Game Name: Rock Of Ages
Platform(s): XBLA (reviewed), PSN, PC
Developer(s): Ace Team
Genre(s): Action / Strategy
Release Date: 31st August (XBLA, PSN) , September 7th PC
Price: $800 MS Points
Rock of Ages is Ace Team’s second game, and was released for Xbox 360 and Windows PC on August 31st, 2011. In it, you control a rock. You roll it down a hill. But this game combines a number of genres and mechanics to give a pretty unique experience. The question is: does it all come together?
The two main ideas in this game is rolling a rock down a hill to smash down the door of your opponent, while also setting up traps and obstacles his ball has to navigate through… all in the hopes of breaking through first, and squishing him.
Let’s have a look at the obstacle placing phase first. This art resembles a tower defense game. you pan around the map, selecting a tower, elephant, or other contraption, and placing it on one of the light squares. Placing a tower will dark out some squares, meaning you cannot replace it if it gets busted up by your opponent smashing through it.
You quickly figure out that if you put more obstacles near the end, he won’t have so much momentum when he gets to your door, and so will do less damage to it… whereas if you dot them throughout the level, he will get to your door slower in general, giving you the edge, time-wise.
The controls are pretty simple. Move the cursor with the left stick, place a tower by pressing A, select your tower using RT. But the cursor is a little tricky to use. First of all, it moves quite slowly. If you want to put some stuff at the beginning and end of a level, or even hurl projectiles at your enemy’s rock as it tumbles down the hill, you’ll find yourself waiting a little too long to get where you want to go.
Also, there’s no easy way of putting down a line of obstacles. As the d-pad moves the camera between the beginning and end of the level instantly (a useful addition, considering the slow camera), you have to rely on your delicate handling of the thumb-stick to get to adjacent squares, and you’ll often be putting down obstacles with clear gaps for the opposition’s rock to glide through.
The obstacles are varied enough, and do let you come up with some interesting set-ups to ensnare your opponent. As the levels progress, more items unlock, as well as upgraded versions of things you already have that you can place for a little extra money, which you accrue over the course of a “roll” by smashing into buildings and such.
Which brings us to the ball-rolling itself. The ball is a pretty hefty lump of rock, and this is reflected in the controls. It takes a little while to get up to speed, and is almost impossible to stop without a good bit of notice. While this is okay for the earlier, simpler levels, once you get onto levels with hairpin turns and gaps on the world you have to jump across, you’ll be wishing for a smaller, lighter rock to play with. And once the catapults unlock, and more set-piece areas appear in the levels, it can get amazingly frustrating to even get to the end of a level.
You’ll often be rolling along quite nicely, when all of a sudden (and a little physics-defyingly perhaps), your rock will fly across the screen from a catapulted rock or gust of wind. The reason this is so frustrating is that there’s nothing you can do whatsoever. There’s no “ooh— I can just about make it if I purse my lips and scrunch up my eyes”… you’re just out of it. Thankfully, the ball’s comical cry of “aaah” gets you through it the first few times you fall to your death-slash-reset-to-where-you-fell-off, but after a while it almost feels like the rock is mocking you. Like if it continued it’s scream, it would end up in a “aaaaahhhh-aha-ahahahahaa-ahaaaahaaahahahhhahhhaaaa!! [evil glare]”.
There are boss battles, too; each with their own particular mechanic you need to figure out and employ to beat each boss. But until you do figure it out, be prepared to get blasted off the side of the world. Once you figure out the trick, however, these levels don’t tend to be too taxing to complete. it almost feels like they are rewards for making it through the levels preceding the boss; focusing on showing you an awesome/comical boss to fight, before falling back into the pain and frustration of the level-grind.
So, while the game itself can get frustrating at times, the art style and execution is very, very polished. At the start of each level, a cutscene unfolds introducing the next opponent in an often-amusing, sometimes-baffling, and on-rare-occasions-hilarious ditties. The animation style is reminiscent of Monty Python’s Flying Circus’s animations (as in Terry Gilliam’s animations), and the humour draws on pop culture and film references, pleasing any self-respecting video-game/film nut.
The art style throughout is a quirky mixture of historical and cartoon, but at all times, very , very polished. Ever wondered what a baby’s head with angel wings looked like? Well this game has the perfect boss battle for you.
There are even faces and such carved into each rock, which you can then select in the menu for multiplayer and other modes, which add a nice, subtle arty touch to the gameplay. You can hardly see the designs as your rock whizzes around, but it’s nice to know they’re there…
There is also a Skeeball mode, where you roll down the levels, bashing into targets which award you with points, ending in a board with a few holes that multiply your score. And a multiplayer mode, including Local, which is a bit of a dying breed nowadays, and a very a welcome feature.
All in all, I had fun with this game in the beginning, but as the levels get harder, the more frustrating elements began to become more and more apparent. A great sense of humour and quirky score keep things rolling for a while, but in the end frustration may win out over novelty.
Out now to download for Xbox 360, PC, and PS3.