometimes the enemy units seem to be placed in such a way that it is feels like the only way to pass is wait and hope that a catapult shot pushes you through their barrier; this is also frustrating because you can sometimes get stuck in one spot and take constant damage from enemy units until you are destroyed.
On the other hand, the tower defense aspect could use a little bit more work. For most of the game, it feels like it’s really just a race to get to the gate with no strategy involved and the tower defense feels kind of pointless. You can put towers and catapults down and feel like it’s helping, but the game isn’t fooling anyone, it’s totally unnecessary. As the game progressed, the tower defense felt more and more relevant but it was still fairly easy. For the most part my strategy was “MAMMOTHS MAMMOTHS EVERYWHERE” and I got through with ease. There was one level I had a little bit of trouble with until the enemy boulder AI bugged out and started to consistently roll off a cliff side until I finished the level.
Another problem is the collectible keys throughout the game. They’re just hidden objects to add something difficult to do in levels but as far as I could tell, they served absolutely no purpose. There were a couple gates on the world map with key numbers on them, but the last one I saw used around 15 keys. There are 50-60 total. For replayability there is also a time trial mode in which you race from the top of the hill to where the gate would normally be in the level. There is also a multiplayer portion in which you can play a normal war match against a friend, or play skee ball on a giant scale. Unfortunately, the game just refused to find another player so I did not get to play against another human. However, I did try the practice mode for the skee ball mode and if it is the same as in the multiplayer game, it is heavily flawed: you get points from destroying objects and when you get to the end of the course there is a skee ball board which multiplies your score depending on the hole you land in. I was able to take as much time as I needed to destroy every single object on the course to get the most points possible, then I would just aim for the highest scoring hole and if I missed, I could just jump out before landing in lower score hole and try again.
Monty Python’s Rock of Ages
The game does borrow heavily from the animation style that Terry Gilliam used drawing the animated sections in the Monty Python films and shows. Basically, cutout figures are moved around on a static background to great comic effect. It fits well for the game and it had me at least laughing through most of the game. Every age is drawn in a different style: the Greek are drawn as black figures with orange outlines as they are seen on pottery from ancient Greece itself. The characters from the middle ages seem to be taken straight out of portraits of the same age. Besides the 2D cut out characters, all the other models are of a high quality and the world looks fairly nice. There were a couple of things that seemed very out-of-place, like the horrible flying baby head boss which could have been ANYTHING and I wouldn’t have complained. I just wish I didn’t have to go through that fight.
The music is pretty boring. There seemed to be about three or four tracks throughout the entire game and they got old pretty fast, although a couple did convey a chaotic theme consistent with the atmosphere of the game. Many of the sound effects went along with the humor of the story and animation, from the high-pitched screams of enemy leaders when you bash down their gate to the toot noise when you roll over them. The voice acting follows the “yell gibberish with English subtitles” approach and that fits the theme as well. There is a medieval war-like feel during gameplay, the yelling of opposing armies blends in well with the sounds of battle going on around you.
Is It Worth Your Money?
Rock of Ages is a game that holds up to expectations. The art and atmosphere are done well, though some may consider them slightly immature. It lacks an actual story which is a little bit disappointing, but the substitute is acceptable for such a small game. The gameplay itself could use a little bit more work and polish; if the tower defense portion of the game was improved, it could make for an even more entertaining product. The time trials are a good way for dedicated players to get more playtime out of the game and I’m sure multiplayer would be good fun as well if it was more active. For the price of $10 on Steam, the game is well worth your money.
Rock of Ages Technical Summary:
- Time Played – 6 hours
- Widescreen Support – Yes
- 5.1 Audio – No
- Bugs – Some AI stupidity (rolling off cliff repeatedly)
- DRM – Steamworks
- Control Scheme – Customizable Keyboard and Mouse
- Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
- Availability – Steam
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