It's been just over a year since the release of Dillon's Rolling Western, an interesting spin — pardon the pun — on the tower defense formula, starring a steely armadillo prone to communicating through loaded silence. As you can see from our review at the time we liked it, though not without reservations.
Now we have a sequel, Dillon's Rolling Western: The Last Ranger, and it's almost identical to the first game. That's both a good and a bad thing, and whether it's more the former or the latter is up to you to decide.
It's worth reading our review of the first game, because everything we say there applies here as well. As Dillon you travel from town to town with your diminutive — and much more talkative — sidekick Russ. The towns are periodically under attack by rock monsters, which you must intercept and prevent from eating the sheep-like Scrogs.
You do this in three phases. First you spend the day collecting resources and treasures on the outskirts of town, using whatever you find to shore up the walls of the town, build and repair towers, and generate new Scrogs. Then your little friend lets you know the day is over, and it's time to fight rock monsters. To do this you simply roll into them, which opens up a battle screen that sees you taking down smaller monsters and bosses one by one. When all of the rock monsters are gone you enter the town's saloon where you can take on side-quests, review the results of the day, and save your game.
If that sounds exactly like the first game there's a reason for that: it is exactly like the first game.
The graphics look the same, the controls are the same, and even some of the jokes from the original game are replayed here without alteration. It's little more than a game-length map pack for its predecessor, which is disappointing, as not only does the formula not get shaken up in any way, but this effective doubling of the original game's length just makes it feel even more tedious.
We understand that similar accusations are leveled at the New Super Mario Bros. games, or the Mega Man classic series. The formula doesn't necessarily change substantially between titles... only the levels do. But there's a reason each of the installments in those series manages to stand out, in a way that Dillon's sequel does not: those games are all about obstacles and enemy placement. Mixing them up in new ways every time really does provide a feeling of freshness and unpredictability. Here, however, obstacles don't factor into the game at all. Each of the areas is a barren and boring expanse with little to do apart from mine repetitively until the enemies show up. When they do you roll into them, kill them, and move on.
This is gameplay that positively screams out for a wrinkle somewhere to shake things up, and that wrinkle never comes; you just move on to an ostensibly different but functionally identical new town and start the whole process over again. The game gradually ramps up the difficulty, but it does so in the least creative and unrewarding way possible: by simply sending more and more enemies after you.
Even the controls, which we found to be a hindrance to enjoyment the first time around, remain almost entirely unchanged and are made no more responsive. Nearly everything you do is handled through the stylus, for instance dragging down and releasing to roll, and tapping in order to perform an attack. You can brake, talk or enter structures with L, but beyond that you're stuck with some pretty unforgiving timing if you want to use more than one attack. There is an option to practice your attacks outside of battle, which is nice, but the learning curve is steep and needlessly frustrating.
There is one concession made to left-handed gamers this time around, which allows you to use the face buttons instead of the circle pad and the R button instead of L, which is nice, but it just makes it even more bothersome that they didn't bother to make the controls any tighter — or at least offer an alternate, button-focused scheme — while they were at it.
There's no attempt to advance the gameplay formula of the first game at all, apart from a few token stabs that don't make the game feel or play any differently. For instance you can draft other characters to fight alongside you, but doing so doesn't feel any different from using your money to activate gun towers that do the same thing, albeit in a stationary sense. You'll also have to defend a train as it travels westward in some of the battles. However this doesn't feel any different from defending the town. It's a half-hearted attempt at livening up the formula, but all it does is remind you of how static it is.
Of course we did like many aspects of the original game, and since this is basically the same game that carries over here. The humor is fun, the visuals are nice, and the 3D might be totally unnecessary but it does a good job of making the canyons feel vast and desolate. The music is good, but largely forgettable, and the optional side quests do their part to spice things up, even though their goal is nearly always a matter of simple collection or defeating a number of enemies, which you'll be doing anyway.
It's difficult to say much more about Dillon's Rolling Western: The Last Ranger, since the game doesn't give us much new to work with. If you passed on the first game, then you may want to download this one. However, if you decided to download the first instead, you obviously wouldn't be missing out on much here. And if you are already a fan of the first game, then it's just a matter of determining whether or not you want another helping of exactly the same experience.
We like the idea of a more active approach to tower defense. We like the Western setting and the fun the game has with its essential cliches. We like the silliness of a hard-hearted armadillo who travels from town to town defending the helpless. We think there's a lot of promise in all of these things, and it would just take the right hero to make it all turn out right. Dillon, unfortunately, isn't quite up to the task, but at least we can have some fun along the way.
When the first Dillon's Rolling Western game debuted, the appearance of such an ambitious game in the young eShop was a breath of fresh air. Now, however, with a large number of great games available — and often with a much smaller price tag attached — it makes it that much more difficult to recommend. That's not to say that The Last Ranger is without its charms, but the series seems determined not to evolve, or even refine its approach; that's a problem. What we have here is essentially game-length DLC, with almost none of the original faults addressed, and that leaves us feeling relatively disappointed.