Dillon's Rolling Western and it's sequel, The Last Ranger, feel like cut bonus content from The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Dillon, the series' titular protagonist, has nearly identical moves as Goron Link. The game's three-day structure and constantly running in-game clock are also heavily reminiscent of Majora's. Dillon's even shares the underlying contrast between cute relaxing times, and feelings of dread invoked by a seemingly never-ending threat.
Your goal in Dillon's is to traverse a large area, fending off invaders as quickly and efficiently as possible before they steal some cow-like beasts. Reminds me a lot of the "UFO hunting" side game in Majora's Mask, albeit with a very different set of tools. Dillon even gets a Zelda-style jingle and animation when he opens up a treasure chest.
Majora's Mask is one of my favorite games ever. That should have made Dillon's and this sequel an easy slam dunk. Sadly, Nintendo and Vanpool came dangerously close to screwing it all up.
Dillon's Rolling Western: The Last Ranger (3DS eShop)
Released: April 11, 2013
The Last Ranger is largely about speed. You can walk if you want, but it's rarely a good idea. You're better off rolling around at top speed at all times, collecting all the resources you can before the sun goes down, and protecting your property from little rock guys at night before they wreck all your stuff. Balancing your attention between the macro game (awareness of the passage of time and the location of items/enemies/allies in a larger area) and the micro game (navigating through the immediate space as quickly and efficiently as possible) is the key concept here. That balance creates a pretty interesting internal conflict for the player between focusing on the here-and-now while also planning ahead. The better you can do both of those things simultaneously, the more likely you are to survive.
It's an interesting idea delivered with a lot of confidence. The graphics look impressive for an $11 eShop title, the art direction is both moody and inviting, and the music is the right mix between non-intrusive and catchy. This cute-but-serious old west cartoon world does well to provide a surface level expression of the game's underlying themes of enjoying the moment while being driven by the dread and desperation of a wild world where safety is never constant. It's the best Rango game never made.
Just like in the first game, there are cool power-ups to discover or purchase for Dillon, and strategically placed combat towers strewn about the field of combat. The Last Ranger also gives you the option to team up with mysterious rangers. The ranger dynamic brings more to the table than just an A.I. co-op partner. It also provides a few surprises, new gameplay elements (which I don't want to spoil for you), some additional story, and sense of cutthroat culture to this world of adorable talking animals. Also new to the sequel is the train system, where you're tasked to stop protecting stationary villages for a while and instead guard a rolling steam train. Giving you a moving target adds to the tension a bit, but it doesn't feel substantially different.
Problems also pop up with the interface. The controls are initially counter intuitive, as the combat overworld setups are totally different. This doesn't make a ton of sense, as on both the overworld and in battle you're still doing the same roll move using the touch screen. You just have to control the direction of that move in a totally different way. The game doesn't explain this to you either, which led me to play the game wrong for the first ten minutes or so.
Once you get the hang of them, the controls lend themselves pretty well to the design. Using the touch screen, circle pad, and L trigger (which can be flipped for lefties) gives you everything you need. Though streamlined, you can still pull off cool combos in combat and feel a sense of variety in traversing the environment. It works great when the fixed camera in the combat screen doesn't hide enemies from you, which is fairly often.
Then there is the tedium. There are a few enemy types, but you'll spend far too much time taking on the variations of the same relatively defenseless rock guys over and over again. The same is true of the game's levels. Every field lends itself to it's own unique strategies and cosmetic differences, but the feeling of sameness sets in fairly quickly regardless.
That's exacerbated by the punishing replay system. When you screw up really bad (which will likely happen a fair amount as the game is designed around tempting you to goof off), you may have to replay ten or more minutes of content in order to rectify your mistakes. While it's fun to see yourself improve in the process of turning past failures into total victories, it's not always satisfying enough to fend back the feeling of being re-fed some food you've already chewed and swallowed.
Like a lot of country music, The Last Ranger suffers from being repetitive and overly simplistic at times. Thankfully, it's very well performed, infectious, and packed with plenty of personality. If you play in occasional 20-30 minutes burst, you may never grow tired of this composition, but if you try to marathon through this album of outlaw armadillo hits, you'll be tempted to put the thing down for good.