Is the Noid really the villain this time? Or is he the true hero we all need?
Rock of Ages 2: Bigger & Boulder shouldn’t exist. It’s an absurdist tower defense game centered around guiding a boulder down a hill and into a castle before your opponent can do the same. It has more in common with Monty Python and a high school history class than it does any other video game. While the first entry in the series was fun, endearing, and amusing, it didn’t cause fans to clamor for a new one. Somehow or another, this sequel has been made, and developer ACE Team has doubled down on their abstract rock rolling title.
It may be near impossible to accurately describe Rock of Ages 2 and not come off as someone stringing together random words found in the dictionary. You play as Atlas, who has dropped Earth and fallen into the world along with Sisyphus’ boulder from the original game. You’ll travel around Europe, much like an over-world from Super Mario 3, defeating other historic and ludicrous figures with boulders of their own. These matches take place on a downhill map, where you and your enemy place traps, towers, and weapons in the way, all while trying to survive and build up enough speed to knock down your foe’s castle door and defeat them.
Rock of Ages’ core gameplay is certainly unique, but it still has plenty of common touches. Calling it tower defense is the closest descriptor, but also a misnomer. You place objects like towers, catapults, or bombs, but also more ridiculous items like whales, lions hanging from hot air balloons, or fireworks cannons, all of which either impede your opponent or erode their boulder, causing it to deal less damage. Most of these objects don’t really get in your way, as much as they simply crumble beneath your boulder. However, a trap, weapon, or even stone wall in the right place can send you flying off the edge or, more frustratingly, slow you down. The hand of God will place you back on track, but those precious lost seconds can give your opponent more time to ram your castle. Even with tower defense elements, Rock of Ages 2 is more a race than anything else. Frustratingly, I’ve lost more battles by being stalled out than by clever strategy.
Each match plays out just a bit differently too. Every time you defeat an enemy, you earn the boulder they used and gain access to more items to use in your next bout. When I beat Vincent Van Gogh and Adam and Eve, I could start using their inflated cow and prehistoric cheese wheel boulders, each with their own unique controls and attributes. New battles take place on unique courses every time, some high in heaven bouncing down clouds, others rolling across painting landscapes from famous artists. Some focus on staying on the course while trying to push your enemy off, while others are landlocked and more centered on racing to damage your opponent.
While the repetitive gameplay quickly builds tedium, the constant absurdity provides plenty of levity. You face off against a burning giraffe, the loading screens resemble a fighting game versus screen, Van Gogh vomits on a boulder, there is an homage to Pokemon as a part of the story, and in one instance, you’re bouncing on The Thinker’s brain as he watches dancing girls. It all becomes wonderful background noise to a sometimes frustrating, sometimes too simple game.
Rock of Ages 2 feels like an enjoyable fever dream. I found myself trying to strategically place whales next to castles while guiding a boulder covered in tar. No sentence you use to describe this game will ever seem like sanity, and that’s why I love it. Rock of Ages 2 doesn’t just embrace its own absurdity, it wants you to embrace it too. Each time a level introduced a new shade of nonsense, I wondered just how crazy the game could really get. It turned into a bit of cat and mouse as I dove deeper into the rabbit hole, trying not to blink in the face of lunacy. And oh, is there plenty of lunacy to stare into.