When I hear the words “tower defense”, I think of paint drying on the side of a barn in a barren wasteland with no one around but a cat – a cat that I’m incredibly allergic to. There’s probably a wasp nest in the barn as well. It’s a bleak picture and there are plenty of other games I’d rather be sinking my time into. Who has the patience to watch enemies stroll along a predetermined path these days? So, why then have I sunk over ten hours into Dillion’s Rolling Western instead of playing Dark Souls? Maybe it has something to do with the clever blending of tower defense, resource management, action, and RPG elements. That, and I haven’t admired an armadillo like this since Armored Armadillo back in ‘93
Dillon’s Rolling Western scampered onto the 3DS eShop during a Nintendo Direct conference. It was a surprise for a game to be released on a sleepy Wednesday morning. But this game, like an armadillo’s nest, is full of surprises. To begin the game, I had to unsheathe my retractable stylus from the back of my 3DS, a gesture as foreign to me as blowing into a cartridge. Swiping back on the bottom screen and letting go launched Dillon into some rock monsters and the game began. This was a gesture I’d be repeating for quite some time.
Dillon the silent protagonist, travels from village-to-village defending them from Grock attacks. Grocks are rock monsters who want to eat the villages supply of Scrogs. I don’t know why it’s bad when the Scrogs are all gone, it just is. I imagine these desert villages don’t have much going for them, and if they can’t maintain their Scrog population, what is their purpose in life? Hence, Dillon comes to protect the Scrogs. His purpose is to give the villagers purpose.
When you first arrive in a town, you meet with the local mayor. They spout off some knowledge about Grocks and then you’re on your own. It’s just Dillon, his sidekick, limited funds, and a map to explore. There’s ten minutes before the Grocks start attacking, so you have no time to wonder what Dillon, an armadillo, is doing wearing a hat, scarf, and boots. Scattered across the map are mines full of rocks, Scruffle plants needed to feed the Scrogs, and towers. To ensure success against Grocks, this limited time of exploration must be used wisely. I usually roll to the mines, collect Scruffles, and roll over rocks to collect some extra cash. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to explore the beginning towns, but the later levels become such labyrinths that the overwhelming stress has caused me to close the lid of my 3DS and take a few calming breathes on more than one occasion.
After making a quick round, it’s time to return to town with the goods. In town, you can sell ore, donate rocks to build walls for the village to block any Grocks that make it past the defenses, and feed the Scrogs Scruffle so they produce more Scrogs. There’s an item shop where you can buy gems that can be used in battle. Some gems freeze Grocks and clog up Grock spawn points, others let Dillon cross rough terrain without losing speed. Gems are something I scoffed at early on, thinking they were a sign of weakness, but the later levels insist that those gems are part of a strategy less a few Scruffle get eaten.
Once you have money in your pocket, it’s time to roll out to the tower and build some defenses. Usually the first round is an enigma. There’s no telling what sort of Grocks you’ll encounter until they already arrive, so building towers ahead of time is kind of a crapshoot. Initially, you can choose to equip towers with a shotgun, machine gun, or cannon attachment. The shotgun, being the cheapest, only shoots Grocks that enter close proximity to the tower. The machine gun shoots Grocks farther away, but at a higher rate and costs more. The cannon launches, well, cannon balls farther away, but cost a lot more. With money being incredibly tight, I rarely ever had to purchase cannons to survive. Though, later levels rely more on having the right weaponry in the right area, which makes the first round of Grocks in any town a frustrating affair.
Right about the time I finish up my routine, the sun sets and the Grocks emerge from the ground. The Grocks are rocks with legs, some ride motorcycles, others have cannons attached to their rock faces. I imagine they’re the Hells Angels of rocks, rolling into town for no reason but to bring terror. Ideally, the towers will destroy a majority of Grocks. Though, if the guns aren’t doing the trick, and they almost never do on the first day, it’s up to Dillon to intervene. If you roll into a Grock on the battlefield, you’ll enter a small arena. Here, you control Dillon with a series of swipes to dispatch the rocks. Pulling back on the stylus and letting go slingshots Dillon into a nearby Grock, then, Dillon gets his claws dirty. You can hold in the stylus as Dillon connects to maintain a spin which grinds away the Grock. You can also tap the stylus as Dillon connects to administer a series of swipe. It’s a simple way to spice up the battle without it becoming more complex than a few simple stylus swipes.
Keep in mind that as you battle these Grocks in the arena, the game progresses at the regular pace outside, which makes choosing when and where to personally intervene a strategic choice.
Then, the dust settles, the Grocks vanish, and Dillon is left huffing and puffing, ready to defend the village two more times. Before the battle can begin anew, Dillon heads into town to buy new gear that can enhance fighting/mining techniques, and accept quests from the towns folks. A lot of these quest require a small sacrifice of ore, or a shifting of play style to complete, but the reward is extra money which goes a long way in this game. They’re welcome distractions that keep the recursive battles from becoming stale.
This formula repeats two more times so you spend a total of three days in the village. This is exactly the amount of time for you to build confidence, learn the patterns, and outsmart the Grocks. Then, just as you feel like you’ve accomplished something, they send you off to the next town, with new enemy types, new patterns, and a new map to explore.
A game that could have easily been as boring as watching a YouTube video of paint drying is saved by the various maps, customization, and strategy to destroy the Grocks. This new take on the tower defense genre is exciting and innovative. While the selection of towers is paltry, I never felt bored. Between low funds and the stress of always having to learn a new map and strategy keeps the scales on this armadillo sharp and exciting. One of the characters in the game says that the Rangers creed is, “Practice makes perfect.” In a way, that’s the way this game is constructed. You practice until you perfect it, then you move on to master something new. Never dawdling, never stagnant, always rolling like a dust bunny across the great plans of the Midwest.
Dillon’s Rolling Western was released on February 22nd, 2012 on the Nintendo 3DS eShop.