Dillon’s Rolling Western: The Last Ranger is a tower defense game with something to prove. Reinforce, rather, being a sequel. The idea here is that we have a tower defense game, something traditionally passive in nature, but with a more personal action-oriented twist. Dillon, a cool Django-esque armadillo, must physically manage the battlefield while simultaneously acting as the primary offensive/defensive force. This new angle on an established formula gives the genre a freshness and vitality that it sorely needed.
The majority of the game is controlled by pulling back on the touchscreen and letting go like a slingshot, launching Dillon forward with enough velocity to destroy objects in his path and attack enemies. It sounds repetitive, but you ultimately use Dillon’s rolling ability for several different purposes which provides enough unique feedback to distract from the same motion being used over and over.
Each stage opens with pre-battle resource gathering, which is where Last Ranger struggles with pacing. You need materials to build gates, ore to sell and food for the creatures you’re protecting (which causes them to multiply, affording you more casualties). Any non-stressful building can also be done here. You have a time limit; the enemies strike at sundown, so you must cover as much ground as quickly as possible to make sure you can sufficiently prepare. This is a departure from the usual menu-based prep work, which ironically slows things down even with the time limit. The stages are large, and the landmarks are often far away from each other. It’s a mad rush to get from place to place, but you spend so much time rolling in between it becomes more boring than frenetic as the game goes on. Luckily you also gain more options and things to do as time goes on, but even with the more dynamic nature, the game won’t mix well with short attention spans.
The combat also goes to great lengths to breathe new life into defense games. Last Ranger takes an almost-JRPG-inspired approach to combat; Dillon must charge enemies on the map, but once contact is made, he’s sucked into a pocket dimension in which the large enemy he tackled has split into several. You’re boxed in to a small arena and have attack options you don’t have elsewhere. Strategic rolls and taps allow you to jump from enemy to enemy, colliding into them then brandishing your claws for more damage.
Caution is also necessary, as the world outside of the battle zone continues, so trying to bottleneck encounters close to the end won’t work out very well. if things get close, expect to take some damage. You can employ gun towers and assistant rangers, adding some support to the fray, but they’re largely incompetent compared to Dillon, and typically don’t do more than slow enemies down. Useful, sure, but your workload generally stays the same.
Last Ranger nails the campy tone of its ’70s spaghetti-western theme with animals, and cut scenes employ great use of the 3D effect, along with some film damage effects. The characters are all too cool for school (a personal favorite being a cowboy squid), and the music fits perfectly. It’s hard to believe that this is an eShop game sometimes. It has enough pizzazz and content to fit right in on store shelves.
Dillon’s Rolling Western: The Last Ranger is not without a fair share of pratfalls, mostly resulting from a few conflicts of interest. It works out though, as the core mechanics lend themselves well to the frantic nature of the tower defense genre, and the game has charm and style to boot. It’s a bit more of a time investment than mobile phone counterparts, but genre fans as well as curious gamers looking for something new would benefit greatly from giving this one a shot.
Pros: Unique mechanics work well, aesthetic and tone are too fun
Cons: The resource gathering is interesting, but slows down the game