For some reason, I was expecting Jack Black…
Rock of Ages, now available on XBLA and coming to PC and PSN soon, is the latest downloadable title from Atlus and is quite a bizarre mixture of genres. On one hand there is a tower defence game screaming to be looked at, on the other we find one of those games that involve rolling marbles around ever more difficult courses. To say that it makes sense would be a lie, but to say it is a lot of fun would hit the nail on the head with surprising accuracy.
The game revolves around the simple defeat of your opponent by knocking down a big door and squishing the two-dimensional, cut-out person behind it. This is achieved by rolling a massive boulder down a long and winding course to hit the door and do damage, rinse and repeat until the door comes tumbling down.
Things get more complicated when it becomes apparent that your massive boulder loses damage dealing power on the way down the course from being hit by enemy defences or falling from one of the steep edges. The course is littered with buildings, which can be destroyed for money, and indestructible hazards that cause the player to take risks near the edges. The boulder can be upgraded, for a cost, making it more powerful and do more damage to the door.
The tower defence aspect comes in the form of defences. Whilst the player is busy rolling their boulder and trying to reach the door, the opponent is doing the same. In an attempt to slow the opponent, and reduce the power of their boulder, the player can place defences, such as towers that block the course, catapults that damage the boulder, giant fans or elephants that try to push the boulder from the course, and even explosive barrels. Placement of these defences is critical, forcing the player to find bottlenecks on the course whilst they wait for their next boulder to be prepared.
Of course, whilst this is all going on, the opponent is doing exactly the same thing, albeit likely with more skill. The result is both incredibly tense and often frustrating. Through the levels, I managed to work out that it takes three boulders to destroy a door and the player that manages to launch their third boulder first will win. The AI doesn’t make many mistakes, so it really does come down to speed and being really careful on the course. The placement of defences does not have a huge impact on the AI boulder, or at least not until the big impressive defences are unlocked. Yet the opponents defences are often so well done that the player will lose both valuable time and power before breaching them.
Other than the main story mode, the player will be able to enjoy the Skeeball mode, which involves rolling the boulder down any of the unlocked courses and trying to smash stuff before aiming for a high multiplayer at the end, and a time attack mode. There are also online and local competitive games to be had, which adds some much needed human error to the mix. It is whilst playing against human opponents that the game becomes more strategic and less a race for the third boulder.
Through the game, the player will find themselves traveling through different time periods and the levels will be themed to match. The overall presentation is quite strange to behold, with three-dimensional structures, in the given style for that particular period, and two-dimensional people running around. The whole thing has a strangely Monty Python feel about it. This is also mirrored in the games humour, with the cut-scenes in between the levels often parodying popular media, the opponent squealing like a little girl before you crush them and an overriding sense of “what the hell am I playing”.
Rock of Ages is not without it’s problems, but the fact that it is so unique and so easy to just pick up and play makes any issues fade into insignificance. It doesn’t make sense that this bizarre little game is as much fun as it is. Well worth the 800 MSPoint asking price.