Dillon’s Rolling Western
Genre: Action Tower Defense
Release Date: 02/22/2012
In typical E3 fashion, Nintendo utilized its new Nintendo Direct service to utter the words “available now” to surprise players with the availability of Dillon’s Rolling Western on the 3DS eShop. With a bit of hype and a very cool-looking new character, does Dillon’s Rolling Western measure up to the rest of the eShop? If you’re looking for a new spin on the tower defense genre, it will certainly fit the bill.
There isn’t a whole lot of story surrounding Dillon the armadillo and his sidekick, Russ the Squirrel (who, to me, looks like a gopher, actually), but this plays into the western cliché of the strong, silent hero with a past that isn’t revealed until the meat of the game. The title features 10 different towns the duo eventually rolls into, and the goal at each town is to defend it from various rock-based monsters known as Grocks.
These Grocks are after pig-like creatures known as Scrogs, which are billed as the livestock that serves as the towns’ only means of prosperity. In tower defense fashion, if too many Grocks reach the town, they will clear out the Scrogs, resulting in failure for the player.
As players encounter each town, story bits and interactions with the towns’ mayors, residents and barista keep the conversation going, adding a bit of life to the characters, especially Russ. Dillon’s Rolling Western isn’t the most robust story ever told, but its attempt to sprinkle humor throughout the different scenes definitely keeps it from being dry or non-existent.
Looking at the game’s visuals, Dillon’s Rolling Western may be the best-looking title on the service. I noticed a handful of the game’s elements seem to take inspiration from The Legend of Zelda and this title’s warm color scheme is one of these elements. Being a western, the game features environments that gave me a Gerudo Desert vibe. The HUD is also very Zelda-esque, which isn’t a bad thing, but maybe I’m just a sucker for that, because heart containers and having the game beep at you when you are down to one heart is a part of my childhood.
The cel-shaded graphics hold up well during the action, as I never encountered slowdown, even when the Grocks start to attack en masse. When Dillon attacks and executes certain maneuvers, they are accompanied by appropriate lighting effects, and the 20+ enemy types give players a variety of enemies to look at. While in the town, everything unfolds through static images, but these portraits are very well done.
I also really dig the character design in the title. Even though Dillon doesn’t talk, his character still comes through in a number of his animations. He’ll grab for his cowboy hat and place it back on his head after it flies off during certain moves, he strains when he uses his claws to stop a forward roll, he gives polite nod when he enters the cantina and leans back satisfied after having a meal. Hopefully Nintendo doesn’t drop the Dillon character, as he could even be a nice addition to the Smash Bros. series. If you want to get supremely picky, there are a few objects, such as the towers, that look a bit jagged when viewed up close, but in a game where you should be constantly on the move, it’s very minor. Dillon’s Rolling Western just flat-out looks great.
The game’s audio is also tailored to its western theme, featuring music most anyone familiar with the setting would expect to hear. The jingle played during the day phases of the game is fairly catchy, and when Dillon fights the Grocks, the music appropriately increases in intensity. The sound effects are a little less interesting, but all of them are appropriate. Since there is no voice work in the game, you get the battle grunts of Dillon and the growls of the Grocks, which are serviceable, if not exceptional. Audibly, the game is serviceable and then some, but I wouldn’t hold it to the same caliber as the graphics.
In breaking down the game’s control and gameplay, Dillon’s Rolling Western is mostly played through the use of the touch screen. By swiping downward on the screen, players can roll Dillon into a ball, Sonic spin-dash style, which serves as the main mode of transportation around the game word.
While rolling, players can continue a rhythm of swiping downward to give Dillon speed boosts. By swiping nearly the entire height of the screen, Dillon is given a big speed boost, swiping half of the height gives a moderate boost and small swipes just kind of nudge him forward. The different speeds do also have a gameplay impact, as certain rocks can only broken by big boosts, and these boosts give Dillon more power when attempting to tackle smaller enemies.
When engaged in battle, Dillon also has equipment that allows him a variety of attacks using his claws and spines by tapping the touch screen. What makes the battle interesting is most of Dillon’s attacks launch him into the air at some point. It takes a few battles, but once players learn the rhythm of combat and how to line up Dillon’s spins, the game has a sort of free-flow combat where skilled players are able to move from one enemy to the next with no wasted motions. I found it to be quite fluid with only a few control hiccups.
Looking at how the game progresses, each town has a campaign of three days. Borrowing a page from certain recent popular games, each day has a daytime phase where players are given free reign to explore the immediate surroundings. This allows players to search for scruffles (Scrog truffles, I suppose), which encourage the Scrogs to reproduce immediately and give players a larger margin of error. There are also mining points players can tap for resources, rocks to smash for bonus money, secret temples to unearth for heart pieces that extend Dillon’s life meter, and more. When Dillon moves close to an item of interest, an icon appears on the player’s map, so scouting is also a huge part of the daytime phase.
The ultimate goal of the player during this phase is to prepare and establish defenses. Players can visit the town and use money to buy equipment, items and assist crystals, sell found items or donate ore to build steel gates that protect the town from a set number of Grocks that may reach the town.
Sprinkled throughout the environment are also tower points, which come in two varieties. Watchtowers are basic towers that cannot attack Grocks, but serve a very important purpose. These towers allow players to see the Grocks’ positions on the map located on the bottom screen if they are in the vicinity. If these towers aren’t built, or the player allows the Grocks to destroy them, the player will lose their “eye in the sky,” making responses to defend the town a bit more difficult.
Also in the environment are gun towers. Obviously, when built, these towers allow the player to mount a shotgun, gatling gun or cannon. Shotguns are cheap, with very little range but moderate power; gatling guns are slightly more expensive but have the most expansive range of any gun at the sacrifice of low power; and the expensive cannons have a thin, but wide, range and can immediately blow away common Grocks in one shot. Not only can guns outright destroy a Grock and save Dillon some time in fighting them mano e mano, but the lesser guns can weaken a Grock to the point where Dillon only has to roll into them and smash them apart instead of engaging them.
When night falls, the town closes itself off to Dillon and he is left on his own to deal with the Grocks, which emerge from volcanic-looking dwellings on the map. Dillon can see the Grocks traveling in groups, with each represented by a giant Grock. When Dillon makes contact with one of these giant Grocks, the player is taken to a zoomed-in arena where Dillon must battle the group of Grocks. While in battle, the other Grocks are still moving toward the town, so efficiency and speed is key in this game.
As players progress, more and more Grock types are introduced. While the beginning features your standard enemies that can be killed in three hits or less, later battles complicate your defenses. Some Grocks do this simply by disguising themselves as a scruffle or rock, forcing the player into a battle to waste their time. Others have abilities and behaviors that force a player to change their game plan. For example, leader Grocks are usually too strong to be bested by the gun towers, and other Grocks, such as ones that can fire bullets or have a hammer for a head, make a beeline for the closest tower in an attempt to destroy it.
The eventual introduction of these enemy types, as well as new abilities and items for Dillon to use, really create the game’s nice balance. The first town, appropriately named Cinchville, takes it easy on players as they become accustomed to the game, but even by the fourth or fifth town, some situations will have the player pressured. As simple as the game is, it is demanding and deceptively complex.
The first playthrough will also really challenge your ability to manage resources. As players do not have much money when starting the game, Dillon can only take a set amount of money into each town. While revisiting the town allows players to carry in as much of their accumulated money as they wish, this first playthrough makes affording defenses a bit of a stretch. However, the first day in each town is always the easiest, allowing players to build up money and resources. Just note that if micromanagement isn’t a real strong suit of yours, you might find yourself frustrated. For myself, the short funds did test my management, but as a tower defense game, I felt this added to the fun.
An issue some players might also run into is the repetitiveness of the title, but this isn’t uncommon in the genre. While the title successfully implements small changes periodically through the game, the core mechanics and general gameplay never change. With ten towns, this creates thirty “stages” of the same premise, but if you look into Dillon’s Rolling Western and know what you’re getting going in, the experience will reward toward defense fans looking for something a little different. The game allows players to save in-between each day, so the fifteen-minute gameplay spurts furthermore make the game a very appropriate portable title.
The constantly-changing landscape allows for much flexibility, as later stages allow Dillon to use the environment to his advantage. Even though players are constantly on a time limit, the scouting during the first day provides a sense of exploration, while the action is tense. Overall, Dillon’s gameplay is a rewarding experience.
There is some replayability to be had in Dillon’s Rolling Western, but, admittedly, it is a little forced. As mentioned before, after clearing out a town, players can return and chose to use any money stored in their coffers. In order to progress in the game, players also have to build up their fame, which is done by meeting par times and completing side quests. The game encourages players to return to previous levels in order to use their new equipment, moves and wealth to earn up to a five-star rating. A second playthrough of a town certainly makes for a more relaxed situation, but this will only interest players that thrive on total game completion.
In terms of originality, the borrowed themes are all used to the game’s potential. Even though the day-night cycles, tower defense and more are hardly original, Dillon puts his own personal touch on the formula to still make the combination relatively refreshing. The rolling mechanic is an interesting take on getting around a game’s environments and players looking for a more “hands-on” tower defense experience will find a lot to like in the title.
Sound: VERY GOOD
Control and Gameplay: GREAT
Balance: VERY GOOD
Addictiveness: VERY GOOD
Appeal Factor: GREAT
Miscellaneous: VERY GOOD
FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Dillon’s Rolling Western is an interesting tower defense experiment from Nintendo. With fantastic graphics and character design, the title uses its western theme very well. The title isn’t perfect, but it handles most of its mechanics quite well. The replayability is a little forced, I had occasional control hiccups, the game can get repetitive and the management aspects are pretty tense, but, overall, you can’t go wrong with the title. A lot of content is packed into this downloadable title and it is one of the better titles I’ve played so far in 2012.