Rock of Ages might just be one of the strangest games ever conceived. You assume the role of a boulder with the goal of making it through a perilous level filled with towers, cows, bombs, air blowers, catapults, elephants and more in order to bust your opponent’s castle door down. Don’t worry, that’s not all. It only gets stranger.
For whatever reason, history bores me. But add massive boulders, some Monty Python-esque humor and lots of color – and then I’m intrigued. Rock of Ages is a game unlike any other. At its heart, it’s a tower-defense game, but with its merging of Marble Madness mechanics, it’s not like any other tower-defense game you’ve ever played.
The game comes from ACE Team, the indie developer responsible for 2007’s Zeno Clash. Also available for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Rock of Ages is priced at a mere $10 – and given just how fun it can be, it could go down as one of the best indie titles of 2011.
Like all good tower-defense games, Rock of Ages is best played with someone else. But in the event that you have no friends with good taste, there’s a rich single-player mode as well – lasting about 4 or so hours depending on how you play. As mentioned, this game is unique, so I encourage watching of the video below to gain a better understanding of the gameplay that images can’t portray.
Each level is treated as a ‘versus’, and the goal is twofold. In addition to making sure your defenses are as strong as can be, you also need to make sure that you can traverse through your opponent’s traps in order to get to the end of the level as unscathed as possible to make the most of ramming into their castle door.
There’s not much of a story in Rock of Ages, but you still take the role of a lead character; Sisyphus, a mythological Greek king. Through the game’s progression, you will battle other mythical and non-mythical generals and rulers that try to impede your travels, while experiencing five major art periods; Ancient Greek, Medieval, Renaissance, Rococo and Romanticism.
At the start of each match, each ruler will use their cash-on-hand to purchase various units that will help protect them from their opponent. These units could include towers of various strengths, bombs, wind machines, large animals, cash-generating units, catapults and surveyors that will cue your castle to fire at an incoming enemy.
While units are being placed, you will see your boulder being sculpted in the bottom left-hand corner, taking about 30 seconds each turn. Depending on your finances, you can choose one of five models. The basic boulder is free, of course, while others can protect you better, deal more damage, allow you to fly for a time or ruin a cluster of spaces on your opponent’s side.
Getting from point A to point B safely is the first goal, but at the same time you will want to try to get as much speed as possible towards the end so that you can ram the opponent’s castle door as hard as possible. If you don’t have enough speed, you might bounce back off of it, doing little or no damage, resulting in wasted time and potentially a boulder.
Rock of Ages doesn’t have a huge amount of problems, but there are a couple that must be mentioned. The most important is that most matches will be over after three turns, and most will be played out similarly. Because of this, each match will feel like a bit of a race, not one rife with important strategy. Even on some later levels, I managed to defeat the opponent without laying down a single unit. Obviously, this is a problem.
The reason this is possible is that the game is inherently simple. Boulders hit the doors for a lot of damage, and on most tracks, some units are easily avoidable. The opponent difficulty level is not that high either, so even if you are laying down all of your units, it’s rare when you will actually feel challenged.
Fortunately, as the developer is actively monitoring suggestions, and is tweaking mechanics as need be, the game as it is now might not be exactly like the game we see a month or two from now.
Because each match can be completed with three boulders, an entire one could be finished in four or five minutes. If the match instead required a minimum of six or more hits to the door, and also opened up more spaces on the map for added units, then I think the dynamic of the game would change for the better.
If more spaces were opened up for unit placement, a lot more, and players were given a more money at the offset, then many more traps could be deployed, and in more creative ways. As it is, much of the map won’t allow unit placement, which results in a smooth path for the player more often than not.
Overall, anything that could be done to the game to make it so a match doesn’t definitively end on three turns almost every time would be appreciated. The only time I ever had to take a fourth turn was on some of the later levels where you can get really banged up on your way to the end.
Aside from that big issue, Rock of Ages is one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played in a while. While it’s not that difficult, the game is straight-out fun. The graphics are nice, the gameplay solid, the audio great, and the humor appealing. If you appreciate Monty Python-esque humor, you should laugh out loud on multiple occasions.
Humor is one of the reasons I like ACE Team so much. On April 1 of this year, a page was setup from a faux developer offering the game Pebble of Time, a 2D demake of Rock of Ages. Here, this non-existent developer wrote a rant about ACE Team stealing his idea, a fact that is laced through the game. Upon beating one level in this mini-game, a message reads, “Rock of Ages is in 3D… That is only one more D than what my game has, so it is pretty close.” Oh, and there’s also this.
A game like Rock of Ages is going to be best played with a friend, or at least someone else in general. I was never able to find someone else online, however, so if you are planning to get your multi-player action on, then you’re going to want to get two copies. Fortunately, at $10, that’s rather feasible.
The biggest problem with Rock of Ages is that it’s short. That’s to be expected for $10, and what it does mean is that DLC could be added down the road or a full-blown sequel if this one proves successful enough. I hope either of those to be the case, because despite its few flaws, this game is a ton of fun.
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