Rock of Ages – an Indie Game Review

Can't pass through the Renaissance without slaying a dragon...
Rock of Ages – an Indie Game Review

Platforms: Steam, Xbox 360

Game Name: Rock of Ages

Publisher: Atlus

Developer: Ace Team

Genre: Action, strategy

Release Date: September 7th 2011

ESRB Rating: E10

Developer Summary

A rock-solid combination of rock-rolling action, deep strategy, and captivating art and music from different ages of history, this is a game of crush or be crushed! Two castles stand opposed; one is yours, the other is your enemy’s. They’re a jerk and their castle sucks, so you’re going to try to smash it using an enormous boulder.

What We Think

Strategy, gravity and the ability to squish Monty Python-esque cutouts, all the while surrounded by stirring historical art and period-inspired music. What more could one ask? Game Creators Ace Team have bowled up a solid strike.

Sweet flare!

This Old Man Came Rolling Home

Poor ol’ Sisyphus. He has been tasked by Hades to eternally roll a rock up a steep incline. Without fail, once he reaches a certain altitude, a vile imp pokes his posterior, causing Sis to lose his grip on the rock. With Hades looking on, he has no choice but to start his upward shove anew.

It dawns on Sisyphus that crushing the imp and deliberately hurtling the rock down the hill might provide him with the means to escape. Sure enough, one crushed imp and two flattened doors later, Sisyphus opens up a portal that allows him to slip the confines of damnation. To complete his flight, he and his trusty rock must travel through time, vanquishing tyrants by knocking down the gates to their fortresses, and squishing them.

Knock, knock!

Marble Madness? THIS…IS…nah, too easy…

Rock of Ages makes great use of the Unreal Engine to create a game that is part Marble Madness, part tower defense. The ultimate goal in each stage is a repeated race to the bottom of the hill, where the gates of the level’s boss can be found, and to squish said boss to great comic effect. Using the WASD keys to steer the rock (using the space bar to jump), and the mouse to control the camera, the player must successfully navigate down a treacherous path to the gates. Going over the side will result in the hand of God dropping the rock at the nearest checkpoint, but this can cost precious seconds.

Once a rock strikes the doors, the process of building a new one begins again. The damage done to the gate will depend on the momentum gained by the rock, as well as the rock’s overall integrity. All of this must be completed while the enemy is rolling a rock towards the gates of Sisyphus. The first side to squish the leader of other side takes it all.

A small amount of currency will be available to the player as a round commences. These funds can be spent to purchase defensive units or upgrades to the rock itself. Each rock takes time to carve, and whilst waiting, the map screen is presented. Towers, projectile units and creatures need to be placed to deter the enemy. The enemy will also set up deterrents in the path of the player. Once the boulder is carved, upgrades can be applied to increase the attack power before it sets on its course downward. Making contact with the enemy gates will effectively end the turn, and a new rock will be carved.

Can't pass through the Medieval era without slaying a dragon...
Can't pass through the Medieval era without slaying a dragon...

He Gathers No Moss

Each rock has a health bar that will chipped away as offensive obstacles are encountered, so avoidance is the key to effecting the most damage, though a rock that sustains enough damage will become smaller, and smaller boulders do less damage when they contact gates. Funds will be awarded, the amount of which depends on the force of the impact. On the other side of the coin, taking the time to smash units, bystanders and passive structures will also fill the coffers for the next round of assault, though it may mean less damage to the gates for the round.

Replays of a level seem to generate a new enemy defense layout each time, thus ensuring the player must stay on his toes. Few moments in the game are more infuriating that being pincered between projectile units and herd units until almost nothing remains of the rock and it is knocked haplessly off the side of a crevasse. Worse yet, a quick peek at the “enemy boulder” view indicates how the AI has found a hole in the defense by making use of an obvious shortcut in the map that completely circumvents the expensive array of placed units. Restart level? Not happy about it, but yes, please…

Yet, after learning the ins and outs(and downs), even a few senseless beatings can’t deter the overall pleasure of hearing a famous historical dictator squeal like a girl on helium seconds before he goes gets flattened.

All the dancing in the world can't save them now

A leisurely (st)roll through art history

The level of presentation is worthy of praise; there is a huge amount of research behind each era of art history. Iconic era-based imagery from great artistic periods abounds: Each stage is introduced with hilarious vignettes that will immediately remind Monty Python fans of the Flying Circus. Some of history’s most famous paintings of the heroes and villains of yore are splashed up on the screen where they sputter nonsensical gibberish and flail their limbs wildly, oftentimes lampooning current day pop-culture (The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings, 300, and even Castlevania all get their jabs). On the battlefield, crudely painted denizens meander about each stage, while famous statues reach up into the skies. The heavens in the renaissance period are displayed as an enormous astral chart splayed across the sky. Cut scenes and levels alike are accompanied by richly composed orchestral music that is both playful and intense.

Set your traps. Select your upgrades.

Good ol’ Rock. Nothing beats rock

Once all foes have been vanquished, there is still the option to take the rock to the hoop with other players. Play head to head online or split-screen on the same rig. For players looking to hone their rolling skills before tackling enemies (AI or player controlled), there is also a skeeball training level. Time trials can be taken on to prove ultimate mastery over a stage.

Rock of Ages is gorgeous visuals, devious opponents and wicked strategic elements all rolled up in a ball. For a mere $10, you too can bowl over the world of art history.

Buy Rock of Ages at Steam Powered for USD $9.99

[xrr rating=”4.5/5″]