Video Game Review: Rock of Ages
As it turns out, there’s violence inherent in the system.
It’s the Broadway sensation that’s sweeping the nation available now on Xbox Live Arcade! Hold on to that feeling because Rock of Ages is here in all its ’80s glam rock musical glory! Wait, no! NOOOOO! I’m talking about Rock of Ages, the new action packed tower-defense game from Atlus, which happens to be umpteen times better than a bunch of hair-band cover songs. Now, hurry up and read about this great title — I’m trying really hard to not write something like “This game… rocks! Amirite?” — and I don’t know if I can last any longer.
Tower defence, eh? That means strategically placing various blockades on a playing field to prevent enemy forces from storming over to your comfy home base, which in this case is a castle with a really big door. Pressing the right bumper will open up your asset window with your tools of defence: towers, catapults, bombs and angry livestock are just a small taste of the goodies you can place with the “X” button while navigating the layout of the land with the left analog stick. After preparing your defences, trumpets will blare and you’ll be cued to press “Y” to unleash your attack.
Troops? Cannons? Ships? No, siree/ma’am! In Rock of Ages, total territorial domination is acquired not by man or machine but by a giant personified rolling stone of doom! Roll the rock toward the enemy’s castle with the left stick, use the right stick to control the camera and press “A” or the left trigger to make the boulder jump. Guiding this stone is relatively easy and gamers will chuckle and squeal in delight as they make waste of the enemy’s blockades as they attempt to ram down the front door. After your go at the opponent’s castle, it’s their turn to roll their boulder your way. This is where your previous defences come into play in hopes your placement strategy slows down their stone to minimize damage to your castle door.
Mixing smooth ball-rolling action with tower-defence strategy (complete with intuitive menus and controls) makes this a unique and fresh concept. Think Marble Madness meets Rampart. There is small room for improvement though. In later stages or when running the Time Trial mode, slowing down or breaking the momentum of the accelerating boulder can be tough. Sure, mastering the rolling physics is part of the fun, but when avoiding flying off ledges of the stages, I often cried “Argh! My kingdom for a set of brakes!” Then, I’d slap some sense into myself to avoid sulking in shame and get back to practicing my rolling technique.
Unique and crammed with quirk, Rock of Ages sets itself apart graphically from other titles with its humorous art style. The entire game oozes a Terry Gilliam vibe featuring cardboard cutout animation that will bring back memories of Monty Python animated sequences. Musical score and selections are fitting of the historical time periods represented in the game while juxtaposed with ridiculous canned voice samples. A defining moment in the game is whenever a castle wall is broken down; Mozart’s Dies Irae booms in while the losing opponent shrieks like a woman, followed by a comical splat after being rolled over. Marvelous!
Style aside, this game isn’t too shabby looking at all. The layout of the stages has great architecture, and breaking physics of the structures are satisfying as they burst into debris. There is some mild clipping when the boulder gets into tight spots or when the camera moves become too aggressive, but it’s nothing that gets in the way of enjoying the overall presentation.
Have you heard the story of King Sisyphus? In Greek mythology, Sisyphus pissed off Zeus something fierce by pulling a fast one on the God of Death, so he was punished. Doomed to push a heavy boulder up a steep hill only to have it roll down to start over again, Sisyphus was banished to an eternity of frustration. But what Rock of Ages presupposes is what if he said, “Fuck this!” and rolled that stone of shame… to freedom! And roll he does, through five unique time periods represented by famous ancient works of art blended with modern day references — an early cinematic has an expected call back to a certain Spartan meme involving a lunge kick and a well! Enjoy!
In single-player Story mode, speed, strategy and familiarity with the stage’s layout will dictate who delivers maximum castle damage as you and the AI opponent work against each other simultaneously. Progression in the game will unlock better defence items and boulder upgrades that you can purchase with cash earned from your wreckage. The balance of action and tower-defence is excellent, and the brisk pacing between boulder runs and defence-building keeps the gameplay fast and fierce. Watching your well-planned deterrents such as giant fans and mammoth-powered towers successfully slow the enemy’s roll while you blissfully tear into their front door is extremely satisfying. With over 20 levels including some nifty boss bottles, gamers are in for a beefy campaign.
And that’s just Story mode! There’s a nice set of other modes to rock to: War, Time Trial and SkeeBoulder. In War mode, you can go head-to-head against an opponent online or local split screen. After beating a Story mode stage, the ability to do a boulder-only speed run in Time Trial mode unlocks. The fastest ball-runners are ranked in online leaderboards. SkeeBoulder mode is also a boulder-only mode where each stage ends with a giant skeeball board where players take turns to rack up the most points; the only thing missing is an artisan stone ticket dispenser.
Rock of Ages only disappoints in some sporadic moments of nutty physics. On top of having trouble slowing down or quickly changing direction, there are a few times when the boulder becomes the tiniest bit airborne due to surface and speed. It is within these moments that the jump isn’t as responsive or high as you’d like. The result is usually flying off the edge or ramming into an undesired object, slowing down your overall attack or time run, which is sure to garner a grunt or two of frustration. Sisyphus, we now know your pain. However, this charming game is so damn clever, fast-paced and fun, you can’t stay mad at it for long.
Addictive, sometimes ingenious and always a total hoot, Atlus’ Rock of Ages is everything ancient art, history and mythology should be — ridiculously fun. A fusion of tower-defence and ball-rolling action, it delivers a great single-player campaign, extra local and online competitive modes, and a load of laughs. Fire up Xbox Live Arcade, feed your console 800 MSP (US$10) and get rolling!