The original Rock of Ages was one of the two games making up the finale of our very first indie month, but at the time I didn’t realize that a sequel was in the works. Rock of Ages II: Bigger & Boulder takes us back to one of the most bizarre games I ever reviewed. Still, it remains a challenge to be original twice.
Atlas, you dummy
The story campaign sees us taking control of Atlas, holding up the earth under the tight supervision of God. Trying to sneak in a quick rest, Atlas accidentally drops the globe and has to give chase. From there the plot loses me for a moment, but the point is we step into our planet and Atlas arrives in various historic settings to duke it out with a roster of crazy, historical figures.
New here is that Rock of Ages II has a more open-ended story mode. You roll a boulder around the world map and can follow various different paths. Some roads are blocked by towers, however, which have you play a level against a historical figure from that area before you can pass through. You’ll be battling against William Wallace, King Henry VIII, and Jeanne d’Arc, among various others. Aside from allowing you to pick between various levels, the roads also feature boss-fights and upgrade items to look for.
The new map is a novel idea, but the core gameplay remains largely the same and, if I am honest, felt rather dull after having already played the original. You once again have to roll your rock through downhill stages filled with obstacles and traps placed by your opponent, with the ultimate goal being ramming it into the castle at the bottom to damage your enemy. The controls are improved from the first game, most notably in the handling of the camera, but rolling still works much the same, making this feel more like a level pack.
Between rolling down the hill you have the building phase where you put up traps on your side of the stage to bother your enemy with. Rather than unlocking these through beating stages, you now find them on the world map and, at the start of each game, you select which ones you want to bring along. Depending on the stage some may be really useful while others have little application. An important one, however, is the bank. Instead of just earning money through causing destruction with your boulder, this building lets you exploit mines dotted around the level to earn money over time. However, just as with the rest of the traps, they can be destroyed and the area around them will then be unavailable for new buildings.
An annoyance, however, is that the AI always seems to have better stuff than you do. The opponent was always building better traps than I was and sometimes it felt like they didn’t have the same limit to the number of different options as I had either. Already in the first few levels, I found myself having to drop down to easy because I honestly just couldn’t make it; the enemy was steamrolling me with trebuchets, great cannons, and windmills while all I could was put down some inaccurate catapults and a few towers. You do build up your arsenal over time, but this initial difficulty spike really soured my desire to get back into the game.
While Rock of Ages II has more content to it and is more refined, you really needn’t bother if you already played the first one. If this is your first encounter with the series, then hooray! You get to learn about the absolutely ridiculous fun that is found in competitive rock racing! Technically this is the better game, it’s just that as a returning player I was hoping for more to it.
Gameplay score: 6.5/10
History as a puppet show
The style of Rock of Ages can be best described as “history summarized by Wikipedia.” The story is mostly a parody of historical characters, represented by cut-outs from classical paintings of them. Each mission starts off with a sketch making fun of the historical figure you’ll be battling against, after which you get to the actual level and are invited to squish them under your boulder.
The simplistic art-style of painting-like characters animated through stilted, overexaggerating motions is hilarious, especially when you add in the bouncy tunes that play in the background. The gibberish every character used has now been largely replaced by spoken dialogue, which I admit is slightly less fun. Especially in the intro sequence, I felt the delivery of the voice actors didn’t give the jokes as much oomph as they would have had if I just read the subtitles while characters spoke nonsense.
There is always more rolling to do
Familiar bonus modes like the versus option and the obstacle courses return, allowing players to race and battle each other. Skee-Boulder is also back, which is a fun mode wherein you race to the end, racking up points as you destroy stuff, and then need to hit a ramp and land in a skeeball hole to multiply your score.
The increased amount of boulders and obstacles also makes this the better game to pick if you intend to play Rock of Ages with your mates.
Extras score: 8/10
Rock of Ages II is not a game I personally enjoyed, but I can see how it improves the formula over its predecessor. With more refined content, a fresh story, and new levels to enjoy, this really is a game worth looking into if you want to play a comedy game with some actual meat to it. The arcade fun of rolling your ball down a hill and plowing through buildings matches well with the more strategic element of setting up defenses on your end to minimize the damage the enemy can do. Despite their silly looks, neither Rock of Ages or, indeed, Rock of Ages II should not be underestimated.