The Rock of Ages series to me is the definition of quirky. It’s combination of ideas and instantly eye-catching Monty Python-inspired visuals on first approach can seem like the most random mess but somehow manages to congeal together and create an interesting albeit slightly wonky experience. It’s a series I was excited to see get a second-round but with the announcement of a third, I soon began to worry whether the wackiness of it all had run its course and could even stretch to another entry. Is Rock of Ages 3: Make and Break still capable of surprising?
If you’ve played either of the previous two games then everything should feel very familiar here, the general gameplay loop pretty much identical. Best described as a game of two halves, the Rock of Ages series combines Marble Madness-style boulder rolling and tower defence strategy. In its main mode type, War, two opponents face off in a race to roll their boulders through a Super Monkey Ball-like series of ramps, turns and narrow edges in hopes of eventually reaching the other’s castle and smashing through its door. Your giant boulders take time to chisel though, so in between your offensive attacks, you’ll have a chance to plant traps in your opponent’s path in hopes of slowing them down or even destroying their boulder altogether.
Your selection of obstacles at your disposal range from slightly annoying all the way to momentum-killing. Smaller troublemakers like cows or slow-moving elephants are cheap and when herded can provide a nice blockade for your opponent, while springboards and explosive barrels prove truly disruptive as they can often catapult you clean off the stage. Just like the previous games, there’s a good mix of tools here although I would have preferred to see a few more new additions too. You’ll use gold to purchase all these traps – with more able to be farmed from mines using banks. Of course, the more impactful a trap, the more expensive it is, something you’ll need to consider when planning out your nightmarish obstacle course. The process of dropping traps feels nice and quick although I did find myself struggling a little at times when I wanted to get precise with my placements. It’s not enough to cause any problems but a little annoying nonetheless.
The game’s campaign follows a similar structure to the second game as you make your way across a free-roaming map taking on figures in different time periods earning stars and unlocking further stages and more importantly traps and boulders, the latter of which allow you to experiment a little with their different attributes and qualities. Much like the game’s mechanics, the campaign is a rather familiar experience and one that three games in is starting to deflate in terms of excitement. The game does try to mix things up with a few additional modes outside your standard War, including the boulder rolling focused time trial and skeeball – a race to the bottom where you’ll launch yourself at a board filled with point-multiplying holes – along with avalanche, an option that focuses on the tower defence mechanics as you attempt to destroy boulders before they reach your castle. With around a half dozen modes in all, there was just enough variety to carry me through the campaign but when reflecting on my time, it was hard to pinpoint particular highlights. It all sort of blended together.
The biggest new addition this time around is the game’s level editor. While I’ve rarely been one to get too involved in creating my own ‘masterpieces’ in other games that offered such a function – Super Mario Maker 2 is perhaps the only exception – I’m never one to back down from the challenges set out by those willing to put in the time and effort. Nonetheless, I have to say I’m impressed with the wealth of tools you have at your disposal, the game giving you the freedom to set ground placement, level and angle, place scenery and even going so far as to allow you to select the mode type to play your creation in. Even after only two attempts at building my own stages, I found myself adjusting to the initially fiddly controls and eventually producing a pair of somewhat decent levels filled with twists, turns and big jumps.
Will I continue to create? It seems doubtful, my interest as always continuing to lie within the work of others. That’s not to say the creation tools are bad – far from it – since I’m already seeing some fine efforts being posted online to enjoy. Where the previous two games had a finite number of levels to see, limiting their longevity, having a constantly growing pool to pick from – not to mention one that could result in some rather crazy layouts – definitely gives this third entry a real edge… Just so long as the community stick with it that is.
Online multiplayer returns only this time with the added appeal of playing on community created stages. Playable for up to four, when you can find a match the experience truly shines. It’s clear this is a game that benefits more when facing other humans rather than predictable AI. A real let-down with the second game was a lack of any local play. Fortunately, Rock of Ages 3: Make and Break fills that void by offering two-player local play a feature that carries into the campaign and in my opinion a better way to experience it. Sure, the split-screen can lead to moments of slowdown here and there but the increased fun and chaos is definitely worth the trade-off.
On the subject of performance, I did come across a few crashes as well as some questionable boulder physics that more often than not made me laugh rather than scream. Visually the game looks just as striking as previous entries, sticking with the same Pythonesque style cut-out characters and environments influenced heavily by differing time periods. It’s arguably the most impressive aspect about the series and Rock of Ages 3: Make and Break continues that reputation once again with some amazing sights. One annoying thing I found though, is the UI and text that proves far too small for handheld mode. While this isn’t exactly a text-heavy game, it’s still sloppy to see something like this not considered when it comes to the Switch version.
Arguably the biggest complaint I have with Rock of Ages 3: Make and Break, is that outside the new creation mode there’s little here you haven’t already seen in the last two games. The boulder rolling, obstacle planting action is entertaining sure but hardly startling stuff while the campaign and modes again at this point are well-travelled territory. While seeing what nightmarish creations await online is certainly a fresh and fun time, the rest of the game can feel overly familiar oftentimes to a fault.
Rock of Ages 3: Make and Break rarely rolls far from the well-worn formula of its predecessors that alone might have made this a tougher recommendation. The inclusion of a level creation tool, however, gives the series the jolt of excitement it sorely needed. Three games in and what Rock of Ages 3: Make and Break might lack in terms of surprise at this point, it makes up for by giving players the keys to create surprises of their own.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Modus Games