Oh man, I spent all day thinking about how to start this article, and had to throw the whole thing out the window when I accidentally misspelled “damnation” as “dalmatian” in the title. Before I knew what happened, I was surfing the net for suitable pictures of dalmatians to doctor into ultimate immortal dalmatians of eternity, and thus you see the end result to the right here. I guess that’s life, though. Sometimes your best plans need to be thrown out at a moment’s notice, because it’s time to doctor a dalmatian picture to make him look immortal and godly in Microsoft Paint.
Anyway, now that that’s out of my system, I guess we can get back on track here and talk about video games or something. When was the last time I even reviewed a game? I don’t remember. But this week saw the release of Rock of Ages, by Atlus and Ace on Steam, and it looked so ridiculously silly I couldn’t help but pick it up.
What I ended up with was a unique gaming experience that was like if marble madness and tower defense games had a baby, and then that baby grew up playing skeeball in an arcade in ancient Greece.
The protagonist of Rock of Ages is Sisyphus, or Sissy Fits, as I’ve been calling him. The game starts in Hades, where the souls of the evil and bad men are being tortured in a variety of gruesome and frustrating ways. We’re not told in-game what Sissy Fits, err, I mean Sisyphus actually did that was so bad, but he’s the guy who is tasked with shoving a large, heavy boulder uphill for eternity. Every time he makes any kind of significant progress, a small imp dashes up to him and pokes him with a spear, causing him to drop his boulder and start over.
Being the English major geek that I am, I recognized Sisyphus’ punishment from those old epic Odyssey and Illiad stories from way back when. I tried to use that as a way to puzzle out what Sisyphus had done, but he’s in the same underworld as Prometheus (I think). Prometheus was the guy who stole fire and gave it to mankind, and as punishment had his liver ripped out by some kind of bird horror every day. Which… I guess makes sense? Basically we’re not dealing with the convenient, easy to understand hell here where you can tell immediately what someone had done just by which circle you were in. Like oh hey this guy is in the greed circle, I’m gonna take a wild stab at what he did.
Aaaanyway, enough tangents. After an indeterminate amount of time of shoving that boulder up the hill, Sisyphus comes up with an idea. What is stopping him from deliberately rolling his boulder down the mountain and smashing it against the gates of the underworld?
And so he does. The first tutorial level gives you a feel for how to control the boulder, though honestly it’s pretty easy to figure out. You can roll into things! You can squish demons! You can jump and smash into more things! This is important, especially in later levels, because smashing stuff gives you money. We’ll get to that in a bit.
If you fall off the course, the hand of some deity will place you back on track. Your rock can be damaged, however, and lose mass so it’s important to play it safe as well as aggressively at times. The more mass and speed you have when you crash into the gate, the more damage you do. Then it’s back up to the top of the mountain for a planning period while workers carve you a new rock.
After Sisyphus escapes from Hades, things get more complicated. Various fictional and real characters from across the ages get into Sisyphus’ grill and challenge him to a rock vs. rock smash down. Whoever opens the gate of the other side first and squashes the leader within first is the winner. The loser becomes a pancake.
Sometimes we’re given reasons as to why Sisyphus needs to kill these people. Often we’re just given amusing cut scenes instead, which is fine. Everything from poking fun at the deliriously violent film 300 (Oh man, remind me to review that someday) to Castlevania references makes an appearance here. You essentially just squish the important people from across history with the same series of boulders you were previously forced to shove up the mountain endlessly. Though, a little earlier today I looked up Sisyphus on Wikipedia. I’m not going to repost the whole article here, but man. Dude was a real dick. Maybe that’s all the reason we need.
You’re not completely helpless against the boulders of your enemies, however. During the planning stages between rolls, you can spend your hard-earned cash on towers to block the boulders, cows and elephants to knock it off course and knock some mass off of them before they crash into your gate. It’s still just a matter of time until they bash it down, so you’ve got to be quicker than them and block off shortcuts if you want any chance of living.
The thing is, your enemies are doing the same thing to you. If you have any money leftover from your building stage, you can buy upgrades for your next boulder, including steel bands to give a bit more damage resistance to wings to help your boulder uh, wing around more. The upgrades create an interesting additional bit of strategy to each roll as you plan out your route.
There are two problems with this game. First, the odds are slated heavily in favor of your AI opponents most of the time, and they’ll start with way more resources then you’ll get after like three rolls. Second, this game is very trial and error. You don’t know what path to take until you’ve been squished a few times, and watching enemy boulders easily navigate between your defenses can be frustrating.
You can play against human opponents as well, which seems pretty fun. Unfortunately, all my friends are LOUSY AND HAVE NOT PURCHASED THIS GAME. The only thing that quells my rage is this ice cream here. Sweet, sweet ice cream.
There are a few other modes to try as well. There are time trials, which are pretty self-explanatory, and skeeball mode, wherein you have to smash as many targets as possible on your way down the mountain and launch your boulder at a skeeball board at the very end that is dotted with bonus multipliers. Both modes are pretty fun, and a lot less intense than the main game.
Oh, and the art kind of resembles those old Monty Python animation segments. So there’s that too.