Tower Defense is probably the most humiliating genre in video game history that doesn't include the word Porn and the number 2600.
Why humiliating? Because over and over again you execute a plan that fails. Then you start over, scraping together the kernels of wisdom you learned from the last go 'round, and usually you fail again. Then, if you do succeed, you go to the next level where you get to fail all over again. Oh, there's plenty of failure in other genres, too, but the amount of preparation that takes place, the helplessness you feel as things fall apart, and the suspicion that you've completely wasted your time, particularly affects players of Tower Defense. The stink of failure fumigates the whole genre.
But I love Tower Defense games and, in particular, this new game, Dillon's Rolling Western. So take that, nay-saying fail-pusses.
The Nay-Saying Fail Puss is the world's laziest jungle cat.
So, how to describe The Rolling Western? It's a variation on that old, old, western story. A man/woman/armadillo comes into a troubled town riddled with bandits/smallpox/rock-monsters who've decimated the town's bank/schoolchildren/scruffle-hog-based-local-economy. With the help of their trusty Indian-sidekick/Mexican-sidekick/Gyrocopter-Flying-Prairie-Dog-sidekick, our hero sets things to right by gunfighting/doctoring/rolling-his-body-into-a-bunch-of-pig-eating-rock-monsters. And, when the threat of lawlessness/disease/bacon-theft is gone, he/she/it rides off into the sunset/sunrise/blood-red-sky-that's-somehow-controlled-by-the-rock-monsters-better-not-ask-too-many-questions-about-this-aspect-of-the-game.
It's that old, old story, one more time. But it works lovely in The Rolling Western*, a pretty darn good 3DS eShop downloadable game that released a few weeks back.
*This is one instance where I'm going to use the game's original Japanese title throughout the review, saving precious electrons. Now, that's good for the environment. It also just plain sounds better.
You play as Dillon, a vigilante armadillo posing as a legitimate lawman, in a struggle against a group of hungry rock monsters, called grocks. Like other great western heroes, from the Lone Ranger to Shane to Cowboy Curtis, we don't know a lot about his background. He's that archetypical mysterious cowboy in the white hat. Why does he roll from town to town, saving villages from wrack and ruin? Who can say? (Certainly not Dillon. Like many Nintendo heroes, he doesn't talk.) All we know for sure is that he's on the side of good and, whatever his motives, the villagers are grateful for his hard work protecting their scruffle hogs. So grateful that they pay him for it.
Oh. Now that I think about it, maybe that's his motive.
You control Dillon with a combination of Circle Pad movements and stylus strokes. With a downstroke on the touchscreen, Dillon rolls into a ball. Let go and he'll shoot forward, as if you launched him from a slingshot. As he rolls along, the Circle Pad controls his direction - though, be warned, he gathers a lot of momentum and typically turns wider than a flatbed truck. Other stylus strokes cause him to speed boost or, when deadly grocks roam the plains, perform one of his melee attacks (claw attacks, rolling attacks, charge attacks, etc.). String these together for high scoring combos that reward you with cash and better item drops.
The game trains you to use these touchscreen strokes early on and they're easy to master. A good thing, too, as you'll do a lot of physical fighting against the grocks throughout. This action-based gameplay distinguishes it from most other Tower Defense games and the tappity-tap fighting system works just fine. It's certainly simplistic and not the most compelling use of stylus control I've ever seen - particularly after the high-flying joy of Kid Icarus: Uprising - but it does a solid, workmanlike job. It's precise and I never became bored with it. What more could I ask for?
A word of warning though, like many Circle Pad/Stylus games, The Rolling Western can tax your wrists. Thankfully, the shoulder buttons aren't necessary most of the time, but I still found my wrists getting a bit of a workout after a few extended sessions. If it's available, I say plunk your 3DS into the plastic stand that was packaged with Uprising. Your wrists will appreciate it.
The tactical part of the game breaks down into 3 phases: Daytime, Nighttime and a late night saloon crawl. You'll spend the daytime preparing for the upcoming battle. During this first phase, you'll explore the terrain, devise a strategy, mine ore to fortify the village walls, set up gun towers, collect special rewards in Ancient Ruins and a number of other similar preparatory tasks. You get a limited amount of time to get the field ready for battle, and I find the timer to be just about right; not too long or too short. During your first time through each village you won't have quite enough time to make a gameplan and get everything set up perfectly, and that adds a welcome element of pressure to each preparatory phase. There's no moseying in this game. You gotta get straight down to business. (If you replay a village after completing it, the mayor gives you an option to "Take a Siesta", which will skip you straight to the Nighttime phase. Very handy for those instances where you already know the lay of the land and the strategy you want to use.)
Also during this phase you'll collect giant turnip-like plants called scruffles. Supposedly this is the main diet of the scruffle hogs, hence their name (often shortened to scrogs). But I ain't buying it. I've been to three picnics and a rodeo and I can read between the lines. Every time you feed them this stuff, it immediately increases the amount of hogs in the pen. So, clearly, this is some industrial-strength Pig Viagra and scruffle hogs have the shortest gestation period in the entire animal kingdom. Something to think about. (But don't think about it too long, now.)
Filthy, filthy scruffle hogs.
During the daytime phase, you can see your partner Russ tooling around the sky in his gyrocopter. I don't recall the game ever explaining what he's doing up there, but he seems to think it's important. He does warn you about a minute before the grocks are due to appear, so that's something, I guess. I like Russ, but I do wish the development team had come up with some way to include him in the battles, even if his contribution turned out to be very minor. As is, hearing Russ talk about how hard he fought in the last battle gets a bit comical after a while. Since he spends most of the story in his gyrocopter, he's probably the safest character in the whole game! But I still like Russ - he's sort of like a pure-hearted Conker, before he discovered booze and the ladies. I'd just like to see him contribute more.
Ten-four good buddy. But maybe you could help more by bringing some dynamite next time.
Once night falls, the battle phase begins. At this point the grocks will start spilling out of their volcanic dens and you'll try to execute your strategy to take them out. In other words, it's Tower Defense. A lot will depend on whether you set up the right guns at the appropriate towers and how well you can manage protecting those towers while also keeping the village safe. Then, of course, you have to deal with the grocks that manage to get past your towers. And, believe me, plenty will. But, if you set things up right and move quickly enough, you'll survive to the next phase. If you don't, well, all the village's scruffle hogs get eaten and it's game over.
I nominate this for most horrifying image in a recent Nintendo game.
The game is also pretty good about surprising you in each village with some new monster types, leading to some unexpected challenges. To describe these would spoil the game, but I can pretty much guarantee there'll be at least a few times when the game throws you something you didn't anticipate and you'll have to scramble to keep things from falling apart.
And if you're anything like me, things will fall apart frequently. It's just part of the game. The terrain can give you a clue about how to defeat the oncoming horde, but that's usually not enough to guarantee success. And, even if you know how you want to proceed, you may not have the money or time to do it. Or there might be a special new grock who's just going to upend your whole strategy. So it's a highwire act, where you're likely to fall off at any moment. That's part of the excitement of this genre, though, and players seem to either love it or hate it. Personally, even when I'm playing poorly, I get a perverse thrill watching the grocks dismantle my towers and eat all my scruffle hogs, as I run back and forth trying to stop them. It's frustrating, too, but in a rewarding way. At one point one of the village mayors says that the Marshall's creed is "Practice Makes Perfect". That's certainly true in this game. Every time you fail, you pick up some new ideas about how to approach the battle the next time.
That does suggest one of the flaws of the game, though. As you play, you puzzle out the grocks' general strategy for each map. After some trial and error, the best method for your success becomes clear. Perhaps on one map it's use of long cannons. On another it's all about the strategic positioning of shotguns. Whatever the specifics, you'll eventually work it out. After that, while you can repeat each village for faster times and a higher rating, long-term the levels aren't going to be infinitely replayable. In this particular way, The Rolling Western is like a puzzle game - like a more complex version of The Adventures of Lolo, where once you've figured out the tricks of a particular level, you can get it right every time.
Still, there's enough original content that this won't become a problem until well after you've gotten your money's worth. And lack of replay value didn't stop Lolo from being a great game, did it?
After the night is over and you've wiped out all of the grocks, you get a quick final phase in the town saloon. At this point you're off the clock and can buy items, practice moves, pick up quests from local villagers and restore your health. If this was a retail game I might complain that there isn't more to do during this phase, because it'd be nice to get a feel for the villages you're saving. In a perfect version of The Rolling Western, each village would have its own personality and flavor. But I can't really dock points from a 10 dollar downloadable game because it lacks a little Local Color. These saloon sequences are about taking care of the tasks that aren't related to battle, nothing more or less.
In total, there are 10 villages in the Rolling Western, and the battles in each village take place over 3 day/night cycles. So that's 30 different battles to master. Not bad for a downloadable game. A dollar a village. 33 cents a battle. Yeah, that's about the right value, I'd say. And the later stages are quite challenging.
The task of assigning a one-size-fits-all score to the Rolling Western already irritates me. Did I enjoy it? Absolutely. Worth my money? You betcha. But is this game for everyone? No, I don't think it is.
For one thing, if you're left-handed you should forget you ever heard about it. The Rolling Western just plain ain't for you, pardner - unless your enthusiasm for tower defense games (or armadillo cowboys) overwhelms you so much that you can't go on living without it. I can't imagine trying to navigate this thing with my offhand, though. So I'd recommend against it.
Also, Tower Defense games rub a lot of people the wrong way. Personally, I attribute that to the aforementioned humiliation. If you'd hoped that Nintendo would find a magical way to remove the usual frustrating aspects of the genre, well, I'm sorry to break your heart. The Rolling Western has some of that Nintendo Magic - and it certainly isn't interchangeable with any Tower Defense game of which I'm aware - but it still hews fairly closely to the expectations of the genre. You're still building turrets using limited resources while a timer bears down on you. If you hate that in other Tower Defense games, you'll hate it here.
Not to mention that, if you're looking for a more straight-forward Tower Defense game, Starship Defense is on the eShop. And it's cheaper.
Still, I'll happily give a full endorsement to The Rolling Western, both because I legitimately enjoyed my time with it and because I can easily imagine it charming other curious (right-handed) players without strong feelings against the genre. And it's a good example of a more ambitious eShop game. Nintendo's famed EAD studio had a hand in producing The Rolling Western and, while this isn't among their best work, I still felt their presence from time to time. Certain moments have that effortless EAD touch, which might make it worth it for hardcore Nintendo fans even if they aren't in love with the genre. If nothing else, it's fun to watch Dillon collect his own Pieces of Heart, as if he were starring in the weirdest Zelda game yet.
The Rolling Western worked for me, with solid gameplay that I found fun throughout. Dillon and his partner Russ are appealing characters, well-designed and fun to look at. As far as I can recall, this is the first time Nintendo has ventured into cowboy territory since Wild Gunman and they wear the style well. Considering the stealth release of The Rolling Western in America, I suspect Dillon and Russ haven't exactly been tapped to become the next Mario and Luigi. And that makes me a bit sad. Will we see more of this western double-act? It'll be a shame if we don't. These guys could easily break out of the Tower Defense genre into more mainstream fare, if Nintendo wanted to roll that direction. And that's before we even discuss their potential for Smash Bros.
Russ calls himself a squirrel, but I don't see a bushy tail. That's like calling yourself a giraffe when you don't have a long neck. So I'm outing him as a prairie dog.
One thing I don't want to hear is any more complaining that Nintendo doesn't come up with new IPs nowadays. Here's a completely new Nintendo property in a fun, modest, little game that's only 10 buckaroos. That's almost worth throwing down the dough just to get your right to complain back. And, who knows, you might enjoy it.
Waitaminute… I call this a new IP but… something is nagging me. I've never seen this before, have I? A speedy animal who attacks bad guys by rolling into a ball and hurling himself at enemies? All to save helpless critters from a mechanical danger? Who travels from zone to zone with a sweet, almost-sickeningly cute furry friend who spends most of his time flying around? Does that sound familiar?
Nah. I'm daydreaming. Must be the scruffles I had for lunch.
No, no, no. People should bump my review of Dillon's Rolling Western 1000 times.
Let's go for the full 10,000. Can't we do that today folks?
EDIT: As for the sale price, I definitely think the original game is worth 7 bucks. If you have any worry that you may not like the main gameplay in the Rolling Western games, might as well start there. If you don't like the first one, you won't like the second (as evidenced by IGN's pathetic review of the second game). So this is a cheaper way into the series than just jumping straight to the second game. And if you like the first, the second will be worth it to you.
Unless you're left handed. There's actually a lefty control method in the second game.
Good review for a good game. Looks like I gave the game the highest score so far... Though I would have loved to have this game on my finished pile, I'm simply exhausted to try that last boss one more time, as I mentioned in the game discussion thread.
But I'm here to talk about why I love the game so much.
The stylus controls work great, and you'll be working frantically to aim your rolls properly in each and every battle, because each second spent in battle is a precious second needed somewhere else as the monsters march their way to consume those poor scrogs.
During the daytime phase, you can see your partner Russ tooling around the sky in his gyrocopter. I don't recall the game ever explaining what he's doing up there, but he seems to think it's important.
I'm pretty sure he acts as Dillon's eyes, sort of like explaining how it is you can glance at your map on the bottom screen and know where everyhing is at. They do have communication radios, ie walkie-talkies of some sort. Although the watch towers do the same thing I think? Yeah, it'd be cool if Russ could drop some bombs from the sky...
Certain moments have that effortless EAD touch, which might make it worth it for hardcore Nintendo fans even if they aren't in love with the genre. If nothing else, it's fun to watch Dillon collect his own Pieces of Heart, as if he were starring in the weirdest Zelda game yet.
Yeah, that's awesome.
Dillon is a cool character; it's refreshing to see a new face in Nintendo's library.
I'm very happy this game got a sequel and hope to check it out in the future!
@Secret_Tunnel Yeah, except with less heavy metal and more heavy armadillo-on-rock action. Dillon is a cool character- he even made it into Smash Bros! I hope more people give this series a chance (I'm picking up the sequel on CN! Woo!).
Thanks to Club Nintendo and some generous donations from online friends, I now have both of these games! I can't wait to play them! I don't even care about the mechanics; good, bad, or in between, I think I'm gonna really enjoy the games based purely on their characters. Mascot gamez 4 life, yo!!
I'd put it like this. The first one eases you in a little better and does a better job of explaining what you're supposed to be doing. I think the second starts with the assumption that you've already played the first game. It's been a while, but I recall hearing some complaints that there wasn't a good tutorial in the second game, as the first game is really the tutorial. So jumping straight into 2 without playing 1 isn't going to be perfectly seamless for a noob.
That said, I think the second game is probably the better designed game, particularly for casual players. There are more features, more characters, more story and more ways to make money other than completing hard-to-damn-near-impossible levels - so kind of a light RPG grinding function that I actually think a lot of people around here will appreciate. Plus, you get to meet the squid with the knives, which is awesome.
For this community, I think you could get away with skipping to 2 if you want to try the better game and know ahead of time you're not interested in playing both. Of course my actual advice is to play both games and start with 1, as they're both good and worth the paltry cost. But if you just want to dip your toe in, go with 2 and consult YouTube/Negative World if you have questions about what the hell is going on.
Keep in mind both games get hard as nails as they go along. I've still never finished 2. Should probably go back to it...
@Mop it up I'd like to hear what the serious issues are. I've heard people say stuff like that but I'm not sure what's so seriously flawed about it, apart from the love/hate nature of all Tower Defense games.
@kriswright I guess one person's flaw is another person's treasure, but I felt like in the later stages the game don't give you enough money to use any actual strategy or give you room to experiment. There isn't enough money to really use towers so it just becomes a repetitive fight beating up all the Grocks myself. Plus, the whole equipment breaking thing is just an unnecessary layer on top of an already stingy game, and the attack equips are pretty much required to defeat the stronger Grocks. I also didn't feel like the game did an adequate job explaining everything and left some stuff out, so the first level wasn't fun either.
The middle was fun though. And replaying a level for a five-star rating can be fun too, since actual strategy and experimentation comes into play there. But the first time playing levels shouldn't be so miserable and repetitive.
You know, you're right about the money/equipment point. That is a flaw that makes the game unnecessarily difficult in the later stages. I'm not sure I agree that we're talking about a serious flaw - throw phrases like that around and people just won't play the game, and I think that'd be a shame - but I think it's a fair point.
@kriswright When something makes a game completely miserable and unfun, I call it as I see it: a serious issue. I guess people will interpret that differently and have different levels of patience, but serious issues don't usually stop me from playing a game if it also has fun parts in it. I try my best to just focus on the good parts and extract out the fun, so to speak, when I play games. And, most of the problems are towards the end of the game; even if that's a stopping point, fun can be had until then.
I still recommend people check this game out from Club Nintendo, and I'll be grabbing the sequel from there myself. Those issues may not bother people as much as they did me, but even if they do, I still think there's some fun to be had with this one.