Few developers have a body of work that demonstrates as much creativity as Santiago-based ACE Team. From surreal first-person fighter Zeno Clash, the integration of Chilean folklore and art nouveau into platformer Abyss Odyssey, to the B-movie camp that endowed The Deadly Tower of Monsters with distinction, the studio’s output packs more imagination into a single title than some publishers muster up across their lifespan. This ingenuity was also evident in Rock of Ages, a 2011 title that melded Monty Python-esque animation with mechanics that drew inspiration from both Super Money Ball as well as the tower defense genre. Woefully, it’s cleverness never quite garnered the following it deserved.
With the release of Rock of Ages II: Bigger & Boulder, ACE Team gives the giant rock another roll. Although there’s improvement to both visuals and gameplay, the sequel doesn’t veer wildly from the lumbering trajectory etched by its predecessor. That means that returning players might be disheartened by the shortage of novelty offered up by ACE Team. But players who managed to sidestep the PC and console title risk being bowled over by the quirky and often engaging effort.
Heading into Bigger & Boulder’s main campaign reveals both a madcap story as well as the bulk of the game’s single-player content. The first game centered on Sisyphus, the Greek king punished for craftiness, and sentenced to endlessly push an enormous boulder up a hill. This time out, Atlas gets the nod, and after misplacing the celestial globe, is tasked with directing boulders through the gates of castles- each helmed by a notable culled from history.
Preceding each stage are Rock of Ages’ Terry Gilliam-inspired cinematics, where paper cut-outs of notables like Richard the Lionheart, William Wallace, Joan of Arc, and even Edvard Munch’s The Scream challenge Atlas. Although there’s an element of slapstick, Bigger & Boulder’s comedy hinges on having passing attention during your humanities coursework. Essentially, it’s low brow humor dependent on high-brow context. Although utilized in the first Rock of Ages, it still feels fresh here.
Fortunately, any understanding of Western civilizations isn’t a prerequisite for enjoyment once the big rocks begin careening downhill. Here, players will find stages formed from symmetrical pathways, typically filled with an assortment of curves and turns. Play revolves around two activities: building defensive structures and guiding your giant stone orb down the obstruction-filled paths.
Utilizing an expanding toolset that includes everything from fortified walls, springboards, and even groups of explosive powder kegs and cows, players lay down their ensnarements from an overhead perspective. Pleasingly, there’s the possibility of synergy with tools. Slow down or even stop your opponent and other measures will spring to life, steadily damaging your boulder, and diminishing the impact it will have when it smashes against your rival’s doorway.
Success in Rock of Ages II stems from understanding the best ways to use your arsenal. Narrow passageways are perfect for the springboards that can send a rock hurting over the side of a course, inducing damage. Walls are also effective as a deterrent, potentially sending foes down the trap-filled region after a fork. Like many tower defense games experimentation reveals the most effective strategies, as you learn to maximize the impact of your defenses and the best ways to spend your income.
As players are construct their fortifications and snares, a team of workers is building your next boulder. Once they’ve completed their task, a fanfare sounds, indicating the colossal sphere is ready to roll, which represents the game’s other endeavor.
Thankfully, the curves of each course are highlighted by ground-based icons, forewarning of bends as players simultaneously scan for impediments. As with the original game, there’s an optional picture-in-picture feature which exhibits the enemy’s sphere. Leave it on and there’s a multiplicity of visual information vying for attention, making these runs fittingly hectic. Another element bound to produce apprehension is just how close competitions can become. Often, a single exodus from the course or a couple of seconds squandered in defense placement can spell defeat, ratcheting up the level of competition.
For players who just want to focus on boulder rolling, Rock of Ages II extends a number of focused mini-games. Obstacle Courses extend races where players circumvent randomly generated obstructions, while Time Trials’ heats offer contests on defense-free environments. For those seeking unadulterated competition, the game’s supports both local and online competitions, with the latter accommodating up a quartet of players. Agreeably, the game endows matches with variation, offering a range of boulders of varying weight, speed, and durability as well as other rolling objects that offer some compelling risk/reward selections.
Rock of Ages II: Bigger & Boulder’s campaign is succinct, likely completed in less than five hours. And while the game’s rivalries and mini-games advance additional activity, don’t be surprised if fatigue sets in before you made your through the title. While the game’s creativity is appreciated and new defensive strive to maintain interest, there’s just a bit too much repetition across the game’s core component. The defense building and rolling components are enchanting at first, but gradually lose their luster with each new stage.
On PC, Bigger & Boulder’s shift to the Unreal Engine is largely adept, revealing an improved physics system and an enhanced level of visual charm that helps the game recreate a number of historical aesthetics. Although the title won’t scale down to support GPU-less systems, even modest cards prove capable of running the game at decent frame rates. Save for a single crash when played the title in Windowed mode, Bigger & Boulder ran rock-solid at a wide variety of resolutions on Nvidia and AMD chipsets.
Given the six-year span since the last game, it would have been pleasing to see Rock of Ages II take more chances. What’s here is solid, especially at an affordable price, and certain to give newcomers a few hours of creative fun. But Bigger & Boulder feels like returning to an art museum, where many of the same pieces are on display and the new curations are a bit too few. Fans of the absurd and the irreverent might not mind paying admission again, though because what’s here is often beautiful.
Rock of Ages II: Bigger & Boulder was played on the
PC with review code provided by the publisher.
Developer: ACE Team
Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Publisher: Atlus USA
Release date: August 28th, 2017
Price: $14.99- Available via digital download