It’s been quite a while since we last saw Nintendo’s cool, silent, tough-guy armadillo bounding around the Wild West, but the titular mammal has now made his return to the 3DS in Dillon’s Dead-Heat Breakers, bringing some fancy new tricks along for the ride. His original game Dillon’s Rolling Western was an interesting new venture for Nintendo at the time, with the company putting its own stamp on the indie-sized world of gaming through its newly introduced eShop service, but Dillon has now made the jump to a full retail release. So how have things changed?
Well, in many ways, Dead-Heat Breakers feels like a very familiar experience to anyone who has played a Dillon game before. You’ll be taking on waves of enemy ‘Grocks’ in a blend of tower defence and action battles, managing a day-to-night cycle which consists of these battles and resource management, and much of this looks and feels almost identical to how it has in the past, both in gameplay terms and its cartoony visuals and decent but forgettable soundtrack. It does change these aspects just enough, however, with a fun new addition to the battle sequences and a much more refined experience during the daytime gameplay.
One of the biggest changes is the introduction of Amiimals. The game opens up with your Mii character being transformed into an animal-like version of yourself, ranging from cats to wolves to slightly disturbing bear things. While this introduction of what is essentially a Mii-themed set of ‘furries’ had us initially wary, the gameplay possibilities that your character opens up are actually pretty fun.
In the daytime, you’ll wander the city streets as your Amiimal, taking on part time jobs to earn cash for the battles ahead. Some of these are quite addictive – such as managing a supermarket, working at a recycling centre, and playing a shoot ‘em up game to earn prizes – and they all feel like minigames that have a beneficial purpose to your main aims. At specific times you’ll also be able to enter Dillon into races, essentially acting as time trial events that can earn you some seriously hefty amounts of moolah. They are all relatively enjoyable while they last, and help to break up the main tower defence sections better than before.
Your Amiimal does actually play a major part in the tower defence portion of the game, too. When the day is over you’ll be called back to your hotel by Russ – Dillon’s squirrel buddy that has returned from the original games. When you arrive, you’ll need to organise a team of gunners to help you in the upcoming battle (which happens once a day). In a nice – but also kind of creepy – touch, these gunners are Amiimal versions of the many Mii characters you have saved on your 3DS, so expect to see your friends and whacky creations appearing alongside you in battle.
The gunners will have different wage requirements depending on their specific weapon’s destructive power, so you’ll spend the first few battles discovering which price point (and therefore weapon range) works best for you. When you’ve got your team assembled it’s time to head out to whichever village needs your help, meeting up with that particular town’s mayor in the process. It’s quite tempting to skip all of the dialogue in these sections, especially as everyone talks in a ‘bleepy bloopy’ gobbledegook language, but you can actually pick up some useful tips heading into battle from these discussions.
The battles themselves are actually rather light on the tower defence in the end, as there are several things happening all at once. You’ll start by placing your gunners at particular gates – the ultimate aim is to prevent Grocks from entering these and stealing the sheep-like ‘Scrog’ creatures inside – and then roam the battlefield for materials and ‘scruffles’. Your materials can be used to strengthen any gates you think could be vulnerable, and the scruffles can be traded in to house more Scrogs in any particular gate, therefore giving you a little more time should a Grock make its way inside.
From there, once the battle actually begins, you’ll be charging around the area as Dillon, keeping an eye on your gunners at each gate and manually ordering your Amiimal around in a similar fashion to Pikmin or the Warriors series of games. Your Amiimal is key to success here, as sending them off to deal with any threats can prevent many potential disasters. You can also charge right up to any Grocks on the field as Dillon and, just like before, this will cause a separate mini arena to appear, requiring you to take on a few enemies in close-up combat, before returning you to the main arena.
The stages and enemies vary as the game progresses, with different enemy types and hindrances blocking your travel routes and causing headaches in later levels, but the star of the show in this new title is the end-of-battle race showdowns. When you have whittled down the enemy count to around five the Grocks transform into wheeled variants of themselves, starting a new phase in the battle where you need to chase them down using boosts and acceleration, grind against their shields or attack with your claws, and eventually take out the last remaining opponent. It starts to feel quite repetitive as you do the same thing at the end of each battle, but it definitely provides an initial thrill when you experience it for the first time.
Unfortunately, this repetition is something that is present throughout the whole game – not too dissimilar from Dillon’s original titles. Each day feels very, very similar to the last, and while the new additions are good fun, you only need to experience them a few times before you’ve had enough. One major upgrade, however, is the control scheme, which gets rid of the forced stylus-based mechanics from the original titles, and instead allows you to control Dillon almost entirely with the ‘A’ button and circle pad. The end result is something that definitely feels like an improvement over the series’ early beginnings, but one that maybe would have felt better suited to a higher-tier eShop release rather than a full retail one.
Dillon’s Dead-Heat Breakers takes the best part of the series’ early games, adds some nice improvements, and provides a more refined overall package. Some of the drawbacks from those originals are still present too, however, with a repetitive nature putting a bit of a downer on proceedings, and the jump in cost from a £9/$10 game to a full retail release doesn’t feel fully justified. It’s a fun and solid experience, but you might want to give this purchase a little more thought unless you’re already entirely convinced.