I can’t say that Rock of Ages is unique. I can say that Rock of Ages is unique for a video game. The humor and the plot are in the vein of Internet/Gaming/Fantasy/Etc. nerds, while the graphical style and animations are unabashedly reminiscent of Monty Python’s animation genius Terry Gilliam. In that way, it is not unique, because its inspirational sources can be easily and clearly identified. However, as a video game on a digital marketplace, it is something I have never personally been privileged enough to see, and as an Internet/Gaming/Fantasy/Etc. nerd and lifelong Monty Python mega-fan, that counts for an awful lot.
You play as Sisyphus, the damned soul of Greek mythology. You escape Hades using the very boulder you are cursed with endlessly rolling up a hill, and crash your way through anyone who stands before you as you travel through five time periods, starting in the time of Greek mythology and jumping forward periodically. The great thing about moving forward through each time period is the change in the art style and the cutscenes introducing each enemy (the Plague is particularly good). You always remain Sisyphus, in the style of Greek art. Your enemies, however, will appear in the style of the art of their own time, progressing as you move forward through the ages. Visually and aurally, Rock of Ages is a sublimely enjoyable experience. This, really, is where the originality, creativity, and pure fun of the game reside.
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Now for the core of the game itself. Rock of Ages is Marble Madness, from a close-range third-person perspective, mixed with fairly standard tower defense elements. The combination of the two could lead to a great game, in theory, but the implementation of the mixed mechanics is unbalanced, and at times, just bad. The Marble Madness implementation of racing your giant boulder through your enemy’s defenses to attack his tower gate is wonderful. The weight of the boulder is evident when you speed towards a sharp corner, the damage done to your boulder as you destroy obstacles and run into immovable objects is reasonable, and the bemused facial expression carved onto your boulder is amusing. However, your enemy’s gate (and similarly, your own gate) will ALWAYS take three hits to break, exposing the soft, squishy person hiding within the tower. The various boulder enhancements (iron spikes, lava, etc.) may affect how much damage each final hit does marginally, but in my experience never caused you to deviate from the three-hit pattern that is thoroughly prevalent throughout the game.
That being said, the tower defense mechanism is rendered totally pointless. Most obstacles can be jumped or easily destroyed, and the level layout makes it difficult to truly render an obstacle impassable. The time allotted to building your defenses is laughably short. Though some might argue that increases the need for strategy and smart placement, it is mixed with an overly sensitive cursor, making simple defense placement a frustrating, and time consuming affair. With the three-hit rule in effect, you can’t afford to spend extra time after your next boulder is built continuing to place defenses, because if you lose any time against your opponent, you will almost certainly lose. If you’re going to play, sure, have a little fun with the defenses, but don’t expect them to save you from your enemy’s boulder. Place them while you can, but as soon as your boulder is ready to go, launch it and get it to your opponent’s gate as quickly as possible.
There are two additional game modes in Rock of Ages. Time trials put you through each level with the goal of finishing quickly. SkeeBoulder is Skeeball, the pizza place classic, except with boulders. Unlike actual Skeeball, however, you can continue to control your boulder after you launch and land in the scoring area, meaning there’s no reason you should ever get anything less than the maximum score.
Rock of Ages is an experience. Yes, this experience has glaring flaws in how the game functions at its core, but it is an experience that still kept me entertained, and left me chuckling long after I had moved on to the next game. Surely that, and the hope that this title’s success will spawn similarly unique and entertaining downloadable games, is worth the 800MSP / $9.99 cost? I would argue that it is.
|Uniquely wonderful style for a game|
Humorous treatment of history and myth
|Strategy not necessary|
Overly sensitive defense placement controls