Platform: 3DS eShop
Developer: Nintendo EAD
First-party 3DS titles are still in short supply, so imagine our surprise when a brand new Nintendo IP rolled onto the eShop a day before it was supposed to. Dillon's Rolling Western may have only been announced a few months ago, but it's clear that a huge amount of effort, love and imagination have gone into this innovative package - which delivers a spectacular hybrid gameplay experience.
Dillon is a wannabe Armadillo ranger with the mindset of Clint Eastwood, a fistful of sharp claws, a back studded with wicked armour plates and an adorable chipmunk pal. He's sauntered into town in the wake of Grock attacks: enormous subterranean rock monsters who raid the villages for their Scrog livestock, leaving the townsfolk starving. Seeing the opportunity to make some money and gain a reputation, the ornery armadilla' decides to defend the villages using fast-paced action gameplay, exploration, traditional tower defence elements and a whole lot of rolling... all
rolled combined into one.
Forget The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Dillon's Rolling Western is all good.
Each town is situated in the middle of wide open plains, bristling with mines to explore, resources to collect and money to earn. Like many tower defence games, the surprisingly long daytime cycle is spent in relative peace, and you'll use Dillon's innovative rolling mechanics to dash about the landscape at breathtaking velocity. Dragging and releasing the stylus charges up and maintains a speedy roll, with intuitive and responsive controls making light work of the controls. You're free to explore for several minutes; looting hidden caches, grabbing loads of raw materials, facing off against some surprise attacks and sometimes even discovering a treasure-filled hidden temple or two. These smaller environments are typically only a single room, but loaded with surprising lootables.
Critically, collecting money and minerals allow you to upgrade a selection of towers that will come into their own once the Grock begin their inevitable assault. Watch Towers and Gun Towers both fulfil different combat roles and are locked into specific positions, but can be mounted with a small selection of devastating armaments as well as tougher defence against attack. The village itself can be outfitted with sturdy defensive doors, and its supply of Scrogs augmented by collecting and donating Scruffles (white flowers by any other name). The limited resources available mean that you'll need to work out how much of your Scruffles and minerals to sell for upgrade cash; a surprisingly thought-provoking mechanic that becomes more urgent with each passing level.
There are a few streamlined RPG elements to enjoy as well, such as buying new equipment and revisiting already-completed levels with better (though fragile) gear. Quests can also be accepted and undertaken between levels, and though they're usually recycled fetch fodder, they're a nice touch that provides a modest extra source of income.
Sooner or later, though, the sky turns an ominous crimson and the Grock emerge from their subterranean lairs. Stress-free exploration suddenly becomes a hectic dash around the battlefield, using a minimap on the lower screen to prioritise which groups of rocky raiders to engage first. Your turrets will only be able to dispatch a limited number by themselves, and upon colliding with one of the geological abominations, you'll be whisked away to a strange little arena crammed with a small number of opponents. The rolling dash suddenly becomes a powerful offensive weapon, supplemented by some nifty timing-based secondary attacks. Combat is accessible yet satisfyingly nuanced once you've learned the ropes. Plus, since the action doesn't pause during fights and the minimap is always visible, you'll feel a suffocating sense of tension as other Grocks slowly meander towards their objective... and you're powerless to stop them until you polish off your current crop.
The fact that battles take place in a segregated pocket dimension may disappoint at first, especially since they only involve a relatively small number of foes in a tiny arena. But it's a necessary compromise. After all, it's easier to render dozens of enemies on the world map as opposed to hundreds, and it would have been all too easy to just stand in the way of oncoming foes to exploit their AI.
Criticisms are few and far between beyond the divisive compartmentalised battle system, but worth mentioning regardless. The day-night cycle is a jarring on/off shift rather than a gradual transition, and it's a shame that players aren't given a better sense of how much time they have left before the Grocks arrive. Tower and upgrade prices also seem prohibitively expensive, especially at the start of the game, and rarely provide a commensurate battlefield advantage compared to the whopping expense. And those one-screen mines could have easily been expanded into explorable dungeons, more's the pity.
Oh, and there are only ten towns to save. Each one technically provides three waves/stages, but replays and repetition add more value than the levels themselves. On the other hand, since each town takes about 15-30 minutes to complete, there's still a fair amount to do before Dillon's Rolling Western taps out... and ample reason to revisit past levels with an increased budget for more higher star ratings.
But chances are that you won't care, because Dillon's Rolling Western is pure Nintendo at their inventive best. It's a brand new IP, which is cause for celebration in itself, and bristles with cracking characters, gorgeous art design and refreshingly unique gameplay that strikes a perfect balance between accessible and challenging. The 3D effect has been implemented very well indeed (flying clods of earth and grass cuttings help to flesh out what could have been a fairly spartan visual experience), and the distinctive cell-shaded levels look absolutely gorgeous.
Welcome back, Nintendo. We missed you.
- Accessible yet challenging hybrid gameplay
- Responsive controls, impressive depth
- Fantastic visuals, great characters and unique art style
- Compartmentalised arena battles
- Mines and temples don't have much to them
- Short, but highly replayable and good value
The Short Version: It's great to see that Nintendo are still capable of bringing out a fresh new IP with innovative gameplay, great characters and gorgeous art design. Dillon's Rolling Western is everything you could want from a 3DS download title, and shows that Nintendo has still got it where it counts.
Part of me wants to see Dillon found his own franchise, but frankly, here's hoping that Nintendo will continue experimenting with exciting new ideas. Either way, definitely get involved with this sensational surprise.