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Dillon's Rolling Western: The Last Ranger review for 3DS

Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Vanpool
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: E10

The original Dillon’s Rolling Western that debuted on the Nintendo eShop last year was a pleasant surprise. We’ve all played our fair share of tower defense titles at this point, with some excellent entries across consoles and PC’s. But we’ve also seen our fair share of lame, boring, and downright tedious ventures into that strategy sub-genre, which can often be enough to put you off of the concept completely.

Dillon’s Rolling Western made some serious effort to distinguish itself from the rest though. Featuring an anthropomorphic armadillo named Dillon, partnered with a sidekick squirrel by the name of Russ; players could roll around a 3D area as they collect ore, build up cash, and construct armed towers. During the day you’d be able to explore the space given in each stage, explore various mines for ore and other materials, and gather small fluffy white plants that would essentially tie into HP for the village you’re trying to protect. But at night you’d have to fend off attacking rock creatures called Grocks, which would come in intermittent waves to attack a village, attempting to whittle down the defenses and eat all the delicious Scrogs contained inside.

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The sequel to Dillon’s Rolling Western, subtitled The Last Ranger doesn’t deviate from that formula too much. Not that it really needs to, there was little wrong with the initial concept. But it does introduce a handful of new things, and overall the presentation given here has been given a bit of a boost.

Like before, Dillon and Russ will travel from town to town, represented by locations an overworld map. Each town will need defending from the Grock threat, making use of the three days and nights cycle introduced by the last game. At the end of each day, depending on how successful you were in your defense, you’ll get some bonus money that can be spent on later days to build up towers, equip them with guns, or purchase equipment for Dillon that degrades over time.

There’s one new thing that you can opt to spend cash on, which becomes a pretty worthwhile addition to the game early on. Starting at the first side mission, accessible after you complete the initial tutorial world, you can call on a A.I. controlled partner. Partners in The Last Ranger have a somewhat high asking price for their services, but are generally worth recruiting when available.

When you buy into one of the three partner characters featured, you can use that partner for different activities in both day and night cycles. During the day you can request that the partner spend time gathering resources, like ore, money, or have them hunt down the plants that will bolster the starting Scrog population for the town. The partner character will then work independently on that task, and you can approach them at any time to collect what they’ve found, and reassign them to a different task.

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When night approaches and it’s time to fight, you can opt to assign an area for your partner to patrol early on, but they’ll act independently and generally move about the map once things get hectic. They’ll engage any nearby Grocks, and you can allow them to duke it out without assistance, or you can jump into the fray to lend a helping hand. For the most part they work well enough alone, but I did find them to be sort of breakable early on. There’s not really a massive penalty if they run out of health during an attack though, so you’ll be able to pick them back up for the next day’s activities.

Finally, once you finish the world that the partner is introduced on, you’ll have some sort of ending fight that’ll allow you permanent access to that partner going forward. These events can be failed though, which doesn’t halt your in-game progress, but will require you to replay a world if you didn’t successfully complete the fight in order to get permanent access to that partner.

Another significant addition is the train defense, required on most maps at different intervals. Train tracks will run across each map, and when the train appears you'll need to keep the track clear of Grock's in order for it to advance. It's a pretty durable train, but will come to a screeching halt whenever it's attacked, so you really have to redirect focus to it whenever it's on the screen. Some side quests will tie into protecting the train as well, making it a little more worth it to keep an eye on it and make sure it's HP stays high. The train is a neat addition to the maps, and forces a few more unpredictable moments into the overall experience.

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Combat is almost exactly what we saw in the original game last year. Dillon’s primary move, for both fighting and traversal, is a charged spin attack not at all unlike SEGA’s classic Sonic mascot. Dillon can roll around the open world setting at will by sliding the stylus down the touchscreen, and can speed up by continuously doing so. When fighting, the same movement will allow you to attack nearby Grocks, helpfully highlighted with an arrow to give you an idea of which one you’ll hit. You can tap the stylus against the touchscreen at the moment of impact in order to grind against them for multiple hits, or can continuously tap the touch screen to initiate claw attacks.

Along with your standard assortment of attacks, the use of items to attack or slow down advancing Grocks returns too. Bombs can whittle away a group of Grocks all at once, or Freeze Bombs can be used to temporarily halt a group from advancing further. Of course, the towers are still a primary way of battling Grocks you can’t currently reach, which will auto-attack any enemy that gets in range of whatever weapon you have equipped. I will say that I wish there was a bit more effort in either supplementing the previous weapon sets for towers, or changing them up entirely, but they’re still effective here. And the rewards given for tower kills have been moderately increased, giving you a bit more cash when used effectively.

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Another addition comes from the StreetPass functionality, allowing you to exchange player info in the form of stars earned on completed stages, and a neat idea that allows you to exchange strategies. Players can exchange map tower layouts, in concept helping players stuck on a particular area determine how to better place their defenses for reattempts. StreetPass is rarely something that I get to encounter myself, but for those that do get some use out of the function, it’s nice to see it implemented in an interesting fashion here.

Overall, I found myself extremely pleased with this sequel. It’s not as fleshed out as you might expect, there’s certainly a lot of reliance on the mechanics found in the first one. And that can definitely be both good and bad, depending on how much you enjoyed the first game. The addition of partners is a great idea, the stages are just as challenging as they were in the original, and there’s enough variation in the stage design to make each feel pretty unique.

Other aspects, like the village hubs that you can walk around and speak to a small number of locals, are steps in the right direction that could be expanded on a bit more for future entries. I was disappointed that the soundtrack, particularly the core theme that runs throughout, was essentially repeated from the first game too. But overall, it’s worth checking out, and still remains a lot of fun. If you’ve been jonesing for more armadillo rolling, Grock-bashing, tower defense fun, you’ll definitely enjoy Dillon’s Rolling Western: The Last Ranger.

Grade: B+


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