Rolling straight out of Atlus comes Rock of Ages, a charming game where you play as Sisyphus, the doomed king whose personal hell involves pushing a boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down upon reaching the top. One day, Sisyphus decides that he has had enough of his torture and uses the boulder to escape from Hades. Soon after his escape he rolls his rock across time and space, taking on some of history’s most infamous conquerors and generals, and it is up to you to make sure that Sisyphus is victorious against all of his foes.
The gameplay is a fun mix of tower defense and action platforming. In Rock of Ages you control the boulder of Sisyphus, and you must guide that boulder down a set path. It is up to you and your opponent to set up defenses against each other, to try and prevent your opponent’s boulder from reaching your castle gates at the bottom of the path. As you progress through the story mode you will gain access to more and more items which can be used to defend your gates. At the start of each round, you will use coins to place your defenses on the map. Once a period of time has passed, you will gain control of the boulder and then it is time to start navigating the maze and dealing with the defenses that your opponent has placed. While you are navigating the level you can aim for a number of targets which give you more coins to beef up your defenses in the next round. Once you get to the end of the level you land a hit on your opponent’s castle, and it takes about three strikes against their castle gate to win the match.
Rock of Ages is an intriguing game. It manages to mix two different styles of gameplay, and together they make up a game that is fun to play, but only for a while. The balance between a tower defense game and a platformer just isn’t right. The game can’t decide what kind of game it wants to be, and as such ends up not doing either genre justice. In this game you are given the ability to jump, which gives you more control over your boulder. Although this comes across as a good thing, you can very easily jump over anything your opponent places in your way, and in turn, the mechanic also negates any defenses you place, taking away from the gameplay. If you don’t want to jump over everything in your path then you can destroy it rather easily by just crashing into the object, and even expensive defenses go down without much of a fight. Between these two issues, the castle defense game becomes rather limited in scope, and almost becomes a racing game. The boulder you control is not very responsive, and the stiff controls really prevent this game from excelling in any one genre, so the game is left in limbo. The other issues lie within the multiplayer modes. Most of these modes require some form of racing, and since the boulders don’t handle well, this becomes more cumbersome than fun. These modes tend to exaggerate the issues with the game rather than downplay them, and that is a shame.
However, Rock of Ages does a lot of things rather well, and all is not lost to the balancing issues mentioned above. The art style, reminiscent of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, is excellent, and adds a whimsical feel to the game while giving it a new and interesting look. This game is also full of pop culture references and little quips and side-jokes that give it a ton of personality. It is also a lot of fun in the beginning, when the gameplay elements are new and different. This game is unique, and if you happen to be looking for something left-of-center, it may fill that void. It is certainly worth playing for the humor alone, as there are many laugh-out-loud moments while progressing through the story. The boss battles, though a touch on the easy side, still break up the gameplay and serve as a reprieve from the relatively repetitive single-player levels.
All in all, Rock of Ages contains a number of issues that bring the game down to a middle-of-the-road position. The balancing issues really hurt the playability and fun after the first few levels. In its current state, it is difficult to recommend this game at the full retail price. If the balancing issues were addressed then we would give the game a much stronger recommendation, but at the moment it has a lot of potential that ultimately falls short. Keep your eyes open for updates concerning this game, as it could easily turn into a great one.
This review is based off a review copy of the Xbox 360 version of Rock of Ages provided by Atlus