Games of the Past REVIEW: Dillon’s Rolling Western

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dillons-rolling-western-title Title: Dillon’s Rolling Western
Developer: Vanpool
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: February 22, 2012
Genre: Action, Tower Defense
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Age Rating: E10+
Official Website

It’s easy to underestimate a game like Dillon’s Rolling Western. It’s a $10 eShop title for the 3DS and has a tiny block size. The trailer pretty much spells out what you’ll have to do in the game. It has to be a simple, easy Nintendo title, and there’s no way it can be a very big game… right?

Nope. Dead wrong. It wasn’t until about 5 hours into it that it really dawned on me what I was getting into: a game with all the content of a full-scale title, and an intense challenge to boot. I had set out to complete this game in two weeks’ time, and at that point I started to doubt I could do it. In fact, there were times that I wasn’t sure I could finish this game at all.

dillon-240-005This Old West-styled hybrid of the tower defense and action genres tasks you with defending villages from the endless forces of the Grocks, which are pretty much what they sound like. Each in-game day starts with a limited preparation time. You’ll spend most of it scrounging around for scruffles (which increase the village’s scrog count, essentially health) and mines, where you can get gems and ores. Some of these can help you build village gates, but most are just there to sell for cash—essential for building towers, another prep time task. Other points of interest on the plains include pillars and walls that you can activate to slow down the Grocks, and ruins that contain valuable gems and sometimes Pieces of Heart—which are exactly like their Zelda counterparts.

gaming_dillons_rolling_westernThe real game, of course, begins when night falls, and the Grocks emerge from their dens. Grock units will walk the plains, and coming into contact with them will initiate a battle. Depending on the unit, you might be facing a group of around 8 enemies, or a bigger boss Grock (which can often summon smaller enemies itself). This is where Dillon’s Rolling Western turns into an action game. Using the touch screen, you’ll roll, slash, grind, and dig to defeat the enemies. Until late in the game, each battle won’t be tough on its own—but you’ll still be fighting frantically, because even while you do, the other Grock units will continue to move and act!

That’s why it’s important to have your battle plan ready to go. You have limited money to spend on towers and upgrades, and these are the things that allow you to get through the night. Most Grock raids have somewhere between a dozen and forty separate Grock units to deal with, and they come from multiple directions. Therefore, unless you have all these paths covered, either by towers, road blocks or village gates, you’re going to have a tough time surviving.

Actually, you’ll have a tough time surviving anyway—Grocks don’t mess around. At best, the things I mentioned there just delay them until you race across the plains to finish them off yourself. I spent about 90% of the time desperately trying to keep them from my village, fearing the worst. I’ve scraped by raids a hair’s width from failure about as many times as I’ve gotten Game Over in this game. The only way you can possibly hope to win in most of these stages is to bring your best, both on the strategy and action fronts, and put them together.

If you don’t, the punishment is pretty harsh. One day/night cycle in this game can last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, and you’ll only be able to save after finishing a cycle. That means that if your village happens to run out of scrogs, you’ll be forced to redo the preparation for that stage. On the other hand, this can be a good thing, as you might want to rework your strategies entirely.

When you do finally win for the night, silent protagonist Dillon will stop by the saloon, where you can take quests, buy upgrades, and practice your fighting. You also have the choice to eat an authentic-sounding Old West dish and restore your health, but even if you don’t do it for a few nights, our stoic hero might not even finish his plate. He will, however, sit back in his chair and rest, for whatever hours are left of his night… before getting right back up in the morning and doing it all over again.

What could make Dillon, and his more talkative partner Russ, keep at it so relentlessly? The answer won’t be clear for most of the game. You’ll learn fairly early that they’re unlicensed rangers who are trying to make a living by doing this. Only by finishing the game with a good chunk of change in your inventory will you unlock the extra mission that fills in these blanks, and foreshadows the next entry in the series.

dillon-240-003Getting there, as I mentioned earlier, is a long and difficult road. There are ten stages in the game, not counting the extra mission, and you’ll spend three day/night cycles getting through each. Not only that, but unlocking new stages requires you to have a certain minimum of stars. Stars are earned by completing quests, and finishing stages fast. It’s almost impossible to get more than a couple of stars with the cash and equipment available the first time you go through a stage, so you’ll have to go back and do even better the next time.

Dillon’s Rolling Western is far from the image that it gives off at first. Make no mistake: this is a really meaty game, and if you play it without taking it seriously, it’ll practically punch you in the face. It demands skill, strategy, and a lot of attention. Despite having fairly low expectations at first, I now consider it one of the greatest tests of my all-around video game ability. It’s one I can truly feel proud to have passed. Give it a try—if you’re up to the challenge.

Review Score

Review copy provided by publisher.

About Phil Schipper

Phil N. Schipper joined the Operation Rainfall staff to review Android games, but soon fell in love with writing news articles and Games of the Past. His dream is to make a living writing sci-fi and fantasy novels, which is why he leads the Obscure Authors Alliance in his free time. Still, even in his stories, which usually involve insane people, video games are one of his strongest influences. He describes himself as "a Mr. Nice Guy with a horrible, horrible dark side."