After all these years, and growing up with Windows 3.1, I have seen an entire evolution of computers and software. Touch screens and large resolutions were a pipe dream just 15 years ago. Now it's the norm. Going from a Packard Bell (yes, before HP) that couldn't run 3D Ultra Mini...
Last year, the 3DS eShop debuted Dillon's Rolling Western to moderate success. That game combined tower-defense, action-combat, and a slick rolling-control scheme, all of which is fine-tuned and expanded upon in The Last Ranger, the direct sequel to Dillon's original adventure. Now if you thought rolling around in the dirt as an anthropomorphic armadillo wouldn't be fun, you'd be dead wrong.
That's because he who shoots rolls last dies first, mostly thanks to a devious time requirement on every stage and the tough enemies that waste no time in attacking the quaint desert town you've sworn to protect. Even if The Last Ranger can feel too frustrating at times, a perfect defense of your critter friends and a lot of charm helps to elevate this downloadable to a new plain mesa.
Last year I tried the original Dillon's Rolling Western when it released, but it always felt like the developer Vanpool had half an idea, one that was formed excitedly but not entirely planned out. Players use the circle pad to steer and the touchpad to slingshot the armadillo hero around the map, setting up gun towers, mining for valuable resources, and collecting more stuff to beef up the town's defenses. The Last Ranger cements the original's mechanics but adds a few new layers to keep an interesting, well-paced progression to the final conflict.
Thankfully, new players don't have to worry about getting ahead of themselves. Dillon and company will get you up to speed in Beginsville, your first outpost, where Grocks, walking rock monsters, will attack periodically and players will have to grasp the action-defense mechanics quickly if they want to progress. Setting up a strategically placed gatling gun might cost more, but it'll do more damage. Maybe you'd rather spread your material wealth around and set up two or more shotgun-toting guard towers. These do less damage, but you'll have more watchdogs on your team and, therefore, better coverage of the entire map.
Overzealous players might want to rush out and kill the first Grock they see, but everything in The Last Ranger is about maximizing output with minimal effort. Rolling all the way to the other side of the map will take a long time, and by the time you finish off an enemy, another might have gotten to your gate. This sense of balance= between time and necessary action creates plenty of tension, but one that's agitated by the control scheme. Steering with one hand and furiously swiping at the touchscreen can feel inaccurate and will leave your hand cramped over long play sessions.
This shortcoming is furthered by the nature of side quests on each map. You could help a local yokel with a handful of the gems you've mined before waves start coming in, but that'll take away from your defense funds. What do these desert rodents really want? To be protected from monsters or earn gems? Make up your mind!
That said, Dillon's combat and timed challenges make for compelling and rewarding gameplay. The stylus controls make beating up on a bunch of animated boulders an exercise in finesse. Using Dillon's special attacks smartly and launching from one baddie to the next makes you feel like a master furiously dotting and slashing a canvas. Charging Dillon up, tapping and holding for extra damage, and blasting off to the next Grock quickly becomes second nature, even though I had to put the 3DS down every 20 minutes or so.
The Last Ranger adds to these mechanics with train-defense and assistant rangers. You'll move from town to town, meeting new helpful friends, erecting towers as needed and chipping away the Grock threat slowly but surely. These mechanics don't break the delicate flow from collecting, building, and defending, and offer empowering choices to the player, adding further options for your personal style. I couldn't keep from choosing the squid with a sword for each tentacle.
There's more than enough value in this downloadable for the asking price, and gorgeous, colorful 3D graphics and textures make it an easier sell. Nintendo made sure to polish The Last Ranger to a shine, the kind you expect from the house of Mario and Link, but just be prepared for small frustrations. The checkpoint system is a little harsh, sending you back much further than you'd possibly like and the persistent flood of similar-looking Grocks might wear you down.
Lots of gamers will probably want more time to arrange their towers perfectly or even help a few citizens out in side quests. As Dillon's objectives multiply, it can knock the delicate balance you've got between attacking and defending out of whack. Reigning it back in, fending off a difficult wave, and deftly manipulating the stylus feels rewarding. Even the stoically grim-faced Dillon would crack a smile at his own game's best moments.
Code provided by publisher. Exclusive to 3DS.
Dillon's Rolling Western: The Last Ranger
Stylish combat for virtuosos of rock destruction
... hurts my big hands.
Defending with towers, fellow Rangers, and the shell on your back
Not enough time for sidequests
Learning levels inside-and-out over a few waves of Grocks
Excellent Western-inspired soundtrack
Frustrating checkpoint system
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