The original Rock of Ages from Ace Team and Atlus was lovable, if not a great game. Released in 2011, it was part Super Monkey Ball, part tower-defense, pitting two players against each other to put up a defense against a giant player controlled boulder. It’s big appeal was it’s Monty Python-like humor, pitting 2D cutouts of Greek figures against each other. It was quirky but not a really great game. Rock of Ages II: Bigger & Boulder carries a lot of the same gameplay issues but it’s change in setting and overall presentation certainly make it more memorable.
Rock of Ages II puts you in the roll of Atlas. After getting sick of having the world (literally) on his shoulders, he decides to abandon both the planet and good, by taking a vacation to Earth. What follows is a surreal series of nonsensical vignettes in which Atlas interacts with various historical figures, usually leading to weird accidents or just…overall odd things happening. Going to Holland shows Atlas being chased by what can only be described as a psychopathic version of Vincent Van Gogh, who cuts his ear off to listen to hunt you down, only to eat the ear and regrow it on his head and what even is that sentence I just wrote. Other times you’ll interact with characters from famous artwork, such as discovering the shocking reason that The Scream is…well, screaming. Or you might encounter Medusa freezing hapless warriors to fashion into furniture. Two specific scenes steal the show; one involving a giraffe and another involving a two-headed demon.
It is a weird setup to be sure, and each cutscene feels like it goes on just long enough to be funny without ruining the joke. Add to that the absolute absurd facial expressions, usually caused by these 2D cutouts having their mouths slightly moved, similar to something like South Park and the absurd situations end up being really ridiculous. The minor voice acting is sufficiently silly and is never used to over explain a joke. Much of the humor is visual and it works incredibly well here, far better than in the original.
The overall gameplay from the original hasn’t changed a ton. Each fight has you setting up defenses before a timer goes off allowing you to roll a boulder down your opponents hill. Trying to avoid obstacles can be incredibly difficult, as there isn’t a ton of maneuverability in most boulders. Some might trade off speed for armor, however that is almost always the wrong choice as some levels require speed to get past certain built-in obstacles such as gaps. You can do well with the first boulder you receive, as many of the other boulders you get after fights do the same amount of damage to your opponent’s base, regardless of size or various buffs.
The big issue with the gameplay is the absolute lack of defenses you get to use. At the start of the game you can use up to four defensive towers,but you almost always want one to be the bank, which allows you to gather additional gold to build more stuff. So, you only have three items, but the nonlinearity of the game allows you to almost instantly fight enemies who can have up to six different, higher level attacks, many of which you may have no clue on what they do. Eventually, you unlock the ability to use more but by that time, the frustrations of this system might have made you incredibly frustrated.
Each level is connected in an overworld map and beating one gives you a star and may unlock an additional ability. These stars allow you to unlock the real star of Rock of Ages II; the boss fights. These fights do not actually use any tower defense stuff. Instead, they put you in an arena and make you fight against a giant enemy. The first boss, The Thinker gets distracted by women, having his head open up which allows you to jump into his brain with a giant boulder. There are only four of these fights, and they are never especially difficult (seriously, you can stay in a corner for all but the last 10 seconds of the final fight and be fine to beat the game) but they serve as a really fun distraction.
There is also a big emphasis on competitive multiplayer, but once the campaign is done, it’s hard to want to keep going. The quirky humor of Ace Team carries the three to four hour campaign of Rock of Ages II far more than the gameplay. The gameplay itself is fine on its own but playing the campaign with all of it’s absolutely bat**** humor and general insanity is actually far more enjoyable. Ace Team has a lot of crazy things in their head, as Zeno Clash proved, but Rock of Ages II actually makes that insanity into a coherent comedy that is one of the most absurd games in recent memory.
SCORE: 7.5 out of 10
A code for Rock of Ages II: Bigger & Boulder was provided to Pixel Related for review.