Having just reviewed The Baconing, lamenting the lack of genuine comedy in today’s videogame market, it’s somewhat life affirming to come across a title like Rock of Ages. Not only is it a genuinely unique game, but the brand of comedy is subtle, unobtrusive and – importantly – funny. I was sceptical that a game that looked so basic could actually be truly enjoyable, but despite the fact that there are some rather fundamental flaws in the design, you’d be hard pushed to find anything as interesting or pleasant to play for your 800 points.
So, forgoing the narrative for the minute, the basic premise of the game is that you control a gigantic stone ball, with the aim of smashing down the doors of your opponent’s castle, and subsequently splatting them. Meanwhile, your opponent is doing exactly the same thing. Both of the routes to the respective castles are exactly the same, and so the challenge of the main game is not in beating the course, or getting through it in the quickest time, but beating your opponent to the punch. Battering your opponent’s door down usually requires more than one giant stone ball, so in between smashes, you get to place obstacles in the way of your opponent.
The inherent problem with this is that due to the very nature of the game, randomness accounts for too much of the gameplay. From a top-down perspective things seem to make sense – a tower here, dynamite here and a wind tower there. However, get down to ground level, and you realise that you’re over complicating the issue, and your defences are pitiful. Sure, this is an easy problem to resolve, once you get the hang of it, but then the game boils down to economics rather than skill, as regards defence, at least. This problem is mitigated somewhat the further you get into the game, as the defences get progressively more effective, but its never entirely removed. The only other problem comes in the form of the Xbox 360’s controller: laying defences would be significantly easier with a mouse than a D-pad.
But that’s it. That’s the only bad thing I can say about this game. Right from the start, as you’re introduced to the Rock of Ages (which actually turns out to be Sysiphus’ rock. You know, the one that he has to endlessly roll up a hill) the game endears itself to you and with both style and charm. At 800 points, I can’t even bemoan that there are only four game modes: story, multiplayer, time trial and skeet bowling.
The offensive part of the game, namely rolling down the hill, avoiding obstacles and trying to keep as much of your ball intact as possible is simple but exciting. Being up against a clock set by your own defensive skill is a nice feeling and sets a balance of emphasis rarely seen in this kind of dual-genre title. There are three objectives here. Firstly to get to the enemy’s castle as quickly as possible, secondly to take as little damage as possible and thirdly to make as much money – by smashing up the opponent’s land and obstacles – as possible. There are a number of power ups you can buy to give you an advantage here, but these must be weighed against the cost of your defence.
From a defensive point of view, the main objective is to halt the progress of your enemy’s ball. This can be done by placing towers and obstacles in designated spots. It’s a little more focussed than the offensive section, and a stalwart army of elephants, towers and projectile throwers can see the opposing ball thoroughly frustrated. As I said, it’s best not to over think this element of the game because the best form of defence seems to be a single, immovable wall of blockages. Once your obstacles have been destroyed, that land cannot be used again, so there is an element of conservation present as well.
One of the most charming elements of the game comes in the form of the cutscenes, which enact moments in history, right the way from Greek mythology, in paper puppet form. It’s cute, amusing and coherent with the style of the rest of the game. It steps it up a notch when things go a little leftfield and great historical figures and events are irreverently mocked, lending a real freshness to the game.
There are a couple of boss battles during the story mode, but I’m not entirely sure how I feel about them. While they are a nice break from the main game, they’re not particularly imaginative. Still, they’re not overly frustrating in themselves, so can’t really be berated for their presence.
It’s nigh on impossible to dislike Rock of Ages. The charm alone makes it worthy of playing, but when you tack on a solid, enjoyable, multi-faceted game, you have something that’s every bit a great value purchase. The only reason this doesn’t receive a 9/10, in line with the PC version we reviewed, is that playing defence is that much harder with a controller than with a mouse. Still, an excellent purchase that will rock your world.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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