Sometimes it’s really hard to form a solid opinion on a game because there are simply too many elements to take into account. A game may play like a dream, though it’s marred by graphics from the Dreamcast era. On the flip side, some works are absolutely stunning in their artistic scale, yet fail at almost every other aspect. Sadly, Rock of Ages falls into the latter category, crafting some truly beautiful visuals while failing to actually work as a game.
To summarize Rock of Ages in a sentence, it is a tower defense strategy game that’s flipped on its head with the addition of a rolling boulder. Gamers play as Sisyphus, a king from Greek mythology who was sentenced to forever push a stone up a hill just to watch it roll to the bottom again. The game takes a humorous looks at this and gives Sisyphus a chance at escape as he rolls his rock right through the gates that bar his escape. After this, he rolls along through different time periods, conquering various leaders and civilizations.
The gameplay mainly consists of setting various traps and barricades on the trail to your gates, and then rolling your boulder through your enemies’ half of the field. The game wastes no time teaching you the mechanics, although it does seem to go a little too fast, never giving players the proper chance to practice their new skills before they’re thrown into battle. When setting up the defenses on your side, Rock of Ages takes a top-down view that shows various areas where you can place towers, catapults, and other obstructions to make your enemy’s job tougher.
After your boulder is finished being constructed, you begin to roll it through your enemies’ barricades. As you roll through their towers and the people on their sides, you gain points which are used to build new defenses or construct a new type of stone. This includes types such as stones bound in iron or set on fire, which make it easier to crush the opposition. All of this is good fun towards the beginning, and the first few levels are rather exhilarating.
However, after you get over the novelty of it all, the flaws that lie underneath become painfully apparent. The biggest mistake made is that there is no variety in the story mode. There’s the occasional boss fight, but these only involve finding a way to get to the enemy and – you guessed it – roll right into them. The levels themselves are definitely creative and full of twists and turns to test your skill, but if you roll off a cliff you’re only punished with a small delay before you’re put right back where you left off.
Eventually, the tower defense aspect of Rock of Ages is forgotten and the game becomes a race to see who can release their boulder first. A level can easily be beaten by putting up a few towers and just being the quickest on the draw. It also doesn’t help that no matter what type of ball you choose, you have to hit the gate three times to knock it over. It’s a game that’s based on a strict pattern, and it’s sad that it was built this way, because there is definitely potential here.
The art design of Rock of Ages is definitely something to be lauded. The characters are all hilarious even though they don’t speak, but hearing them scream like little girls every time you knock their gate down always made me laugh, no matter how frustrated I was. The levels are beautifully designed, littered with famous artworks and peasants which scramble at the sight of your rock.
Also on the plus side are the two extra modes, which are Time Trial and Skee Boulder. Both are extremely entertaining and play exactly as they sound. Within the Time Trial mode, you must race through various levels trying to beat your best times. In Skee Boulder, you collect points until you bounce into a Skeeball-esque hole at the end, aiming for the highest multiplier. Sadly, you can bounce and roll your way to the highest multiplier every time, so it’s barely even worth trying.
There’s also a multiplayer mode where you and a friend can play a normal level against each other, which can be fun but is still just as broken as the story mode. It’s truly sad that the gameplay mechanics don’t work as well as they should, because underneath this game is a truly great XBLA gem.
Unfortunately, a recommendation comes so hard because of how repetitive and broken the game is. Players would definitely be doing themselves a favor by at least checking out the demo so that they can experience the art style. Just be warned that, if you like what you played, you must be ready to do that for about three to four hours, as that’s as long as this shrimp takes to beat.
ACE Team have a bright future ahead of them if they can focus on melding their substantial artistic talent with captivating gameplay. Sadly, Rock of Ages is not the game that does that, but it can still manage to be fun when it wants to be.
This review is based on the XBLA version of the game.