The Nintendo 3DS has come a long way since its release in 2011. Not only did this hardy handheld weather a rough launch, it became a bustling hub for great games Ė eShop oddities, remarkable remakes, superb sequels, and fresh faces. One such fresh face was Dillon from Dillonís Rolling Western. The aforementioned eShop exclusive released in 2012 found success, paving the way for two sequels that are bigger and better than the original. The latest game, Dillonís Dead Heat Breakers, is one of this yearís biggest new releases for the 3DS, but it has come at a time when a great deal of attention has shifted to the Nintendo Switch. Iím enjoying the Switch quite a bit myself, but Iíll dock it and grab my 3DS when it gets a great new release, and Dillonís Dead Heat Breakers is just that. It improves upon its predecessors in practically every way, showing not just how much the series has grown over the years, but how much the 3DS has grown in that time as well.
For those of you who are not familiar with this series, Dillonís Rolling Western and its sequel Dillonís Rolling Western: The Last Ranger are tower defense games where you play as an Armadillo named Dillon that protects villages from rock monsters called Grocks. With the help of his sidekick Russ (and a trio of awesome outlaws in The Last Ranger), Dillon gathers resources, builds turrets, and battles an assortment of angry Grocks from town to town. Theyíre fun games, and plenty challenging to boot. As for their shortcomings, there is very little to do apart from defending towns. I wanted to see and do more in Dillonís world, but neither game really gives you that. Thankfully, Dillonís Dead Heat Breakers does. Unlike the first two games, you can now explore a small portion of a city and play some mini-games, giving you a much-deserved break from breaking Grocks. You can head to the racetrack, beat high scores at the local arcade, take a shift at a grocery store, and so on. Some of these diversions are better than others, but theyíre all a welcome addition to a series that stood to benefit from some variety.
Something worth noting is that Dillon isnít the one whoís exploring the city. Heís usually sleeping in between battles! Instead, you roam around as a character of your own making. At the start of the game, the player gets to select a mii and then turn it into an ďanmiimalĒ. You can choose to be a rabbit, ox, fox, or bear, to name a few options. Itís cute, and while I missed my chance to be Peter the rabbit, I enjoyed stomping around as Peter the glasses-wearing ox. This silent protagonist often feels like the main character, but worry not! Youíll still be playing as The Red Flash (Dillon) when defending towns. That said, your anmiimal doesnít just loaf around while Dillonís out fighting the good fight. Far from it! The player character provides backup by zooming around the map on a jetpack taking out Grocks with or without Dillon. You can select your custom characterís destination on the touch screen and theyíll be there in a jiffy.
Speaking of the touch screen, itís no longer used to control Dillon like it was in the previous two games. Constantly flicking the touchscreen got a bit tedious at times, so I think this change was for the best. Controlling Dillon feels intuitive and satisfying, and heís faster than ever thanks to the engines he now wears into battle. These speed boosters also help him keep up with the Grocks when they transform into mobile monstrosities. New to the series are racing segments that take place near the end of a battle. When the Grocks grow desperate, they transform into vehicles and drive around the map to store up energy for a last ditch attack. Dillon simply has to defeat them like usual, but the playing field feels totally different. Itís a clever twist to the franchiseís formula that gives each mission an action-packed ending.
Also new are gunners Ė additional miis turned anmiimals that can be hired before missions. Gunners use a few different weapons, so youíll have to look at the upcoming missionís map and decide which type of gunners would be best suited for it. While outfitting towers with weapons isnít new to this series, Gunners are more versatile than what was available before. Not only that, but hiring an anmiimal based off of people from your 3DS friends list is pretty amusing. A few of you helped me defend some villages as ducks and cats and whatnot, so thanks!
In terms of presentation, itís easily the best looking game in the series. The old west is replaced with an impressively-detailed post-apocalyptic setting. While I do miss the old west vibe, I can appreciate that the developers went for a different look and feel. Iíd often move the camera around just to appreciate its well-crafted world. Adding to the atmosphere is a soundtrack that largely consists of songs that subtly breathe life into the gameís shops and streets. I got the impression that the characters in the game can hear most of the music I was hearing, which is pretty interesting.At the end of the day, I feel like I finally got Dillon game that Iíve wanted since the original. I got to see more of Dillonís world and its inhabitants while also enjoying some of the best gameplay the series has to offer. Dillonís Dead Heat Breakers can still get repetitive like its predecessors at times, but it does a great job of mixing things up by throwing new types of enemies at you, introducing new mechanics, and offering a bunch of amusing mini-games. The $39.99 price point might scare some people off considering the first two games are much cheaper, but I think thereís enough here to justify the cost. Interestingly enough, this game got a retail release in Europe and Japan even though it appears as an eShop exclusive in North America. Anyway, hereís hoping this isnít the last we see of Dillon and Russ. The 3DS may be close to retiring, but that doesnít mean they should too!