Nobody could ever accuse ACE Team of producing a game that could be described as ordinary. Their previous release, Zeno Clash, felt like a 1970’s sci-fi film experiment re-purposed into a first person brawler and their latest release, Rock of Ages, maintains their esoteric eye for the absurd.
Best described as an amalgamation of the rolling mechanics of the original Super Monkey Ball, with a dash of tower defence and a sprinkling of platforming, Rock of Ages starts its journey at the dawn of enlightenment and proceeds to roll its way through different time periods spanning the titular Ages.
Each stage starts the player off with a finite amount of money with which to purchase defensive and offensive units to help protect their castle, while simultaneously looking to break through the defences of their opponents with a gigantic ball made of rock. Each unit is upgraded through progression, and the temptation is for the player is to spend all their initial money on defence. However the ability to turn their rock into a fiery globe of death or reinforce it with spikes means a certain amount of restraint must be shown when it comes to retaining wealth for offense tactics. Thankfully smashing anything belonging to your opponents garners additional monies to supplement the existing stockpile of moolah.
Controlling the rock is as simple as moving the left analogue stick from left to right to achieve as much speed as possible, so when the final straight is being negotiated the maximum amount of damage will be caused. As the stages become more varied in their terrain and layout, the jump ability starts to come into its own. Those of a certain age and experience will certainly find themselves longing for the octagonal gate of the Gamecube controller, as they feel that absurd urge to emulate past glories of playing the original Super Monkey Ball.
The look of ACE Team’s games has always been one of their strong suits and Rock of Ages is no different. The influence of Terry Gilliam is there for everyone to see, even down to a giant hand reaching down to gather up the rock if it rolls off the game environment, before placing it back onto the arena. The various historical figures encountered are accompanied by a short cinematic which are genuinely funny with some proper laugh out loud moments – the one for the Plague is pure comedy gold, provoking laughter at the gentle pathos involved, with only a sad trombone sound missing to make it perfect.
The game itself, while a lot of fun, feels wanting in direction and scope once the initial flurry of humour and adjustment to the premise has taken place. Initially it can be confusing to actually locate what direction to roll the rock down the hill, while placing units is done in real time, meaning any form of strategy soon becomes a case of the player hurriedly throwing down their strongest towers with a few exploding barrels on the very last straight towards their castle, as they literally race their opponents to smash down their doors before they’re beaten to the punch.
And while there is the ability to face off against people in both online and offline play, many might not find themselves drawn back to Rock of Ages once finished, apart from obsessively collecting the missing keys that are dotted around each level.
Rock of Ages is a superb premise for a game that never quite reaches the heights it reaches for. What carries it through is the superb sense of humour and the excellent, unique art style. Don’t be mistaken, it’s by no means a bad game, more one that needs to be approached with an open mindset to get the most out of it.