But it's funny. Funny in that fourth-wall-breaking, self-deprecating way that lets you know Epicenter knew it was making something light and low-budget. It's just a shame that the simple concept of playing increasingly complex strings of notes to take out enemies ended up being driven into the ground. When it starts out, things seem so simple - and they are; taking out enemies before they can reach you releases health and special attack meter ammo, so simply being quick is often enough to stay alive (at least until the game decides to throw an impossible number of targets at you). By tilting the neck up, Star Power-style, a shield is thrown up, and by holding the top four colored buttons and strumming, a screen-clearing attack can be unleashed.
Except all that simplicity ends up becoming the game's Achilles' heel. Once the basic skills are banked, there's little to keep things interesting. Each level has its own challenges for killing big waves of enemies or saving survivors, and the longer you can go without taking a hit, the higher your combo will climb, which adds to the medals you can get at the end of the level to upgrade those shields/screen-clearing blasts. Ditto for things like getting a high score or keeping accuracy up, but it's that last one that's the source of so much frustration.
Simply put, there's a feeling that Rock of the Dead isn't quite paying attention to what you're pressing, or rather it tends to simply "miss" inputs. Pair that up with the fact that the game has its own finicky handling of quick button presses and things can become increasingly cumbersome - especially when there are dozen or more targets on screen. Playing with two players helps ease some of this frustration, but it can be all but impossible to see who has latched onto a far-off target even in HD, leading to confused "is that you or me?" moments while playing with a friend.
Again, though, these sorts of things feel somehow acceptable when a game is truly budget priced (sorry, even in this era of $60 games, $40 is still a little steep) and delivered sans disc. Instead, Rock of the Dead seems almost burdened by the fact that it's been pressed and boxed, and the end result is all the little niggles we had at the start (lame public domain tracks, repetition of the Rob Zombie ones, cut and pasted segments, the complete lack of challenge in miniboss battles) compounded into abject rage.
This is a fun game, but that fun is siphoned out slowly as the game increasingly falls back on old tricks. By the time it's all over, you likely won't want to go back through it to earn more unlocks or bump up the challenge because so much of that initial peanut butter/chocolate "why didn't someone think of this sooner?" appeal has been sapped. With more variety to the actual gameplay instead of the environments, Rock of the Dead could have been something as genuinely special as the devs wanted it to be.
We hate ripping on something that's such an earnest effort, but the stark reality is that Rock of the Dead was released in the wrong way at the wrong price with nowhere near enough complexity to justify its length. Should a downloadable version priced dirt cheap and with just a few more licensed tracks (and the fidelity to make them pop - this is a music-driven game after all) happen to come together, we wouldn't hesitate to suggest this. As it stands now, though, the game simply asks too much of its audience.
Nov 5, 2010