Rock of Ages
Rock of Ages is one of those games that can’t be placed squarely into a single genre. It isn’t quite the sort of pick-up-and-play casual type of game that you’d find on a smart phone, but neither is it any sort of advanced strategy game that will take you into all hours of the morning. It’s a little bit of miniature golf, a little bit of tower defense, some pinball and a dash of skeeball, of all things.
The main game puts players into a giant boulder’s shoes. No that they wear shoes. Controlling the boulder is a simple press of the analog stick, occasionally hitting a button to jump over obstacles as you direct the movie cliche down a hill filled with cows, towers, catapults and wooly mammoths. The goal at the end being an enemy gate to smash through, taking its “boss” along with it. Each level’s boss being a prominent (mostly) historical figure.
It usually takes multiple boulders to get through, so between rolls and while another boulder is being carved by your dutiful army, you’ll need to set up obstacles of your own to prevent your opponent’s rock from reaching your gate for as long as possible. As mentioned before, you’ll have towers, cows, catapults and their upgradeable forms among others with which to slow your enemies’ progress. As your own rock rolls through enemy obstacles, you earn the cash to purchase obstacle upgrades and more powerful rocks, like a steel reinforced or fireball rock. The balance is in choosing when to crash and when to avoid. Every hit you make chips away at your rock. Lose your rock before hitting your target and you lose precious time needed to beat your opponent.
Like most tower defense style games, learning the basics can be quick and painless, but solidifying a good strategy can often be a daunting trial and error process where Rock of Ages is no different. Despite each stage only lasting 5 to 6 minutes and having multiple pathways to discover, the 23 levels have a way of blending into each other and the computer opponent has a way of being uncannily lucky when traversing whatever maze you’ve laid down for it.
Other modes include a skeeball-like game where you earn points by smashing through targets on your way to a ramp and a typical skeeball set of rings, multiplying the score you’ve received. Part of the challenge would be to hit through as many targets on your way down, finding the highest scoring route, but you’re able to turn rock around and pick off anything you’ve missed. Additionally, once you’ve reached the ramp you have a fairly decent amount of mid-air control, so high scores are easy to come by.
What I found more entertaining was a visual and audio style strikingly similar to a typical Monty Python episode. Silly paper cut-out style animation and goofy sound effects paired with a similar sense of humor, both during cut scenes and actual gameplay. I found myself chuckling and motivated to reach the next level just to see the next animated sequence.
Rock of Ages is a mildly entertaining distraction. The controls feel mushy at times and the single player challenge comes off as unbalanced, but for 800 Microsoft points, it’s hard not to recommend it. If you can get a friend to go head to head with, even in split screen, its value increases, otherwise you’ll probably blow through most of the game in a weekend. If the mood strikes, pick up the Pet Boulder for your avatar while you’re at it. It’s sure to start a conversation or two.