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Rock of Ages II: Review

Rock of Ages II: Review
4.5
Game Name: Rock of Ages II: Bigger & Boulder
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Publisher(s): Atlus
Developer(s): ACE Team
Genre(s): Tower defense, racing
Release Date: August 28, 2017
ESRB Rating: E10+ (Fantasy Violence)

Imagine Monty PythonSuper Monkey Ball, and the tower defense genre all having lunch at the bottom of a hill, discussing history and classical art. It’s a heated argument, debating the nuances of Van Gogh, the meaning of “The Scream,” and who would win in a fight between Henry VIII and William Wallace. Joan of Arc, Starry Night, Medusa, and even God himself join the fray, and there’s even an appearance by that one melting clocks picture. Then an enormous boulder flattens the delightful daytime picnic, and the resulting pancake is Rock of Ages 2.

If this smorgasbord of references isn’t enough to paint you a picture worthy of being referenced in a future Rock of Ages game, let me give open up a history book to talk about Rock of Ages. You play as a sentient boulder attempting to get to the end of a level, eventually destroying the door to a castle containing your opponent—most often a historical figure—upon which you squish them. Your opponent is attempting to do the same to you, and in between boulders, you’ll need to reinforce your defenses using various units that can damage or slow the enemy boulder down, mitigating as much damage to your own door as possible.

If this smorgasbord of references isn’t enough to paint you a picture worthy of being referenced in a future Rock of Ages game, let’s Open up a history book to talk about Rock of Ages. You play as a sentient boulder attempting to get to the end of a level, eventually destroying the door to a castle containing your opponent—most often a historical figure—upon which you squish them. Your opponent is attempting to do the same to you, and in between boulders, you’ll need to reinforce your defenses using various units that can damage or slow the enemy boulder down, mitigating as much damage to your own door as possible.

Historic and mythological figures have always fallen within the path of the boulder, but Rock of Ages 2 adds art history to its lineup, creating unique courses based on the likes of Van Gogh, “Starry Night,” and Greek pottery. These references fit right into the Monty Python style of humor and animation that precede each level, introducing the foe you are about to face off against.

  • Van Gogh as a spider-like, paint-puking horror.
  • Baba Yaga’s chicken-legged house wandering through the town shown in “Starry Night.”
  • Making that guy in “The Scream” mad by ruining his day at the beach.

Each bit has a hilarious panache and doesn’t feel out of style from the rest of the game, as the same two-dimensional animation bleeds into the levels themselves.

The levels aren’t completely Monty Python,though. Each one is stylized after the art or period its based upon. Facing off against Baba Yaga is like rolling a boulder through the middle of “Starry Night.” Going toe-to-toe with Van Gogh is like playing inside one of his paintings. Taking on “The Scream” is fairly self-explanatory at this point. Each one is a series of twists, turns, jumps and obstacles, and that’s all before your opponent starts laying down walls, fields of cows, catapults, and whales. There are a variety of units that can slow your roll, a mixture of absurd and practical. This is a theme that permeates every bit of Rock of Ages 2.

Battles can get quite intense. More than a few times, after spending a solid chunk of time on a level, I found myself in a situation where the winner was decided by mere milliseconds. We’d both have battered down the castle door, and it was just in being a fraction of a second quicker in rolling over the lord that I was able to secure victory. The whole time I was rolling my boulder down in this decider attack, neck and neck with my opponent, I was keenly aware that a single mistake will cost me the level, because having my boulder roll off the level even once would cost me time, and if my defences weren’t enough to knock my opponent’s boulder out a couple of times, they’d have the edge on me. For such a jovial game, its ability to make my hands sweat is really quite impressive.

In addition to an expanded single player game, complete with a world map to explore, there’s also expanded multiplayer, including 2 vs 2 matches, which can get very hectic indeed. It’s a pity that the general sense of humour around Rock of Ages 2 will lead many to dismiss it as unworthy of serious competitive play, because the balance and depth of strategy in placing those towers around makes for a surprisingly complex game. This is true of simply playing against the AI, too, which will utterly ruin you it you don’t develop a solid tactical understanding of how to design defences.

It’s also worth noting on a technical level that the game’s been built in Unreal Engine 4, as opposed to Unreal Engine 3 that was used for the predecessor. You won’t necessarily notice it on an overt level, because the cut scenes are drawn very simply, and in motion the game’s far too quick to really take in what’s going on around you, but in practical terms it does mean that ACE Team has been able to substantially improve the physics and flow of the game, and subtle as that is, when you’re guiding a giant boulder down a mountain, precise and reliable physics are critical. Rock of Ages 2 might be aiming to get a laugh out of you, but underneath that it wants to challenge and reward you with a solid game, too.

I love ACE Team, and I love what the team suggests about the future of South American game development as it continues to grow. Quirky and creative, and so very funny, Rock of Ages 2 is unlike many “comedy” games in that it backs the humour up with quality gameplay, very worthy of respect.

Obstacles of Ages

The fields of cows stick to the boulder, making it difficult to roll. Windmills blow the boulder off course. Whales suck the boulder in and spit it back in the opposite direction. Lions attached to balloons anchor the boulder if they can dig their claws in. Knowing what to place and where to place it to make the most impact takes experience. The first time I played each level, I was randomly placing walls, springboards, and turrets wherever I damn well pleased, even though they ended up having little effect. It wasn’t until I had traps used against me that I learned how best to utilize them and where best to place them. Watching the enemy boulder make its way through the level can also show weak points in your defenses.

As you make your way towards the castle gate, you’ll have to choose whether to play evasively or offensively. Avoiding the enemy’s traps is an effective way to maintain speed and integrity of the boulder, maximizing damage to the gate at the end. Slamming into traps will destroy them, making future runs easier and granting gold so that you can make more obstacles of your own, but increases the chance of damaging your boulder before the end. Rock of Ages 2 features a large selection of boulders with special abilities that can change your play style. The fire boulder increases damage. The sand boulder doesn’t get knocked back as easily. There’s even an angel boulder that can double jump. Though I found it fun to mix it up, there were two or three of the 12+ rocks that I always stuck with to ensure I was quickly doing the most damage I could.

This versus mode is called War, and it joins a variety of other modes in Rock of Ages 2. Obstacle Course is a race between boulders, seeing who can avoid the pre-placed obstacles and get to the end first, and Time Trials are a no-obstacle dash for the finish line. Each of these add a sense of variety and replayability to each of the levels. The campaign even has a couple of bosses that change up gameplay style a little bit, though I was disappointed that the showoffs against the likes of “The Thinker,” the Sphinx, and even God himself are pretty lackluster and simple. These feel more like tacked on additions than grand culminations. The final boss is rife with frustrating physics that make it far more effective just to wait out the four minute timer yourself and score a single point just before it runs out to win.

Rock of Ages 2: Bigger & Boulder is smart, funny, and quirky in all the best ways. It was a big surprise to get a sequel to the 2011 XBLA game, but I’m happy it did. Although I wish more effort would have been put into making the boss battles feel climactic and challenging, rather than tacked-on additions, the meat of the experience is an exciting and stylish tower defense game with a unique premise. I can’t name another game that lets you squish the likes of Van Gogh , Henry VIII, and Medusa with a boulder that’s rolled through numerous famous works of art. Allowing for four people to get in on the Monty Python-styled action both locally and online is just the feather in the cap of Atlas’ adventure as he flees from God.

Ultimately, there may not be all that much that’s genuinely new about Rock of Ages 2, but the sheer solidity of what’s on offer here affirms that ACE Team have hewn themselves a sequel that nobody asked for, yet will find handily enjoyable anyway.

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