Rock of Ages II: Bigger and Boulder is one of those games that, on paper, sounds like it shouldn’t work. A sequel to 2011’s Rock of Ages on PlayStation 3, this title is a blend of tower defence and physics-based racing/platforming, all under an aesthetic that immediately brings to mind Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python animations. If you’re now scratching your head, don’t worry: as bizarre as its premise may be, in practice it works surprisingly well.
The loose story of Atlas dropping the Earth and embarking on a boulder-rolling quest to get it back isn’t really needed, but it does at least provide us with a couple of laughs here and there in the aforementioned Python-esque cutscenes. Each mission sees you do battle with a variety of historical greats, mythological beasts, and famous artworks.
The main objective of War, the mode which makes up most of the story, is to destroy the doors of the enemy’s castle, but you’ll also need to try and stop the opposing boulder from smashing into yours. There are essentially two phases; while your boulder is being sculpted, you litter the opponent’s track with walls, catapults, various animals, and all kinds of other crazy obstacles in order to defend your castle. Once your boulder is ready to roll, you take control of it and set off down the path, avoiding hazards or steamrolling straight through them. The more health your stone has, and the faster it’s travelling, the greater the damage to the enemy castle. Once that’s done, the process repeats until some castle doors are broken in.
While it can often devolve into a race to inflict damage on the enemy’s doors as quickly as possible, there is a tinge of strategy during the tower defence phase that means you shouldn’t simply wait around for your next boulder. The levels each have unique layouts that will dramatically alter which units you take into the fight. For example, the trebuchet has a huge range of effect, but only in one direction, so if the course is too twisty or consists mostly of little floating islands, it's basically useless. Unit placement can also be important. Placing springboards on narrow sections can prove very useful in flinging the enemy off the stage, and anvil bulls are exceedingly good at killing momentum when they connect, so they’re often best suited as close to your castle as is allowed.
There’s even a teensy bit of strategy in which boulder you use. Each has stats such as speed, damage, and health, and all have their uses. The lightweight balloon ball, for instance, can jump very high but is quite weak, while the cube-shaped Block of Ages is incredibly strong but a nightmare to control. Whichever you pick, hurtling down the course is the fun bit. Once you build up a good head of steam, the sense of speed is great, and there’s a risk-reward dynamic in the faster you go the less in control of your boulder you are – it can all go pear-shaped very quickly. Unfairly, the AI will often have access to unit types you’ve yet to unlock, but you’ll fly off the stage just as often because of mistimed jumps or poorly judged corners. The boulders feel immensely heavy to control and take an age to slow down or turn once you’ve built up momentum, which tends to hinder more than it helps when navigating tricky levels.
You’ll be able to get in a little more practice in either of the other modes on offer. Obstacle Course is a race to the castle whilst dodging hazards that increase in number with every round, and Time Trial is simply you versus the course – with no added obstacles to deal with. The latter has online leaderboards, and the former is playable offline with two players. War can be played co-operatively or competitively with a friend, both methods being excellent fun – and all modes can be played online with up to four players. It's not a huge game by any stretch, but there’s just about enough variety to keep you playing for more than five minutes.
Rock of Ages II: Bigger and Boulder is a fun title that just about pulls off its strange cocktail of genres. The Monty Python-like presentation is executed well and suits the game’s off-the-wall appeal, and its trio of modes and online or offline multiplayer give the game some legs beyond the story. Moreover, the gameplay offers a lot of potential for daft fun despite some sluggish boulder controls and frustrating AI balance issues. If you’re after something different, or enjoy some cathartic destruction in your games, you’ll have a ball.