As videogame concepts go, there's little simpler: roll a bally great boulder down a hill and smash into what's waiting at the bottom. This is the latest game from the madmen at ACE Team (formerly known for aburdist animal-punching saga Zeno Clash), however, which means simple isn't good enough. Rock of Ages is totally insane. In all the right ways.
On top of its merrily destructive, instantly appealing concept piles Monty Python-esque stop-motion cartoon art, as you plough your rock through assorted figures from myth and history while they spout puns, pop-cultural quotes and references to bodily functions. Nothing is taken seriously, nothing makes a lick of sense and it's all the better for it.
The challenge creeps its way in via the game's physics. Smash through some temples or towers or civilizans or cows or elephants or whatever else gets in your way and it'll add some money to your bank, the purpose of which I'll come to shortly, but it'll also slow your momentum. You need that momentum to crash into the enemy gate at the end of the leve at the highest speed possible, in order to cause the maximum damage possible.
Meantime, he's trying to do the same to your gate. So your choice, always, is to take your time and try and rack up the cash (plus pursue the hard-to-reach keys that eventually help unlock later levels) but risk your gate getting hammered in the meantime, or concentrate on battering your way to victory as fast as possible.
On top of the temptation to dither are all manner of obstacles - catapults that can ping you off the edge of the course, cows that'll chase your ball down and send you in the wrong direction, elephants that can damage it, and an array of barricades. As the tracks become more and more scattergun - eventually splitting into islands with multiple pathways - it's your job to try and piece together the less disruptive, highest speed route on the hoof. Which is both harder than it sounds, and more entertaining - as the levels fill with mad stuff, the scope for high-comedy defeats grows sharply.
To try and counter these slingshots and elephants of outrageous fortune, you spend your cash in a sort of tower defence mingame, wherein you buy obstacles, both architectural and bestial, and one-shot upgrades for your ball. For a mere 700 coins, you can add armoured spikes to it. For 1000, you can transform it into a flaming orb of death. Beyond that are the likes of angel wings to assist its jumping (yes, your giant ball of rock can somehow jump). Again though, in many cases you're better just to roll and keep rolling until the other guy's door is just so many splintered pieces.
There's two-person multiplayer in there too, which perhaps lacks the purpose of the singleplayer (battle your way through history and be rewarded with ever-changing levels) but does introduce a little more logic into the head-to-head conflict. When you build your structures and animal defenders, you're really trying to muck up the other guy, not simply buy time until you've bashed your way to victory.
After a year of gloriously mad, beautiful trailers, the reality of Rock of Ages is perhaps a little underwhelming. There isn't much to it and it can become frustrating to balance cashflow against momentum. At the same time, it's a mountain of wonderful visual ideas for a tiny price, and an instant shortcut to a disbelieving giggle or twelve.