What does the Spaghetti Monster in the Sky, a boulder made of sheep, Julius Caesar, and tower defense all have in common? Typically absolutely nothing, however these elements and many others comprise the wacky boulder-rolling/tower defense game Rock of Ages! Now a trilogy, Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break has rolled onto the Nintendo Switch. Does the third title smash its way to success, or crumble apart before the finish line?
Many years back I had found myself sitting around, bored of the games I had, and wanting something new, but casual. I had stumbled upon this recently released game called Rock of Ages, and after purchasing it, I found that quite a few hours slipped by and I was having a blast. The title merges tower defense and a competitive version of Marble Madness at its core, and this third installment doesn’t stray from this formula.
Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break features two distinct modes, and yes, you may have guessed it – Make Mode, and Break Mode! Make Mode is an all new level creator so that you can punish the community with your intense levels, which we’ll touch on more in a bit. First, let’s dive into Break Mode, which features the game’s single player campaign, as well as community levels.
The story features the same tongue-in-cheek/satire humor that has been around since the first game. For the uninitiated, what you’ll be subjected to are catchy ‘flash’ animations using period-piece art from historical eras. The Mongolian Empire, Greece, and more are featured in humorous cut scenes that involve boulders and thwarting an opposing force in some respect. The art here is beautifully done, and by utilizing the style of animation that they have chosen (much akin to early South Park) there’s a humorous aesthetic to the entire game that I have always fully appreciated and enjoyed.
Gameplay is typically broken up into two segments: rolling and tower defense. When you begin a main story level, you’ll go head-to-head with another ruler of the ancient world. Similar to Marble Madness, the levels are constructed on long, winding, and perilous lanes. Each run already has a ton of obstacles scattered about; however, you’ll engage with the tower defense aspect first. You see, the main objective when you get to the boulder rolling phase is to make it through the course and crash into your opponent’s castle gates, eventually breaking in and squashing said opposing ruler. Wouldn’t it have been awesome if this was really how wars were played out?
Now that said, the same opposing ruler will be attempting the same against you! And so…tower defenses must be erected. The game ultimately offers a big selection of various defenses as you push your way through the campaign, but early on there are still some fun things to utilize. Tower walls, mammoth elephants, raging bulls, and more make for some serious thwarting capabilities. In later levels, prior to starting each one, you’ll be allowed to select what defenses you want to have for that given level (up to a max amount of course) and this allows for some fun strategies. I found placement was pretty simple and easy to follow. It can take several runs before you or the AI will be able to break through to the castle so each story level felt unique and fun. Keep in mind that if a defense item is destroyed, a new one cannot be placed in that same exact spot for the remainder of the level, adding to the strategy needed when ramping up your defenses.
Your time setting up defenses is soft-limited in that your plebs will be chiseling away at your boulder to prepare your first roll. Once it’s ready, you simply press the Y button, and now you’re in boulder rolling mode! The boulder features inertia and physics so you’ll have to carefully roll it along the course in order to dodge, smash, and circumnavigate all of the hazards and defenses put in place by your opposition. This is hard. Not only do you have to avoid flying off the edges at every turn, you also have to handle everything being thrown at you, smashed into you, launched at you, and more. This is probably the most intense boulder rolling you will ever experience, and I definitely don’t recall the original game being this challenging.
The story progression is tied to a pretty standard affair star count system. Some levels you can earn up to three stars for doing amazing, others max out at two, and some just have one for completing the run. There are also subset modes to the one I spoke about above, that are sort of like a mini-game version that still utilize the full mechanics of the game. For example, there is a Skee-Ball game in which at the end of the level are different holes with varying scores for you to try and roll your ball into. This is a head-to-head mode on the same course against the AI, and even on the easiest setting, I found myself consistently getting wiped off the level and losing over and over again. Perhaps this would be more entertaining playing with friends.
Speaking of this game’s difficulty, I started off on Normal for the story, and quickly found that I was struggling to even get 1, maybe 2 stars out of 3, and having to repeat levels to accomplish even the 1-star rating on others. I decided to drop the difficulty setting down to Easy, but found really no change. The story offers a ton of content which is fantastic, but even prior to hitting 20 stars (There are unlocks at 90 for example), I was struggling something fierce to hold my own, and found myself flustered more often than not.
Every level throws a lot at you though; there are static obstacles, the ground itself is oftentimes winding, forcing jumps to be made, etc. Then if you are in a run that has defensive objects, they can be downright brutal, all coupled with trying to navigate a physics/inertia based boulder. I nearly rage quit the game several times. For example, there’s the time when I was playing a run of Skee-Ball and was in the lead, only to hit the launch ramp at the end a bit too fast, causing me to fly up in the air as my AI opponent just casually jumped into the center hole perfectly, not only outscoring me by a ton but forcing me to restart the whole level again. Yeah, no thanks. This is a challenging game, and that may be great for some players, but don’t expect a casual jaunt through the story campaign.
Tied into the Break Mode is the game’s community made levels. Accessing these do require the Nintendo Switch to be online, and with some filtering options available, you can fairly quickly dive into user-made levels. These follow the same template systems that make up the Story Mode, and are a fun welcomed way to break up what you may have already experienced. At the time of this review, there weren’t a lot of levels available when I tried out the mode, but I can see this expanding with time of course.
So that brings us to Make Mode, the level creator for Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break. Upon entering you’ll be greeted by Napoleon, who briefs you on the basics of making a new map of your own. Map creation isn’t overly complicated, which I very much appreciated. However, I did quickly find that this was a pretty hefty struggle to accomplish while playing in handheld with the system. Placing units even while zoomed in all the way, were near sub-pixel in some cases, and level creation here just felt better suited to playing the game on the TV. Once you do have a map created, you’re able to test and share it with the community as well per the norm, and users can rate your map with a thumbs up if they so choose. Again, likely due to the infancy of this game during the review, the highest rated community level for me only had 8 thumbs up. I do look forward to this expanding out further.
It’s worth noting that again in handheld mode, the game suffered from frame drops reasonably often on maps with more dense object areas. I also found the UI navigation to be clunkier than I would expect for a trilogy game as well. I even ran into issues where the UI would not respond, or I would lose focus on a particular button now and again.
Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break feels like a potentially iterative move in a series that fans adore. I personally didn’t play the second one, so I can’t speak to how big of a leap forward or back this third installment is in terms of what players want, new content, etc. But I can recognize that in many ways it feels vaguely like the original that I played. The difficulty here in this one does seem a fair bit steeper than I would like due to how many things are conspiring against you, but it’s still a quirky fun time to be had rolling a giant boulder with a face on it, squishing notable historic figures.
Rock of Ages 3: Make or Break Review
- Graphics - 7/107/10
- Sound - 6/106/10
- Gameplay - 6.5/106.5/10
- Lasting Appeal - 6/106/10
Final Thoughts: WORTH CONSIDERING
Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break brings with it a create-a-level mode as the centerpiece. For me, the Story Mode was still the heart of the game, but it’s borderline frustratingly difficult with a combination of too many obstacles, precise AI opponents that are just too good, and grueling courses. The classic storytelling and graphic animation styles were still present, but playing the game on the Nintendo Switch also brought some system quirks with it too. For fans of the series, there’s still something here to have fun with, but I felt like the original game ultimately brought me more joy.
Alex has been actively gaming since the release of the Nintendo. Turning passion into profession, he’s spent just over a decade in game development, and is currently the Creative Director at a studio.