Review: Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages

What happens when you roll a giant boulder down a winding slope littered with catapults, siege towers, and elephants and scoop on a great big dollop of classical art and Monty Python humor?  You get Rock of Ages, the latest release from Zeno Clash developer ACE Team.  The premise is simple: roll a boulder down a hill to smash through a castle door and squish the ruler inside.  Of course, the game would be too simple if that’s all there was to it, so ACE Team has injected some additional challenges.  Not only are there the aforementioned catapults and siege towers, but the enemy who you are trying to squish is doing the exact same thing to your own castle in a mirrored landscape at the same time.

Each level starts out from a top-down view of the hill you are trying to protect.  A crosshair can be moved over the landscape and wherever a section of the ground will allow, a radial menu can be opened and the various defenses can be placed.  All the while the defensive placements are being set down, a small graphic in the bottom left corner of the screen is displayed to show where the peon craftsmen are at in the process of building the boulder.  Once the boulder is ready to be launched, the camera switches from the top-down view to a third-person behind-the-boulder position, which allows for an “in the trenches” feel during the race to the bottom of the hill.

Rolling down the slope, the boulder’s speed can be adjusted by pushing up on the left stick, building momentum so you can smash through and level towers or catapults as if they were nothing more than matchsticks. Speed is not always in your favor, though, as the hills in each level often are twisted cliffs of doom.  Move too fast, and you’ll launch the boulder right off the edge.  Each time the boulder falls off the edge health is chipped away and, more importantly, time ticks away so the enemy gains a greater advantage in their downhill boulder dash to smash through your own castle door.

Since the game is a mix of real-time tower defense strategy and third-person boulder rolling offense, I found one of the best strategies was to line up rows of catapults and wind machines aimed perpendicular to each other to best slow down my opponent.  Often this strategy would send the enemy boulder veering off the cliff which gave me enough time to avoid the obstacles on my own run down the hill, resulting in a successfully smashed enemy castle gate.  There were several levels where I would find myself inching ahead at the last moment and winning by the width of a hair.

Littered throughout each level are golden keys which need to be collected to allow for advancement through later levels.  Usually two keys are easy to find but the third requires almost throwing the match in order to reach the hidden location.  Three boss levels are spaced out at a perfect pace to break up the game mechanic, which can feel a bit repetitive after a while.  During the boss battles, there is no race down a hill or a castle gate to bowl through.  Instead, the boulder you control needs to connect with the boss three times in order to defeat him.  As with the rest of the game, ACE Team’s humor plays a central role in the boss battles.  In the second boss battle, for example, you fight the Michelangelo statue of David.  Of course, in order to defeat a marble statue, the boulder must be launched in the statue’s most sensitive area, his crotch. Talk about a real ball buster. Ouch!

Even though Rock of Ages has been out for a while on XBLA and Steam, gamers shouldn’t overlook this great gem now that it is finally out on PSN. The combination of sophomoric humor, historic art clipped and animated, thoughtful strategy and the satisfaction of smashing boulders through obstacles makes for a pretty unique and fun gaming blend.  ACE Team didn’t stop with a single player experience either, including both local split-screen matches as well as online play. Unfortunately, during all of my gaming sessions I was never able to get an online match to work.  Split-screen matches, on the other hand, worked without any glitch, and I rather enjoyed playing goofy games of skee ball with others from the seat of my couch.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Fun mix of real-time strategy and boulder racing
+ Unique art style
+ Tight controls
+ Great couch multiplayer experience

Cons:
– Online multiplayer doesn’t seem to work
– Main story mode can feel repetitive

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3 via PSN, also available for PC and Xbox Live Arcade
Publisher: Atlus USA
Developer: ACE Team
Release Date: XBLA – 8/31/2011, PC – 9/7/2011, PSN -5/15/2012
Genre: Tower Offense
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-2 (local split-screen or online)
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.