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Rock of Ages (Xbox 360) artwork

Rock of Ages (Xbox 360) review


"The persistent silliness is supplemented nicely by a unique mix of action and strategy elements. A given round begins with the human hero locked in a fortress on one side of the map while his antagonist is sequestered in a similar structure on the map’s opposite edge. Between those two points, on the high ground, there are two mines. Your followers feverishly work to fashion a large stone boulder that you will then guide as it rolls down the slope and toward your enemy’s fortress. You try to avoid taking damage so that you retain as much of your mass as possible and can break through your foe’s gate when you arrive."



I’m not sure that I’d ever played anything quite like Rock of Ages before this weekend. As my wife watched my struggling through one of the game’s late stages, she surprised me by commenting that it looked a lot like Marble Madness.

“I guess you could say that,” I agreed, pleasantly surprised that she even knew the name of Midway’s ode to a blue marble. My influence has clearly made her a better person.

Rock of Ages (XLA) asset


I was too busy rolling toward my computer opponent’s fortress to explain to my wife that while her comparison was fine as far as it went, it doesn’t really do Rock of Ages complete justice. Marble Madness never had a tower defense element, and it never had a sense of humor as twisted as what you’ll find in Ace Team’s latest release. I like to think that I would remember it if Midway let me squish the War Pope with a giant stone ball, and I’m positively convinced that I would have remembered it if he screamed like a little girl just before meeting his demise.

The frequently juvenile sense of humor is one of the first things that you’ll notice and possibly appreciate as you play Rock of Ages. I’m hesitant to elaborate too much because part of the fun comes from seeing what happens next. A broad plot synopsis is that you are a huge boulder known as the Rock of Ages and you are rolling around Europe. As you move from one destination to the next, time passes and you duel with new historic figures or occasionally defeat a boss monster. There’s very little proper dialog at all, aside from some subtle-as-a-fart references to “The Lord of the Rings” and “300.” A lot of the humor makes almost no sense at all, frankly, unless you are up on your historical figures. If that’s the case, then the awkwardly-animated character portraits are a hoot. There’s something about the classical music playing in the background that makes every fart and splat resonate more effectively. Playing the game is not entirely unlike watching an episode of “Robot Chicken.”

The persistent silliness is supplemented nicely by a unique mix of action and strategy elements. A given round begins with the human hero locked in a fortress on one side of the map while his antagonist is sequestered in a similar structure on the map’s opposite edge. Between those two points, on the high ground, there are two mines. Your followers feverishly work to fashion a large stone boulder that you will then guide as it rolls down the slope and toward your enemy’s fortress. You try to avoid taking damage so that you retain as much of your mass as possible and can break through your foe’s gate when you arrive. The effort will require a few hits--typically three, if you don’t suck and haven’t purchased upgrades--before you can finally obliterate the gate and squish the historical figure that waits just beyond it. Meanwhile, that pompous fool is trying to do the same thing to you!

Rock of Ages (XLA) asset


“You just lost again,” my wife commented when she heard the telltale raspberry that marks the pleasing conclusion to each battle. She was right despite not even watching the screen.

“It makes the fart sound whether you win or lose,” I noted sourly.

“Yes, but you lost.”

I wanted to tell her to go play Marble Madness or something, but instead I got better at the game and I began paying more attention to the moments between rolls. As you wait for your followers to fashion another stone, you are expected to make the approach to your fortress more difficult for your foe. At first, there are only a few stupid options, like wooden shacks and cows that make a pitiful attempt to steer incoming stones off-course. As you progress through the game, options expand until eventually you can create mines that generate revenue (the better to purchase new goodies between subsequent rounds), armored elephants, fans, barrels of dynamite and so forth.

That’s a neat little twist on what otherwise might be a straightforward game, but I was disappointed when I eventually realized that success in Rock of Ages has little to do with how well you place traps, at least in the single-player campaign. While it can be worth your while to place obstacles for your foe (if you get especially lucky over the course of three runs, you’ll knock away enough of him that he has to make a fourth run and you practically win by default), victory ultimately comes down to whoever is best at racing through each course. Traps along the paths do very little to slow down either contestant.

Rock of Ages (XLA) asset


Rock of Ages also disappoints with flaky controls and epic load times.

When I first started playing I was disgusted by how often my unresponsive boulder would merrily roll off the edge of a platform and to its doom at nearly every opportunity, despite otherwise moving sluggishly. I realize that the laws of physics and momentum explain some of that, but we’re talking about a game where a two-ton ball of stone can jump from a standstill, where fans can elsewhere blow it swiftly to the side even if it is barreling down a steep slope like a locomotive. Sometimes, the inconsistency and the sluggish controls are just a little bit too much. Then in tower defense mode, the sluggishness evaporates. Cursor movement is so touchy that it’s almost impossible to make minor adjustments and position two items right next to one another on the grids that allow for trap deployment.

By the end of the game, though, I had grown accustomed to the control quirks and I was able to reserve nearly all of my ire for the load times. You have to wait at least 30 seconds between each attempt at a battle, whether you decide to “retry” partway through a stage or wait until completely failing one. There’s no way of shortening the delay, even though the entire game occupies less than 600MB on your hard drive. It’s really a pity.

Rock of Ages (XLA) asset


Don’t let such complaints discourage you from trying the game if you’re interested in its concept, though. Rock of Ages plays wonderfully much of the time and represents a great value despite its odd quirks. Perhaps the best part is that, in addition to the unique single-player campaign and a time trial mode that lets you practice each stage, the developers also included the option to challenge a friend to either local (bravo!) or online battles and SkeeBoulder events. With gameplay this fresh and interesting, I can easily imagine myself wasting countless hours squishing all of my online friends with my own personal Rock of Ages. I bet they’ll scream like little girls.

Rating: 8/10

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (August 27, 2011)

Jason Venter founded HonestGamers in 1998, and since then has written hundreds of reviews as the site's editor-in-chief. He also is a prolific freelancer with game reviews, articles and fiction available around the Internet.

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fleinn posted August 29, 2011:

:) nice review.

.."classical music" -- is it still Mozart's Requiem, like in the trailer? I mean.. crushing things down the hill to "Dies Irae" seems like pure win to me.

..one thing, though. At one side, you're complaining about the traps not working. And on the other you're saying all that matters is your skill at completing the obstacle course. Is the problem that the AI is too good, or something like that? ...Or was that something that changed as well once you got better at the game, like you say..?
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honestgamer posted August 29, 2011:

The traps don't ever really make a huge difference, no matter where you place them. I filled choke points with traps (most of the course is open enough that there are too many routes to effectively cover) and still it had very little impact on the enemy... and his traps had little impact on me. It's a neat gimmick but, as my review notes, success mostly comes to whoever is best at getting through the course. That's sort of a duh and the traps were always meant to serve as a stalling tactic only, but they're not as effective here as the traps in say... Marble Madness.
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threetimes posted August 31, 2011:

I've been following this game for ages... Still no release for EU, but at least it's going to come to the PS3.

I adored the music, the design and historical locations, and the paper cutout characters of the demos. Kind of felt that you underplayed the sheer exuberance and originality of all that. The review has a higher score than the criticisms indicated you'd give it. But I'm relieved to know that the controls/loading times etc don't detract too much from the experience.

One issue for me: the personal stuff about your wife's comments in the intro and later in the review, and then ending with the comment about screaming like little girls struck me as a bit off. As if you were hinting at something about female reactions although I doubt that was your intention. Maybe I was expecting some kind of finishing comment from your wife which is why the final sentence seemed odd.


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honestgamer posted August 31, 2011:

Yeah, I really don't look at a game and think "How are girls likely to receive this?" I think "How are gamers likely to receive this?" and there's not really a division in my mind. That's probably how it'll continue to be unless a game calls particular attention to something that prompts me to view it differently. I don't figure trying to channel my inner girl is going to make a review that's more helpful to any audience...
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sashanan posted August 31, 2011:

Marble Madness...apt comparison, that instantly gives me an idea of how this game - if you'll pardon the pun - rolls. I had flagged it more as a sort of Katamari Damacy at first.
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wolfqueen001 posted September 01, 2011:

I've never played Marble Madness, so the comparison's a bit lost on me. In any case, that doesn't hurt the review any; I'm just saying.

Anyway, I thought this was a pretty good review. I didn't have as much of an issue with score disparity as OD did. I estimated the tone of the review around more of a 7, but I think that has more to do with all the criticism coming near the end, where it's kind of just left hanging over us, and a relatively positive concluding paragraph isn't really enough to overshadow all of it. Still, I think you did a good job making much of that criticism sound like it doesn't matter that much (particularly the controls), and the positives you describe (like the humor, childish as it may be), sound like they make much of the game's appeal more than anything else.

If I had an Xbox, I'd probably check this out. It sound rather amusing, and I'm curious as to how exactly it makes fun of history, since, well, considering my background, I get a huge kick out of that sort of thing.

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