Developed by Vanpool and available purely on the Nintendo e-shop for $9.99, Dillon’s Rolling Western is a colorful mix of action-adventure and tower defense elements with the aesthetic of a Sly Cooper game. The basic concept and many of the key design choices are implemented well and show a lot of potential, but some glaring issues with the controls and some rather punishing difficulty are holding the game back. Note that this review is of the 2012 original, not the sequel, Dillon’s Rolling Western: The Last Ranger.
As mentioned before, Dillon’s Rolling Western is a hybrid of action-adventure and tower defense mechanics. Players play as the eponymous Dillon, an anthropomorphic armadillo wild west ranger, and journey from frontier town to frontier town defending them against armless rock creatures called grocks. Each town is a gameplay map with the gameplay split up into phases. During the morning, Dillon explores, gathers resources, and builds defenses. After a last warning during the afternoon, the evening phase involves the actual combat and defense portions of the game. Successfully completing this phase takes players to the inn, where they purchase items, receive and turn-in quests, save, and heal-up for the next day. The formula works well and feels intuitive, and it adds some unique strategic considerations for a hybrid tower defense game.
Speaking of which, while Dillon’s Rolling Western is commonly described as a tower defense game, that description feels insufficient. Under the banner of “tower defense,” players might assume that Dillon is basically there to plug up holes in the tower matrix, but the towers do most of the work. This is not the case. The tower defense elements are certainly there, such as waves of monsters inexorably advancing towards the position you are defending and the existence of towers that defend, but very little of the actual defending is taken up by the towers on early stages. Tower locations are set ahead of time, as are the possible firing fields of each of the three weapons available to each tower. Dillon is the star of the gameplay, and the towers are ultimately there just to make his job easier.
Because so much of the success of a mission is based on the player’s reactions, gameplay gets quite frenetic. The difficulty ramps up very quickly, and the speed of the game can be very unforgiving. Unfortunately, the difficulty can be a bit of a problem since even one of the early days can easily take half-an-hour, so failure can get frustrating very quickly. Also, messing up on the first day reduces the resources available for the rest of the defense phases in that town, making things even more difficult. This intellectual property has a lot of potential for cross-demographic appeal, but it needs difficulty options to take advantage of that potential, as many more casual gamers will be almost instantly turned-off.
The visual style of the game has that Saturday morning cartoon quality best exemplified in games by Sly Cooper. Designs are bright and colorful with simple and unique silhouettes and shapes. The 3D feature is little more than a frill on this game and is especially likely to cause eyestrain with all the sudden movements, so it’s probably better left off.
The music and sound effects are minimalistic and almost entirely atmospheric. A fast-paced western-styled soundtrack accompanies rolling, ominous riffs indicate the presence of a powerful enemy, and a droning bass signals the onset of the defense phase. The grocks make all the noises one might expect of rock creatures: pounding steps, gravely roars, and a satisfying crunch when Dillon crashes into them.
Unfortunately, the most frustrating aspect of the game is the controls, specifically when battling. Players have to use the stylus to control the charge of a roll and the direction, which can be rather clunky, especially on one of the non-XL 3DS models. It is not uncommon to completely lose charge-ups from having to make a quick-turn. This system of charging and direction rolls may have worked more intuitively if the game had a top-down, birds-eye camera scheme. Having a fixed camera low to the ground makes rolling towards the screen wonky and can leave players attempting to target enemies they cannot actually see. Lefties are particularly out-of-luck. The control options cannot be changed, and the game does not support Circle Pad Pro.
In general, Dillon’s Rolling Western looks and feels very much like a Nintendo game. The overworld rolling segments even feel reminiscent of Link’s goron form in Majora’s Mask, and there are even pieces of heart to collect to increase Dillon’s health bar. Dillon’s Rolling Western has some really solid base concepts that need some tweaking, difficulty options, and tightening up of the controls. That said, it’s still a good game with a lot a potential to reach out to the Nintendo crowd. This game is certainly worth it’s $9.99 price tag as well.