If you are anything like me, you sometimes wish you could do something to break away from mundane workdays and do something erratic like rolling a giant boulder over your boss. Don’t give me that look. I know you’ve had that “boulder rolling over” fantasy before-don’t deny it! While there are laws against doing so and even physics is against us on that. (Stupid physics) Rock of Ages allows our boulders to stampede throughout time taking down iconic figures in history and mythology.
You take control of poor (misunderstood) Sisyphus, condemned to roll a massive boulder up an equally massive hill in Hades all the while being tormented by evil little “imps” that would hamper his progress causing Sisyphus to lose control of the boulder. Each time this cause the boulder to roll down to rest at Chronos’ feet, irritating the titan and demanding Sisyphus to resume his labor. At this point, Sisyphus hatches a plan to escape Hades and so, our journey begins. (OK, so the journey has started a long time ago as this game was released last year for the PC and 360 and we are just now getting it for the PS3)
The single player mode is where a lot of this game’s magic takes place.
You get to play across 5 unique time periods encountering historical figures from those time frames. We all know just how serious (and some times boring) history can be. That’s something Rock of Ages successfully conquers by telling its story through a very Monty Python-esque sense of humor. That will have you chuckling at its silliness at the very least. In addition to its lighthearted take on history, the game also pokes fun of and makes constant references to recent and current pop culture trends. Not even video games are off of the table in this “no holds barred” comedic foray.
In addition to the single player mode there is a time trial that has you race through stages as fast as you possibly can to win medals. This is a cool mode, but when you think of boulders, you don’t immediately think of racing. Your boulder starts off slow and takes a bit of time and momentum to get it to go fast, but once it does reach extremely fast speeds, especially barreling down a hill, it can be difficult to control your boulder and there is a great likelihood that you are going to fly right off of the map. But that’s not to say that the boulder is uncontrollable. As a matter of fact… Pro Tip: Use the right stick to keep the camera focused on the path that you want to take. This works exceptionally well on sudden turns. (I don’t know why I told you people that when I may end up being matched up with some of you online…)
Another mode available is “Skeeboulder”. That’s right… SKEEBOULDER.
If you ever played “Skeeball”, then you know exactly what to expect with this. Except, you are playing against another player as you race toward the end of the track smashing targets to gain points along the way. And once you reach the end, you “skee” your boulder up and land it into one of the multipliers on the “Skeeboard”. The player with the most points wins the game.
(Gameplay & AI)
For us older gamers, this may remind you of games like Marble Madness and Super Monkey Ball mixed with a typical tower defense game. The gameplay is pretty straightforward and doesn’t have much of a learning curve. At the start of a match, you enter a building phase, which allows you to build towers, catapults and other traps to hopefully destroy the incoming boulder or, at the very least, delay your enemy’s progress. A bit of strategy is required here to figure out where the optimal place is to set your defenses and how much to spend if you want to purchase a specialized boulder right at the start. These specialized boulders (fire boulder, armor plated boulder, etc.) provide you with extra damage if you manage to reach the enemy’s gate without damaging your own boulder too much. Taking too much damage, in addition to certain environmental hazards will cause you to lose these powers.
To go back to the tower defense segment of the game, most of them do very little against a speeding boulder. Think about it for a second… What chance does a wooden tower stand against a boulder that’s at least 4 times the size of the tower and is racing down hill unobstructed? The answer is: It has no chance. That’s not to say that none of the defenses are worthwhile. The best ones come later in the game and even the weaker ones can cause the enemy a little distress when they slam into the waiting towers. But it is possible to avoid most of the defenses due to the fact that the boulder has the ability to jump, which allows the boulder to leap over most of the roadblocks. This feature alone makes the defenses almost obsolete with the exception of the catapults and a few other defenses. In reality, you can avoid putting down defenses all together if you strike the enemy’s gates 3 times before your enemy can do so to you. As long as you are the first to land that 3rd strike and enter the enemy’s base to squash the enemy commander, you can avoid building anything and still win the match.
At the end of each time period you will encounter a boss battle. These bosses are symbols of the era that you just went through. None of which are very hard, essentially it involves striking the boss in its weak spot 3 times. Once you figure out how to reach the weak spot, the match is pretty much yours. The boss battles aren’t much of a challenge, but they are still fun and varied. I have to admit, it’s pretty cool to be able to launch your boulder through the air to pop Michelangelo’s David right in the crotch.
Unfortunately the biggest down fall in the game is that it can become repetitive pretty fast and there isn’t a whole lot of variety between your defenses and their upgraded counterparts. Some of them have obvious differences while other seem to be just as weak as their level 1 counterparts.
(Sound & Visuals)
The quality of the audio is top notch and although there isn’t much voice acting, this game doesn’t really need it. The nonsensical gibberish and mumbles the characters spurt out during the cut scenes fits to the game’s Monty Python-esque feel. You might get a kick out of hearing someone like Vlad the Impaler scream like a little girl once you have broken through his gate. Seeing this happen for the first time on the first enemy you encounter immediately reminded me of the episode of The Simpsons where Bart thought Ned Flanders killed his wife, Maude. That was the first episode that we learned Ned could release an incredibly high-pitched feminine scream.
The visuals are a combination of 2D and 3D. You have your boulder, defenses and playing field rendered in 3D, meanwhile the cut scenes and the little characters on the playing field are all two dimensional. This mix of graphics blends well with the game’s over the top comedic theme.
The trophy set for Rock of Ages is pretty diverse, ranging from scoring a direct hit on the enemies’ gate with a fireball to the expected 10 online wins trophy. None of these trophies are really out of the way with the exception of the “Keymaster” trophy that tasks you with locating all of the “hidden” keys through out the game. I use the word hidden loosely as most of the keys are in plain sight. Overall, none of these trophies should cause too much grief and should be relatively easy to obtain.
(Conclusion & Thoughts)
Rock of Ages is a perfect time waster for those days that you have a lot of time on your hands and not a whole lot to do. It’s also a great weekend boredom buster or perfect time filler when you just don’t feel like playing a retail title or a game that requires more thought to its gameplay. Although the gameplay becomes repetitive, it doesn’t take away from the overall experience of the game. Initially this game was going to take place across 16 time eras, but ACE and Atlus chose to cut it down to 5. I hope that this means there will be some DLC down the line that will take use through new eras. It would be pretty damn awesome to roll a giant boulder through present day.
Rock of Ages receives a 4 out of 5
Fun, mindless smash and run gameplay
Silly and lighthearted Monty Python-esque cut scenes
Varied game modes
The amount of content is worth the price
The gameplay can become repetitive
The defenses available can be useless, especially against someone who knows what they are doing