Friday, September 23, 2011

A Game of Two Terries

Rock of Ages, a downloadable game on Xbox Live (and PSN I'm pretty sure), looks and plays like it was spawned by Monty Python's Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam.

Mash Jones' absurdist method of teaching history, like his Crusades TV series, together with the cutout animation and funny voices of Gilliam's Python days... you get this awesome video game. Neither person had anything to do with Rock of Ages as far as I can tell (the developer is Chilean collective ACE), but I hope they've been alerted to it!

Essentially you play the game as the legendary Greek character Sisyphus. You break free of your endless toil rolling a rock for Chronos' amusement and then move down through the ages of history using that same rock to conquer various kingdoms. The opponent kingdoms are laid out as a pair of paths (with terrain, obstacles, and gaps) that lead to castles. Players must roll Sisyphus' boulder (think Monkey Ball or Marble Madness on a bigger scale) through the gauntlet of their assigned path, ultimately smashing into the enemy castle gates with as much speed as possible. Your opponent will be trying to do the same thing to you, over his mirror image course. At its simplest it'd just be a race between two players (your opponent can be human or CPU), but the game is complicated by a tower defense aspect. You can build additional obstacles and hazards for your opponet to navigate, in an attempt to either slow him down (so you get to their gates first) or damage their boulder enough to reduce its mass at impact... maybe even destroy it altogether effectively costing them a turn.

I think maybe I like this game a lot more than the general run of gamers would. It has awesome, sometimes crude humor, a lot of historical references, and constant continual nods to a Pythonesque aesthetic. Everytime you roll on down toward the enemy gates the path is littered with soldiers and citizenry all represented as moving, dancing paper cutouts that shout 'oohg' or 'blah' when you roll over them. I never get tired of it! All backgrounds and landscapes resemble the bright, airbrush-enhanced backgrounds Gilliam used to do in his animation bits. The bosses are incredible absurd CG creations. The intro to each stage is a humorous history lesson, with some of your opponents a complete surprise.

I dunno, the whole thing is probably designed to appeal to me and very few others... at least few game players that'd be on Xbox Live! It hits a lot of my buttons and basically came out of nowhere. My kids think it is awesome, even though their exposure to Python and the other works of the two Terries is pretty limited. But they don't play it as doggedly as I do. I'm trying to get golds in all the time trials, find all the hidden item, everything. Whatever I can do to stretch out the longevity of this goshdamn game because it is too fun!

I read somewhere a reviewer complaining about how the defenses you build aren't enough to really 'defend' your castle. I think the dude was missing the point. The game is REALLY about rolling the boulder and getting to the enemy gates as fast as possible. It is primarily an action game with controller-facility and an understanding of physics and the boulder's momentum as your top tools. The defenses are there to slow the boulder's course. It is rare that a boulder actually gets destroyed and even going off the course only resets you in place with a small loss of time. Even if you lose some layers on your rock, from getting hit by catapults or running into dynamite, and it is smaller when it hits the enemy HQ, it is still basically going to take three hits to win no matter what. So when it comes to building defenses, you are not going to prevent the enemy from hitting you. That isn't the point. And the computer player WILL be better than you are at making the defenses until you put in a lot of time and learn what everything can do and the best places to set them up on the tracks. But you can still win. This CPU's advantages are balanced out by the fact that a human player is going to be better at controlling the boulder. Finding shortcuts and attempting insane jumps is part of YOUR advantage as a non-CPU.

If you want something really funny (and violent in a decidedly different way), try out the Rock of Ages demo. You'll know in two minutes whether it is the game for you. An utterly different, refreshing break from all the murder and grimdark games crowding the field.

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