Rock of Ages Review

By Jason D'Aprile - Posted Sep 08, 2011

Bizarre, indie, and fun, Rock of Ages tells the eternal story of the bond between a man and his big, hard boulder.

The Pros
  • Terrifically weird
  • Fun rolling action
  • Amusing tower defense units
  • Excellent multiplayer
The Cons
  • Strategy portions are very secondary
  • Game can get repetitive

Rock of Ages Review:

Ah, weirdness… It doesn’t just come from Japan. Sometimes, in fact, it comes from South America! Case in point is developer Ace Team’s Rock of Ages. Ace has been around a surprisingly long time, but their last game, Zeno Clash, was an underappreciated exercise in the bizarre and Rock might very well trump it for sheer absurdity. And we mean that in a good way.


We’ve Come to Rock You

The epic story of Rock of Ages begins with Sisyphus—doomed to forever push a boulder up a mountain as punishment by Hades. Sis gets sick of his miserable fate—particularly those pesky demons pitchforking him in the ass whenever his goal is almost within reach—so he forms a plan… with his boulder. Strangely, the boulder is more than happy to comply. As it turns out, rocks much prefer to roll downhill instead of up.

So while Sisyphus (as in, you) strategically lays out defensive towers, catapults, and cows on Hades’ downhill course (because, obviously, everyone has an intelligent boulder to smash things with), the boulder begins its rapid journey downhill to destroy the massive door behind which Hades stands waiting to be smooshed. Rock of Ages combines tower defense with Super Monkey Ball (or Marble Madness, if you prefer) into a truly bizarre concoction.

Sisyphus moves through history, taking on major figures—Charlemagne, King Leonidas, Marie Antoinette, and others whose fates were told quite differently in school. In Rock of Ages, the same fate befalls all—a large round rock squashes them just after they squelch out an insanely girly scream. Should Sisyphus’ boulder not be fast enough, then his opponent will make sure a similar fate befalls him instead.

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To reach the squashing point in each era, the huge door guarding these opponents must be smashed down. Each boulder impact takes about a third of the door’s health away, so players should expect to roll down each hilly course three times. There’s a waiting period between each round, as a new boulder is constructed, and during this period, defenses to stall the opponent’s boulder are laid down.

Towers ranging from wood to heavily-reinforced stone and metal can slow the boulder, cows and elephants can ram it out of the way, and catapults and other armaments can hurt it and cause the rock to go careening off the side of the track. It’s easy to get disorientated and end up falling into the oblivion even without obstacles, as the physics in the game are a bit lopsided and uneven.

Sometimes inertia just takes over and steering feels completely blocked, while other times the ball just hits a small obstacle and stops dead. It’s not a killer issue, and after a while, controlling the boulder feels more natural. These downhill courses get a lot more complicated as the game progresses. Starting out fairly linearly, tracks soon expand to include multiple paths, shortcuts, jumps, and other crazy bits of design.

Rock of Ages

Strategy Optional

This non-linear manner in which the boulders can roll to their destination tends to make the tower defense portion of the game feel like a crap shoot. Guessing which way the enemy will roll is a hit or miss method for strategy. In the end, the strategic planning and placement part of Rock of Ages is far overshadowed by the whole rolling thing.

Frankly, the enemy’s AI is spotty, and it’s certainly possible to confuse it with lots of explosive barrels and towers (not to mention cows). Yet, the most successful path to victory is simply launching the boulder the second it’s ready and barreling down the hill to hit the enemy’s door before he or she hits yours. The strategy part is almost entirely unnecessary.

Rock of Ages

All this crazy action is set up with frequently hilarious and truly strange animated sequences that are immediately reminiscent of old Monty Python skits. The actual game is great looking, but these set up sequences are intentionally low-budget, with threadbare animation and minimal dialogue played for goofy laughs.

The icing on the cake to all this gaming strangeness is the multiplayer. Aside from a two-player version of the main game style, there’s even a two-player skeeball variant. Multiplayer supports matches both online and via a split screen, and it’s just good, crazy fun.

Rock of Ages

Rock With Me

Just the same, Rock of Ages is essentially playing for laughs using the same joke over and over. It’s a good joke, but after a while it wears thin. This would be a major issue for a full-priced game, but the limited scope is perfect for a cheap downloadable title. The strategy bits are only loosely important and the whole game is essentially just rolling a big rock down a hill. Yet, the wickedly strange sense of historical humor and absurd touches throughout make Rock of Ages well worth a look.