Game Review: Rock of Ages 2: Bigger & Boulder

Time to rock your world…

Atlus, the Japanese publisher/developer better known for its popular Persona series, brings us the sequel to what many, including myself, consider to be one of the most criminally hidden gems of the previous gaming generation; Rock of Ages 2: Bigger and Boulder. A game about classical art, childish slapstick humour, real-time strategy and smashing things with giant rocks.

If that sounded like utter insanity to you – that’s probably because it is. Never fear though, despite its frankly lunatic premise, this is an engaging, brutally challenging, deeply strategic and outright hilarious game that builds on its predecessor in almost every way. Developer ACE Team from Chile, have delivered yet again.

The basic premise of the game is this:

You and your opponent face off simultaneously in real time, on a symmetrical downhill obstacle course. The starting position at the top, and the enemies castle at the bottom. You begin by waiting for your rock to be carved from a block of stone. During this time you observe the world from a top-down perspective and must place various obstructions along the path of your foe in an attempt to damage their boulder, slow it down and otherwise hinder them in the completion of their objective. Meanwhile, your foe is doing the same to you.

Then, once you are ready to rock and roll, you quite literally begin rolling your rock down the obstacle course. Navigating around or smashing though (quite spectacularly I might add, due to the awesome physics implemented in the Unreal 4 engine) the obstacles placed in your path, with the goal of reaching the enemy’s castle with as much speed as possible and smashing into their gate.

Each gate has a particular amount of health, and the damage you deal to them is based on your speed, rock type, and various other factors.

This leads to a frantic race to be the first to bash down the opponents front door, where you alternate between placing and replacing obstructions and rolling down the hill avoiding the ones placed to stop you. Finally culminating in the destruction of your enemy’s gate, which reveals your foe (typically a famous historical figure) – whereupon you squish them.

Rock solid humour

The unique gameplay alone is enough to make this a game worth playing, but what really sells the entire package is the fact that this game is honest to god, “laugh out loud” funny.

The game takes place in a fantasy world based on classical works of art that have come to life. Animated in a crude cardboard cutout style reminiscent of Monty Python and South Park, ACE Team have taken the history behind the paintings and their artists and used them to craft absurdist cutscenes where anything can happen. Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” is revealed to be caused by a superglue accident. Van Gogh is a paint puking spider-monster that pulls off his ear to use echolocation. Adam and Eve are re-interpreted as a Pokemon battle against the “Temptation Snake”. The in-game soundtrack is scored to famous classical works and offset with Monty Python and Benny Hill style sound effects. All these scenarios sound childish, and they are, but they will have you rolling on the floor laughing at something so serious being presented so stupidly.

“How can something so intelligent be so darn stupid?”

The game is largely unchanged from the original Rock of Ages – It is simply, as the title states, “Bigger and Boulder”.

The graphics are improved, as are the destruction/rock physics. Controls are tightened, there is more interesting types of units and blockades to place and a better structure to the campaign, which now takes place on a world map styled after Europe. Each level on the world map translates roughly in location to where the painter is from. Want to battle the Scream? Head up to Norway. Want to take on Baba Yaga? Head down to the Ukraine.

The obstacles you can place are as varied as they are ridiculous. Sticky cows stick to the boulder, making it difficult to roll. Springboards fling the boulder in a predetermined direction. Windmills blow the boulder off course. Giant War Elephants block the Boulder. Lions tied to floating balloons will anchor the boulder (because of course they do). Knowing what to put and where requires experience and knowledge of the map. Winning a map on your first try is often difficult, if not impossible. The first time you play a level you will probably, like me, place traps, walls and magical whales in any old place that looks good – Often to find that the enemy rolled right past them without any effect. It was not until I rolled through the level myself and had the traps used against me, that I was able to place them effectively.  In fact,  taking the time to watch your foe roll through the course can seem dangerous as it cuts into your valuable time, but it can also be the key to victory against a particularly fiendish opponent.

Balls of Steel… or Sand?…

As roll your way down the course, you’ll have to choose whether to play evasively or offensively. Trying to avoid the enemy’s traps is an effective way to maintain speed and health of the boulder, which will maximize damage to the gate at the end. Obliterating walls and traps will destroy them, which is not only fun, but it makes subsequent runs easier as you can not rebuild on destroyed obstacles. This also grants you bonus gold, allowing you to make more obstacles of your own. The caveat being this increases the chance of destroying your boulder before the end. There is also a large selection of boulders, each with its own quirk. The Prehistoric Wheel is a giant doughnut. It is hard to handle but can reach the highest speeds. The Tar boulder splats upon impact and prevents the building of obstacles on the mess. The Bomb can do the most damage, but strike its flint against the ground too often and it explodes.

Or for those of you seeking a real challenge, you could try the “Cube of Ages”. Those not able to Git Gud, need not apply.

Rock out with your boulder out

Rock of Ages 2’s biggest addition over its predecessor is multiplayer.

The game comes sporting 2 player split screen co-op for the entire campaign, a very welcome feature indeed, as well as adversarial mode and time trial races. These modes can be played online with up to 4 people, and in a 2v2 online game – the tactics inherent to the game’s design truly come into a realm of their own as you face off against a fiendish human opponent, whom you must trick and outsmart. Suddenly you find yourself hiding obstacles behind walls, placing windmills in blind spots, protecting your precious money generating banks and combining springboards with other traps to create combos.

Rock of Ages 2 is a fun, smart, quirky, deep and original title that will finally give you the experience of rolling giant boulders through classical paintings and wrecking up the joint, that you have always wanted. It can be enjoyed online and locally with friends and for the 19 dollar price point, the bang you get for your buck is Michael Bay huge.

A rocking good time. Highly recommended.

 

This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
It took about 10 hours to complete the campaign.
A copy was purchased at my own expense.
Gratuitous rock puns used in this review – 8.
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