When you mention Atlus, you usually think of some quirky role-playing game or some project that reeks of “off the beaten path” quality, like Catherine. You wouldn’t really think of a Marble Madness-esque strategy game that dabbles in mythology. But that’s exactly what you get with Rock of Ages, a game that blissfully combines the elements of rolling destruction with strategic planning. It combines just the right balance of both to be something quite worthwhile – though its repetition won’t be for everyone.
Over the single player campaign, you’ll run across 23 stages, where you’re pitted against some characters from old-school mythology. You don't taking them on in plain combat. Instead, you're given control of a rolling boulder with a fancy design, whether it’s a smiling face imprinted onto a piece of rock or something fancier (like a mammoth ball – yep, a ball imprinted with mammoth designs). Your job is to outscore your opponent by causing as much destruction on the path as possible, while completing it in the fastest time. This means running through towers, jumping over gaps, dodging catapults, and avoiding large animals that can knock you off course.
The strategic element enters play when you’re asked to place objects in an opponent’s way during their turn. This can include placing catapults in the right position to fire, or preparing walls of towers to stand in their way. As the opponent rolls in real time, you prep for your turn. It’s a back and forth thing, a neat way of competing with others while using your brain to see what works best. You’re only given a certain amount of points for obstacles, so choose them wisely.
Though the gameplay doesn’t change over time, it is a refreshing, innovative style. It’s part destruction, part construction, and all fun.
If playing against the computer isn’t your speed, Rock of Ages also offers engaging multiplayer options where you can compete against a friend via online or split-screen. Playing against a friend usually works better, as no one has an advantage and you can see how each of your traps play out against one another. There’s also a cool SkeeBoulder mode, where you try to score points on a huge skeeball board made out of granite. It's easy to master, though, so you’ll probably spend more time on the main game instead.
Rock of Ages’ visual style is quite effective, with great 3-D graphics throughout each of the world locales you’re rolling through. There are also plenty of neat little touches like rampaging animals and townsfolk who squeal after you run over them. Sometimes slowdown enters the picture, but not often enough to make you, ahem, slow your roll. The sequences between races are equally inspired, taking a cue from the old Terry Gilliam-produced Monty Python shorts.
As for the music, it’s not bad. While we would’ve preferred a more epic soundtrack, it isn’t bad. The sound effects are pretty good too, especially the screaming of peasants and the sound your ball makes when you go rolling over the side. AHHHHHHH!
Though Rock of Ages isn’t quite strong enough to be up there with some of Atlus’ best (namely Catherine), it is a quirky little downloadable game that’s worth your time, especially if you’re in the mood for a 3D Marble Madness clone with some thought processing thrown in for good measure. If you’re looking for something a little different, Rock on.
[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]