It was the first Rock of Ages that got me my gig writing reviews here. Man, I was still in college when it came out. Six years ago! I had no idea what I was doing when I wrote it, just kinda sat down in the school library on a lunch break and coughed out a review because I liked the game and wanted to try and get the word out so others might give it a try. Somehow our esteemed editor managed to find it and as of this review I've been writing for this site for over half a decade now. No better way to celebrate than with a review of the sequel to the game that got me started, right?
First off, I'm frankly shocked that this even exists. I'm maybe even a little shocked that ACE Team is still around. This small Chilean development house is truly unique and fills their games with unusual visual styles and concepts. The first Rock of Ages was a perfect example of this, pairing Monty Python-esque animations with gameplay involving smashing through history and squishing famous figures. It was like no other game.
The sequel follows right in the same style, starting out with Atlas holding up the world, which he then drops and has to chase down. And of course, in doing so, you run afoul of a bunch of characters from the history and mythology, and then have to do battle with them.
Starting out on Rock of Ages 2, I was surprised how off-put I was by it. The first one was one of my favorite games of the year but the sequel felt like it was needlessly over-complicating things. There was now a map screen to explore, multiple modes you could battle an enemy through, a way more types of rocks and units, and the units themselves could be unlocked in a different order as well. On the top of it all, there are slots for you to fill up before you go into the battle. The first game gave you access to every unit and rock you'd unlocked up to that point. In Rock of Ages 2, you have to choose a loadout before going in.
The game also made a bizarre choice of having the tutorial get delivered in subtitled French in the middle of battle. You have to take your eyes off of your boulder as it quickly barrels down the hill to read what you're being told. Anyway, it was just growing pains. Once I got past that, Rock of Ages 2 is still a blast to play, although as an older (jaded and soul-dead) man now, I definitely feel I've been noticing problems that I missed or excused in the original.
The game is still divided into two phases. In a placement phase you build up your defenses, and in an attack phase you roll your boulder down the hill through the enemy defenses, smashing and avoiding them on your way to their castle. You crash into the gate, then go back into the placement phase and repeat until the gate is collapsed and you can roll in and squish the rest of the enemies (accompanied with the same wonderfully comical fart noise).
Every match feels like it's just a way too long though. I could only do two or three at a time before I felt burned out. Most of the time the winner is essentially decided by the end of the second round, making the third round seem redundant. It's possible to turn it around, but if you're behind, odds are you're gonna stay that way. I also feel like the game made it more difficult to complete a match in three rounds, meaning you're doing an even more irrelevant fourth round just to get that last splinter of health gone.
I also feel a lot of the maps aren't that great, but have some fun gimmicks to them. For example, the van Gogh level with its impressionist look, the Baba Yaga level with its chicken-legged witch house stomping around and the Don Quixote level that had giants which were revealed to be windmills when you got closer to them. It's all pretty fun, but the actual navigating and strategizing in the maps felt a little more basic than it did in the last game.
The rocks handled a hell of a lot better this time though. They are far easier to control, and I really loved how the developers went and tried their hand at coming up with varying types of boulders instead of the five or so in the original game. There are some unique ideas too, like a paint rock. It's constantly shrinking and growing less powerful as it rolls but also paints the ground behind it so that the other player can't build anything on the paint trail. Or a bomb ball that will explode if you're not careful but is also EXTREMELY powerful on the castle.
All in all, Rock of Ages 2 gives more options to customize yourself, which is something you didn't have to do in the last game. Everyone had the same boulders and the same defenses, but in the sequel you're choosing the loadouts. Someone else may love elephants for being mobile, but you might like towers because they're cheap and easy to stack up and don't take the same amount of space. It's a shame a lot of the maps don't ask for that level of custom strategies. For the most part, if you have a winning strategy, you can apply it across all levels for pretty consistent results. The overworld map is also a bit silly because it's oddly difficult to navigate on it and your boulder can get caught on the angles, slowing it down. Not a huge issue but kind of annoying.
Rock of Ages 2 is still a fun and madcap adventure, giving you the ability to desecrate art and history, but the game has a habit of taking a little too long with each match. The humor and character carry it a long way and the battles can still come to very tense nail-biting finishes, but a better balance on the damage and more interesting map designs would do a lot to help give it more legs.