Super Monkey Ball meets Monty Python…?
I want some of whatever ACE TEAM were smoking during the planning phase of this game. Seriously. ‘Rock of Ages II: Bigger and Boulder’ is perhaps the most incredibly weird game I’ve played in years, and I loved Every. Second. Of. it.
It starts with the presentation; ‘Rock of Ages II’ tells the story through a charming series of puppet-show like animations which use classical paintings as puppets- something that immediately struck me the same way my childhood love of ‘Monty Python’s flying circus’ did. From the moment, the tutorial pitted me against an animated painting of Richard the Lionheart (Who screamed like a little girl when I defeated him), I was completely hooked.
And it turns out that was only the beginning- what followed was an Odyssey across Europe and Africa that saw me facing a mixture of Historical, Mythological, and just plain ridiculous characters – Such opponents as Don Quixote, William Wallace, and, erm, a Giraffe that was on fire. Seriously.
All of these characters come with their own introductory cutscene, which were filled to the absolute brim with absurdist humour- it was just a jolly good time. One favourite boss fight of mine concerned a Battle against ‘the Thinker’. You know; that famous statue. This incarnation was about 50 feet tall- and was only vulnerable when aroused by young ladies dancing for him. I wish I was making this up.
But I haven’t even said anything about the ‘game’ part of this game yet. At its core, ‘Rock of ages’ is about rolling rocks down a hill. A simple premise, but a solid one. You roll rocks at the enemy castle, and in turn they roll rocks at yours. The one who rolls their rock best does more damage, until someone’s castle breaks open, and they lose.
But that’s just the half of it: see, the ‘Hills’ you roll your rock down aren’t really just hills, but rather miniature obstacle courses, with pits, ramps, and towers. Yep, that’s right. Towers. ‘Rock of ages II’ is also a tower defence game- between rolls of your rock, you have time to place different obstacles for your opponent to navigate past, ranging from a bog-standard wall to a giant Bull which charges at the opposing rock to smash them off course.
I found that using these towers effectively was the more satisfying part of the game- my favourite moment came when I managed to trap the AI in a seemingly infinite loop by using a set of windmills to blow them into range of a giant cannon, which would then blast them off the course.
That’s not to say that the towers are ever impossible to pass – On the contrary, I found that figuring out the best way past some carefully placed obstacles – A split-second decision given how you’re often hurtling past them a breakneck speed- was equally as enjoyable as watching your opponent fail to do it.
The tutorial of this game would have you believe that this game is about momentum – Hurtling down the course at the highest possible stage for maximum effectiveness- but in some stages, it feels more akin to a fast-paced platform game, A la classic Sonic the Hedgehog, if sonic was a 20-tonne lump of steel. See, you don’t ‘Throw’ the rock, you control it directly, rolling around, jumping, and making use of special abilities, which change depending which rock you choose. My personal favourite was a cube, which you can imagine didn’t roll so well, but the fun of the extra challenge (And bonus damage) was worth it.
The design of each individual course feeds a lot into this feel- for example, one stage set atop the volcanic eruption of Pompeii zigged and zagged back and forth, allowing one to cleverly jump down the hill of you time your jumps just right. When other courses implemented shortcuts, windmills, and water features, I realised that what I was actually playing was the world’s strangest game of Crazy Golf. Each course has its own special charms and appeals, and they are broken up with occasional Boss fights, Time-Trial sections where you don’t have to worry about the whole ‘Tower defence’ thing, and a truly spectacular final level which I won’t spoil.
And you know what? As crazy, different, and downright nonsensical as that all sounds, it works. It works so very well. The zany humour, the charming visuals design, and the light-hearted fun of the gameplay all combine to form something truly charming an unique. This truly is what would happen if you tried to make a video game adaptation of a Monty Python sketch (And if you’re some kind of humourless cretin, don’t worry the game holds up on its own).
My only criticism is with the ease the game develops towards the end- there’s no real difficulty spike, but then if this starts to bother you, you can change the difficulty between stages (I myself stuck to regular difficulty the whole time through.)
At £15.00, this is a game well worth your time if you plan on having some friends round for an afternoon – Combine with a few drinks and an extra-large pizza and you’ve got yourself a perfectly chilled-out Friday night game. Highly recommended. Rock of Ages 2 gets an 8 / 10 from me.
‘Rock of ages II: Bigger and Boulder’ Launches on the 28th August 2017 for PS4 and Windows, and a day later on Xbox One.