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Dillon's Rolling Western Review (Nintendo 3DS eShop)
Review by 
7.41/10 from 9 user ratings

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.

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Posted: 06/13/12, 19:15:45  - Edited by 
 on: 06/14/12, 07:21:27    
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Great review, Kris. I love your writing style.

I'm not a fan of tower defense games, yet somehow I was intrigued by Dillon's enough to give it a shot. As you said, it still adheres to tower defense tropes, but in a very general way. The formula is mixed up just enough with action sequences, and rolling around the landscape to intercept incomng grocks is just plain fun.

I see Russ as a voice for Dillon, our silent hero. He provides some comedic relief and he's a cute little mongrel. True, he doesn't do much, and the gameplay could definitely be expanded upon in a Banjo-Kazooie sort of way that included the little guy.

The mechanic by which you are limited in funds the first time you play a stage is kind of annoying but I think it was necessary to prevent one from becoming too overpowered. It allows for adequate challenge to be had.

This is a great game and everybody should give it a shot. I really enjoyed my time with it. Each day is split into three battles which take roughly 20 to 30 minutes each to complete. It's the perfect game to hack away at a little bit at a time. I think I beat it over the course of a month, playing a little bit every day. Kris, you seem to have blazed through it though! Did you ever have to replay a stage to get more stars so you could move forward?

Posted by 
 on: 06/13/12, 19:46:43  - Edited by 
 on: 06/13/12, 19:49:08

Yeah, I definitely had to replay levels, though once you get the lay of the land, it eases up a bit. But I've been picking the game up a couple of times a day since I bought it, almost like a mini-obsession. So I've probably crammed a months worth of playtime into a shorter period. Playing it for hours when I should be sleeping. That sort of thing.

Although, considering that's true, maybe I should have given it a higher score. It did hold my attention. I just see certain areas where it could be improved. And there's always the nagging feeling that the genre limits its wider appeal, somewhat.

Posted by 
 on: 06/13/12, 20:02:32
I loved this game, I put 20 hrs. into it. I didn't get past the 8th town though, the difficulty ramps up so high that it really kills the fun, having no money to build towers and feeling helpless wasn't a good way to make it challenging, sure it's practically impossible but not in a fun way, in a very frustrating way.

Posted by 
 on: 06/13/12, 20:13:31  - Edited by 
 on: 06/13/12, 20:15:22
Awesome review, Kris. This is one I haven't tried yet, but I'd like to. A demo would really help it out...

Posted by 
 on: 06/13/12, 21:06:09
Super duper review. Someday I'll grab a 3DSWare game, and I'm leaning towards Dillon.

Posted by 
 on: 06/14/12, 00:02:11
Excellent review! Sadly, I'm a lefty. So not only couldn't I be a catcher in little league, apparently I'll have to pass on this game too. I don't necessarily like all things tower defense, but there have been several that I really liked. Fieldrunners, Ninja Town, and Pixeljunk Monsters are among my favorites. If it were cheaper, I may still give it a chance, but for ten bucks, it doesn't seem worth the frustration.

Posted by 
 on: 06/14/12, 00:25:03

Are you starting back from your save each time you lose, or do you abandon and start over? Because Russ lets you bring more money in after you've died once, and that's a big help.

I sort of addressed this, but I do find it interesting that the price tag is holding a lot of us back from purchasing The Rolling Western. I mean, it held me back, too, so I'm not criticizing anyone. But I can easily imagine this being a retail release a generation or so back. 20+ hours of gameplay. More if you want to try to master everything. I don't know. That doesn't seem like a bad deal for 10 bucks, in my opinion. But the influx of cheap mobile games really has radically changed the way we view value in games like these.

Posted by 
 on: 06/14/12, 07:04:20
Adventures of Lolo, what!

I hate Tower Defense, but I loved your review! I'm gonna guess that this is the first time that the phrase 'pig viagra' has been used in a Nintendo review. (I don't want to Google it and ruin the mystique.)

Your theory of hatred of Tower Defense is interesting, but I think, for me, it boils down to the indirect control. It's just not satisfying to me. So maybe Rolling Western will be. We shall see, we shall see...

By the way, have you played Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland, by the same developer? It seems to have some odd similarities.

Also, Nintendo has actually released quite a few new IP, if you count downloadable software, games that were never localized, the Wii ___ games, etc. Even more importantly than that, Nintendo has created quite a few new types of gameplay, regardless of which IP was used to execute them, which is far, far, far more important to me than reskinning another game.

Bagging on Nintendo for not creating new characters every game seems ridiculous to me, frankly. I mean, look at how enormous their current stable is. It makes sense to create a new IP occasionally, but games like Yoshi's Touch and Go and Donkey Kong Jungle Beat were far fresher than almost all of the 'New IPs' that I've experienced recently.

Posted by 
 on: 06/14/12, 15:37:19
You should get back to it, the last couple of towns are pretty fun!

Wait, does this mean you haven't bought Pushmo?

Cool. I wonder if anyone has unlocked the bonus for getting 5 stars on every stage.

Posted by 
 on: 06/14/12, 18:00:48
Kris, awesome review, and what an entertaining read.

I'll be honest, I am sooo unfamiliar with the 'tower defense' genre, but regardless, I was always fascinated by this particular game since I first heard about it. The characters definitely seem appealing enough. (And wow at the similarities to Sonic and Tails!)

The three phase aspect of the game sounds really interesting, and while I'm usually not too fond of these 'tense' and 'pressure' heavy kind of games (which is why I avoid RTS games in general), I can't help but feel compelled to try this game out. Honestly the price sounds very good IMO.

Whoa, scruffle hogs getting devoured, this game is intense! Poor little guys... And yeah, it's pretty cool to see Nintendo's take on the cowboy theme of the wild west, not something you see that often.

Posted by 
 on: 06/14/12, 18:57:12

Haven't played the Tingle game, though I certainly would have given it a try if it had been released over here. Sounded funny. And, like a lot of people, I love to hate Tingle. So that means I like him, in some twisted way.


Haha. Not me, that's for sure. That's going to be hard-going. But I salute anyone who can do it.


Yeah, it's funny, because I'm not much of a fan of RTS games partly because I don't like the resource management and tower defense aspects. But, for some reason that's hard to explain, I actually kind of like those aspects when they're separated from the rest of the responsibilities of RTS. That's very odd, almost hypocritical, but I think it may be because I find resource management annoying when I'm supposed to be building an offensive force. I don't really want to manage the amount of iron I can mine per minute, as if I was some kind of corporate accountant. Dead boring. But when it's simplified down and merely a part of a defensive strategy, and that's the only role I have to focus on, it can be fun. It feels more like a game and less like work.

And the Sonic and Tails thing is funny to point out, but it's strictly cosmetic. The Rolling Western could easily be reskinned into a Sonic: Tower Defense game, but it would still feel like no other Sonic game ever made. Actually, it'd be the best Sonic game I've played in quite a while (though, in fairness, I've missed a few of the recent ones that were better reviewed). It's a fairly obvious connection to make, but I was proud that I noticed it on my own. However, when I went to make screenshots for this article on YouTube, I noticed there were a bunch of whiners on Rolling Western videos complaining that it was some kind of Sonic rip-off. That's the wrong spirit to see the similarities, I think.

Posted by 
 on: 06/14/12, 19:22:29  - Edited by 
 on: 06/14/12, 19:27:16
I dislike Tower Defense for the same reason that I dislike RTS games: indirect control. Like, you do something and then watch stuff happen. There's no tactile, arcade-style feedback! And keyboard and mouse is the least fun input method EVER, pretty much. Reminds me of work.

Posted by 
 on: 06/14/12, 23:16:16

Well there's certainly a ton of direct control in Dillon's Rolling Western. If that's your main beef with the genre, then this may be the one Tower Defense game you ought to check out. Even managing the towers is direct control, in a sense, because you've got to actually race back to the tower to protect and repair it. And you do a lot of melee fighting, even when your towers are up and running. There's no sitting still and letting the towers do all the work in this game. It's more like a game where you need to be three places at once.

Posted by 
 on: 06/14/12, 23:37:53
Yeah, the rolling around looks fun. And very 3D. So I'll definitely get it, eventually.

Posted by 
 on: 06/14/12, 23:51:21
Anand said:
Yeah, the rolling around looks fun. And very 3D. So I'll definitely get it, eventually, when it is offered as a Club Nintendo reward for the 4DS in 2017.
I love your enthusiasm!

Posted by 
 on: 06/15/12, 03:59:27
The game is on sale, currently. $6.99 instead of $9.99.

Posted by 
 on: 05/01/13, 19:14:24
Yeah, according to CheapAssGamer, there are quite a few games on sale. Some of those sales are ending soon. I picked up ATV Wild Ride, Fluidity, and... something else yesterday. Tried Wild Ride on the train. I don't know how wild it is, but it's pretty decent! Excellent 3D effect.

As for Dillo, I'll probably just skip straight to the second.

When THAT goes on sale.

Nintendo having sales is a good thing, but it has shifted me to the "always wait for sale" mode that I use on the other platforms. I'm no longer waiting for Club Nintendo giveaways, though, since the points/dollar value has decreased quite a bit from when they started the program.

Here's the current list:

3D Classics: Kirby's Adventure - $4.99 - End 5/9
Aero Porter - $2.99 - Ends 5/30
Art of Balance: Touch - $4.99 - Ends 5/9
ATV Wild Ride 3D - $5.99 - Ends 5/2
Crimson Shroud - $4.99 - Ends 5/30
Dillon's Rolling Western - $6.99 - Ends 5/9
Fluidity: Spin Cycle - $7.99 - Ends 5/9
Fun! Fun! Minigolf TOUCH! - $3.49 - Ends 5/9
Liberation Maiden - $4.99 - Ends 5/30
Nano Assault EX - $9.99 - Ends 5/9
Pushmo - $4.99 - Ends 5/9
Tokyo Crash Mobs - $4.99 - Ends 5/9

(Art of Balance was my third game.)

Posted by 
 on: 05/01/13, 20:16:27  - Edited by 
 on: 05/01/13, 20:19:41
Waiting is my default mode now, because I've simply bought too many games to play. So at this point, yes, sales make me purchase games that I would otherwise still wait before buying (and would end up never buying, because there is no end to this backlog).

Posted by 
 on: 05/01/13, 20:20:15
Same for me, same for me. I have tons and tons of eShop and VC games sitting on my SD card.

Speaking of which, I FINALLY got my 3DS back. The first couple of times that I stuck the SD card in, it still didn't work. But then it did? And I haven't messed around with it since.

So, yeah. I might send the bastard in again, but I'd like to actually play it for a while, first. I've missed it!

Posted by 
 on: 05/01/13, 20:23:22
I think this is worthy of a new thread.

Posted by 
 on: 05/01/13, 21:29:47
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