How far can rolling a rock down a hill and smashing obstacles take you? Pretty far, as Chilean developers ACE Team can attest to with its Rock of Agesseries. It’s a deliberately simple explanation for what remains a decidedly unique and wacky series, which has a third entry releasing in a few short months. That game, Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break, features a surprising number of new additions that show the variety inherent in as simple of a gameplay hook as a rolling boulder.
At its core, Rock of Ages 3 features the same two overarching systems that made the series a cult classic. In one half, you control a rock, wheel of cheese, or another spherical object as it rolls through an obstacle course before smashing into a castle gate. Regardless of their shape or stats, controlling these boulders is easy. The act of smashing and bashing your way through walls, cows, and other bits of scenery rarely gets old, and the courses I ran through were well designed.
The other half of Rock of Agesfeatures a tower defense game where you place the obstacles on your own course to prevent the enemy from reaching your castle. You must gather money, strategically choose which traps and weapons you will use on a given map, and hope that the enemy doesn’t ruin your day anyway. Rather than the thrill that comes from destruction, this mode instead encourages strong tactical thinking, even if it’s all a bit over-the-top. The fact that these obstacles range from towers and siege weapons to exploding barrels and lions attached to balloons tells you all you need to know about the game’s style.
‘Monty Python-esque’ has long been how ACE Team has described the series’ visuals and sense of humour, and it remains particularly apt in Rock of Ages 3. The cut-out characters mesh nicely with both the visual style and the goofiness inherent in the premise, and the skits involving them are absurd in a charming way. For example, Napoleon Bonaparte provides tips in the level editor; Krampus, Julius Caesar, and Poseidon are among the other historical and mythical characters who make appearances; and there’s a level where you fight against a fire-breathing Moby Dick on ice floes by ramming a rock down his throat. It’s silly, and makes for a great platform through which Rock of Ages 3 creates some fantastic scenarios.
This is primarily showcased in the story mode. Rock of Ages 3 follows the journey of Elpenor, a companion of Odysseus from Homer’s Odyssey, who finds himself travelling through time and fighting figures throughout history with the titular rock beside him. The demo I played featured a handful of these levels, which run the gamut from simple obstacle courses to the aforementioned battle against the white whale. That latter battle was easily the best level I played in my time with the game, as it had multiple stages and a number of fun obstacles to overcome. I can only hope the full game contains more missions like it. Outside of that one level, Skee-Ball, where you hit score multipliers and race down a course to launch it at the traditional arcade target, was my favorite mode due to its scoring system and need for greater control over your boulder.
Yet the maps in the story mode demo paled in comparison to those that could be found in Rock of Ages 3’s signature addition: it’s level editor. ACE Team has filled in a noticeable gap in the franchise with its inclusion, as the ability to create and easily share custom levels online both extends the game’s longevity and can serve as the foundation for a thriving multiplayer community. That’s not to say the maps were of high quality; the limited number of people in its beta and alpha meant that many, like myself, were creating maps to test the feature out.
This was due to the ease at which you can use the level editor. There are only a small number of buttons with which you need to build a track, and changing its height and adding obstacles is a relatively simple task. There’s a small learning curve associated with learning where each button is and what it’s full suite of options are, but all told I was able to wrap up a straightforward course in less than 10 minutes. Nothing to write home about, sure, but one that’s a solid starting point for more serious endeavours.
Rock of Ages 3 is still, however, a work in progress. I was unable to find any multiplayer matches in my time with the game, so I could not test out how well those modes could function. And there were several times where I crashed the game after completing a mission that showed that technical issues still need to be ironed out.
But what’s present is promising. There was a six year gap between Rock of Ages and Rock of Ages 2 release dates, but Rock of Ages 3 is set to launch less than three years after its predecessor. While that shorter time period could be questioned, based on what I’ve seen so far, this is a much more worthy upgrade. Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break releases on June 2, 2020 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Stadia, and PC.