Giant Boulder of Death review
Roll with it.
The debate about violence in games is an important one, and gaming can only become more interesting if designers think up more things for us to do than mindlessly destroy stuff. Having said that, who doesn't love to mindlessly destroy stuff? And if you absolutely have to do that, why not do it as the titular vengeful rock of this game - thundering down an alpine mountain, flattening everything in your path?
The wonderfully self-descriptive Giant Boulder of Death is the latest mobile effort from Adult Swim, and it sits comfortably alongside the likes of Robot Unicorn Attack as a title that balances playful irony with fantastically addictive twitch gameplay.
The appeal is obvious: you start to roll downhill, slowly at first, steering yourself using one of three control methods. Hitting smaller objects - such as trees - earns you points, and as your carnage grows the local military brings out increasingly bizarre one-hit-kill obstacles to stop your gravity-assisted rampage. First out are the spike walls, but they're soon joined by homing mines, mecha-yetis and soldiers riding on triceratops.
You can only destroy these things once you've maxed out your destruction meter, at which point you transform into an invinciboulder, bigger and tougher, covered in spikes and soundtracked by some infuriatingly catchy heavy metal yodelling.
Despite its knockabout veneer, there are some engaging systems underneath this game's cartoon mayhem. The game slips into a compelling rhythm as you first aim for high-scoring soft targets while dodging traps, then start aiming for the even higher-scoring traps once you can crush them with impunity as invinciboulder. The game is also good at using simple colour cues to help you navigate as the speed increases - red objects are deadly, gold objects are high-scoring, while bonus purple gems pop out from the green grass and grey mountains even from a distance.
The visual style plays a huge part in the game's charm. This is a surreal, boxy take on alpine cliché, and as you complete more challenges you unlock more elements to populate the world. The effect has a lot in common with the gentle oddity of Katamari Damacy. Little fräulein and hikers burble their hurdy-gurdy shrieks as you send them pinwheeling down the slope, and every so often you'll find something that makes you do a double take - like a stack of deer, teetering on a cliff edge. As you reach the end of the game's 60 challenges, the slopes are crowded with weird creatures and bizarre hybrids.
If the game has one weakness, it's that often things can get so hectic, with so much debris and text flying around the screen, that the way ahead can be obscured, sometimes with fatal results. It can be an annoying way to end a good run, but you can cash in gems to continue twice before the boulder explodes for good.
And, yes, there are gems here - as well as gold coins - and you can buy more using in-app purchases. The game is free but also surprisingly generous with in-game top ups for both currencies, however, so there's no point where you feel obliged to splash out. Most of all, it's simply so much fun that it never feels like a grind when you're clocking up dozens of runs to stock up on gold and gems.
Giant Boulder of Death is a quintessential Adult Swim game. It's strange and silly, but also incredibly well balanced and designed underneath its anarchic surface. Most importantly, the feel of it is just right - impacts feel crunchy and the time spent as an invincible ball of destruction are wonderfully cathartic - while the game keeps adding more weirdness on top the longer you play. Rock on.