Review: Dillon's Rolling Western (3DS eShop)

On a roll

After an initial launch period when the 3DS eShop was struggling for exclusive software, it’s now gaining genuine momentum. As well as some excellent third-party efforts, Nintendo itself has jumped into the fray with its latest title, Dillon’s Rolling Western, arriving to some fanfare.

This title continues the trend set by Pullblox, also known as Pushmo, and Freakyforms: Your Creations, Alive! in that it's bright, colourful and cartoon-like in appearance. Like many Nintendo titles, it wastes no time in bombarding your eyes with vivid, albeit simplistic, visuals designed to grab attention. When catchy, themed music is added to the mix it’s a typically entertaining audio-visual experience.

You’re immediately introduced to the hero, Dillon the armadillo wannabe-ranger, and his sidekick Russ, who appears to be a squirrel that is repeatedly mistaken as a mouse by other characters. It transpires that walking rock-creatures called ‘Grocks’ are invading villages in the Wild West to eat their hog-like livestock, curiously named ‘Scrogs’, and it’s up to Dillon to save the day. It’s typically charming Nintendo fluff, and works well as a background to the action.

The gameplay blends a few different styles to provide an experience that, initially at least, feels fresh and creative. In each village the action is broken up into daytime, evening and night sections, with each overall stage consisting of three days in total. The time-limited daytime section is all about exploration and resource management, gathering a number of items from a fairly large area. Metals and ores for building fortified gates in the village are found in mines, ‘scruffles’ can be given to the village to increase its Scrog population, while ancient ruins contain treasures and heart pieces to boost your health capacity. In addition there are Watch and Gun towers, which can be strengthened and armed in exchange for hard-earned cash.

This resource strategy segment is particularly important, with the map showing Dens from which the Grocks will emerge. During the first attempt at each stage the money available, regardless of your overall balance, is limited, meaning that tactical decisions need to be made in terms of which towers get equipped with weapons, which walls should be set up and so on. These decisions come into sharp focus when dusk arrives, at which point the monsters emerge and begin their march toward the village. While gun towers and blocking walls play their part, Dillon does much of the work himself. Rolling into a Grock on the map will open a separate battle screen in which you roll, claw and grind a group of smaller enemies into dust, grabbing pick-ups in the process. Disposing of each group of enemies quickly and moving onto the next is vital to succeed, making for an interesting action tower defence experience. With performance impacting how much money you earn for the day, there’s plenty of incentive to give it your best.

Assuming that you save the village, the final part of the day is spent in the Saloon, where new items can be purchased to upgrade abilities, additional quests taken on, and health topped-up with a meal. There’s also a practice room, where you are given the opportunity to perfect Dillon’s various moves, varying from simply rolling into enemies to well-timed combo attacks to boost damage. Once ready it’s a case of moving onto the next day and doing it all again, with a tougher enemy onslaught, until the third day and progress to a new village. Later stages introduce more dangerous enemies and get rather challenging, so most gamers will need to work hard to succeed.

While tower defence, resource management and strategy are important in this title, the greatest focus is on the exploration and action elements, which is where the controls become an issue. Movement, or steering when rolling, is done with the Circle Pad, while almost all button actions are assigned to the left shoulder button. Most of the work, such as rolling, boosting and attacking, is performed through gestures and taps on the touch screen. Due to the relative complexity of the inputs — for example, dragging down and releasing to set off on a roll — it’s not effective to play without the stylus.

This practice of using the Circle Pad and shoulder button with the stylus is far from ideal, as shown by Nintendo’s attempts to resolve similar issues in Kid Icarus: Uprising by introducing a stand and Circle Pad Pro support. Neither option is available in this title, which is problematic in two ways. For right-handed gamers, finding a comfortable way to hold the 3DS in one hand is challenging, made more difficult as the left hand is not only holding the console but working the Circle Pad: after a certain period the handheld starts to feel uncomfortable and heavy. For left-handed gamers, there’s no choice but to get used to using the stylus in the right hand, which some will find difficult and perhaps irritating. This is far from ideal, and the fact that no alternatives are provided, despite the movements and actions in the game being perfectly appropriate for conventional button inputs, is baffling.

While controls are a drawback, another issue to address is the pricing. Dillon’s Rolling Western has seized the title of the most expensive 3DS game in the eShop, priced at $9.99 in the U.S. and £9.00 in the UK. In terms of replay value, Nintendo has commented that around 20 hours of gameplay are required to beat the game fully. You’ll have to be a completionist, seeking a five-star rating in every stage, for this to be accurate. There's plenty of game time in an initial playthrough, with each of the ten villages likely to take at least an hour to conquer. Due to a questionable control scheme and some repetition as the adventure progresses, value-for-money is dependent on how compulsive and entertaining the experience is for each individual. In our view, this title should have been slightly less expensive.

Conclusion

Dillon’s Rolling Western is another solid 3DS download title, with a reasonable amount of depth and content to keep you busy for a while. The action tower defence experience is relatively compulsive, with the daily structure implementing a combination of strategic thinking, frantic item gathering and action-filled combat. On the downside, the control scheme feels awkward, especially for left-handed gamers, and the lack of alternative options is a surprising oversight. It’s also expensive by eShop standards, with the replay value primarily suiting completionists and those who can work around the stylus controls. It’s a solid title, but narrowly misses its shot at being a must-have.