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Rock of Ages II: Bigger and Boulder (PlayStation 4) artwork

Rock of Ages II: Bigger and Boulder (PlayStation 4) review

"Familiar issues prevent Rock of Ages II from living up to its name, but it's still a worthwhile experience."

Rock of Ages II: Bigger & Boulder is a sequel I waited a long time to play. Its predecessor came out in 2011 on Xbox 360 and PS3, and I liked it a lot. I assumed the follow-up would live up to its name while maybe smoothing out the rough edges that prevented the original from reaching true greatness. Sadly, I was mostly wrong about that.

Once again, the point of the game is to tour various locations made famous throughout history, which means you mostly just see a lot of Europe. The story campaign presents a silly explanation that casts you as Atlas. You run into various figures from high school textbooks, fictional and otherwise. They do sometimes hilarious and sometimes frightening things (Vincent van Gogh is particularly unsettling). Then you try to squish them with a giant ball of marble, but not before they have the chance to let loose a blood-curdling shriek.

Each location you visit consists of a (usually winding) pathway with castles positioned on either end. You start by rolling forward down a slope, trying to navigate basic hazards like hairpin turns that cause you to drop off the map if you approach them too quickly. You take damage as you brush against obstacles along the way, and you need to reach your destination while retaining most of your mass. Then you can make like a battering ram and try to beat down the castle door. The enemy's base has a health meter of sorts, and you either win by finally destroying a surprisingly stout door or you lose because you let the opponent break through your own entryway.

Rock of Ages II: Bigger and Boulder (PlayStation 4) image

After that first roll, however it ends, there is a delay before you can roll again. At this point, you should deploy defensive units, such as cows that attach to the enemy ball so it has a harder time rolling, or launchers that pelt it with arrows, or any of a bunch of other treats you unlock as you advance through the campaign and clear additional maps. You are limited by available gold coins and real estate, and what I found is that I often ran out of funds rather quickly even when I built mines to generate additional revenue. Then I had to wait while my villagers finished fashioning a new ball for me to roll. That could sometimes get tedious, to an extent I don't remember being true in the original Rock of Ages.

The problem with these strategy sections--again--is that they don't accomplish much. It's difficult to put together a series of obstacles to properly challenge your AI opponent, even on the lowest difficulty setting, at least until well into the campaign when you can produce some critters that charge like rams. Those can be helpful, especially on some maps, but otherwise the AI is all too capable of easily weaving through any obstructions. To be fair, you can usually do the same thing, particularly if you don't hurry too much. I still like the idea of tower defense married with rolling action, but I'm not enamored with the developers' continued failure to truly capitalize on their winning concept.

As you advance through the campaign, you also unlock extra ball types. These have nice abilities. My favorite hunk of rock can double jump, which is tremendously useful. Another one produces an explosion when it collides with a castle wall, but the down side is that it is extremely susceptible to damage along the way and may even blow to bits if it strikes against a single pile of explosives your foe may have placed. Most of the options also introduce various control quirks, which don't do you any favors when you consider that the ball already controls horribly... much as it did in the last game.

Rock of Ages II: Bigger and Boulder (PlayStation 4) image

Nearly every complaint I had about the previous game applies to its sequel, actually. Each flaw feels a little bit worse, though, thanks to the knowledge that a little bit of tweaking would surely have made things so much more enjoyable. "Missed opportunity" is written all over the place, which I admit is an odd thing to say given the praise I heaped on the original game. But it's not just that. Some elements seem to have gotten worse. One of the boss battles this time around is especially tedious, since you have to move your marble around towers and use springboards to reach high ground in order to quickly smash your adversary in the head. The developers require some pretty solid timing on your part, which suggests they don't realize how awfully the ball controls. Maybe they haven't played enough of their own game.

At least the load times have improved. I griped about those a lot when I reviewed Rock of Ages, and I'm happy to report that I didn't even really notice them this time. Matches load quickly from the main menu, whether you play locally or head online. I'm not sure if superior processing power is to blame, or better coding, but either way I'm happy.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a lot of opponents online. I waited until after the game's release to try most of that stuff, and by the end of launch day, I was still able to place near the top of several ridiculously short leaderboards. I did manage to find one opponent online during prime gaming hours, but we waited for more players in his lobby and he finally kicked me with nary a sighting of any other players. The servers were a ghost town. Given the sorry state of affairs at launch, I don't hold out much hope of an active community developing a few months or years from now, though I'd love to be proven wrong.

Rock of Ages II: Bigger and Boulder (PlayStation 4) image

You have the option to play with up to three other people in Rock of Ages II, but that's only online. Locally, you can share the screen with a single human rival, or you can keep the viewing area to yourself and go against the AI when it's appropriate for the mode. There are a few diversions available. In one mode, you simply race one another through a course three times, each time facing greater resistance. In another, you zip through a course devoid of any extra obstacles, trying for the best possible time. And of course, you can always pick a fight with a friend and try to crush his or her general.

I liked Rock of Ages for its clever sense of humor and unique design, and I like Rock of Ages II: Bigger & Boulder for mostly the same reasons. I just don't like it quite as much, because it suffers from issues that ought to have been resolved by now. The whole affair is a little bit rougher than I would expect from such a derivative sequel, even though the game is slightly more ambitious than its predecessor in some ways. Maybe I'm just pickier nowadays, or maybe the game genuinely needed more time in development. Either way, I can't help but feel that "bigger and boulder" is a misnomer. It's a worthy pun, though, so that has to count for something.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (August 28, 2017)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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hastypixels posted August 30, 2017:

" should defensive units"

Whoops. :)
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honestgamer posted August 30, 2017:

Thanks for catching that. Editing one's own work is the hardest editing a person can do, in some respects, and I'm not always a complete success. ;-)

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