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Rock of Ages
Score: 86%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: ACE Team Software
Media: Download/1
Players: 1: 2 - 4 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Strategy

Graphics & Sound:
I underestimated how much fun I would have with Rock of Ages. The Super Monkey Ball/ Marble Madness concept has never appealed to me, so I wasnít exactly looking forward to the game. Toss in Tower Defense mechanics, a genre Iíve already expressed fatigue over, and things looked grim. It only took one level and I was hooked.

Rock of Ages takes a simple approach to visuals. The game is highly reminiscent of the sort of animations youíd expect to see in a Monty Python sketch. Characters are culled from paintings and feature simple ďjumping movementĒ animations. Itís odd, but incredibly effective. Thereís also a nice amount of customization. You can switch out your main characterís appearance and choose your own ball look.

Audio does its job, but isnít incredibly endearing. In-game battle sounds are fun, especially when your ball crashes into your opponentís door, but thatís about it. Music sets the mood for each level, but isnít memorable.


Gameplay:
Rock of Ages blends two play mechanics into an unlikely combo that actually works. As a rock pusher (you begin as Sisyphus, but can become other characters if you want), your main goal is to work your way through time, crushing various figures in history with your giant rock. But, before you can flatten them, you first need to break down the doors of their fortresses.

Each level is set up like a downhill version of a level in Marble Madness or other ball-rolling games. Itís a simple idea made more complicated by the presence of turrets, catapults and other defensive structures. These make your job harder. Their primary function is to slow you down, causing you to do less damage to your opponentís gate, though some will also conspire to knock you off the map.

Each level also features defensive gameplay. Youíre not the only one trying to knock down the gates; your opponent is trying to get to you too. Between rolls, you need to place structures on the map to keep your opponentís ball from hitting your gate. Structure placement adds a unique Tower Defense mechanic since you have to guess which path your opponent will take to reach your gate. Even early levels are pressure-filled as you try to watch your opponentís roll on the small screen while prepping your own attack.

Rock of Ages also features online play, though I had a hard time finding anyone to play with, so I canít really comment on how it plays.


Difficulty:
Rock of Agesís biggest fault is it throws a lot at you at once. There isnít much in the way of explanation, so you have to figure out what youíre doing as you play. Even when you figure out whatís going on, level designs donít support learning how to build effective defensive strategies. Early on, youíre placed into complex, multipath levels, requiring you to think through multiple strategies. This is expected in later levels, but shouldnít be a requirement so early in the game.

Key collection Ė which is vital to accessing bosses -- adds another twist to finding the best path down the hill. Keys are usually placed in out of the way areas, sometimes even requiring expert platforming and quick reflexes.


Game Mechanics:
Rock of Ages offers an unique challenge. The game is always running, so youíre constantly thinking both offensively and defensively. While rolling down a hill, you need to remember your route, making sure you donít leave the same route open for your opponent. Meanwhile, you need to keep track of where your opponent is placing defenses, hoping to capitalize on any holes. Thereís no time to slow down, forcing lots of on-your-toes thinking.

The interplay between defensive and offensive play create interesting gameplay situations. The number of available strategies is similar to an RTS game; you can choose to slowdown and build up your defenses in an attempt to outlast your opponent. Conversely, you can go for an all-out attack, ignoring your defenses and relying more on your twitch skill to guide the ball through your opponentís defenses.

Most of your strategy depends on how many credits you have, which plays directly into how you choose to play. As you roll down the hill, you can crush soldiers, houses and other objects. Each flattened object earns credits, which you can then spend on defenses. If you donít want to invest in structures, you can spend credits on ball upgrades, such as an iron band or fire. These act as buffers, ensuring you can have a little more velocity when you hit the gates.

Rock of Ages is different, but a lot of fun once you figure out all of the mechanics at play.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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