The strong, silent armadillo returns to the 3DS after five long years in the Wild West. With his trusty sidekick Russ, Dillon is ready to roll, grind and claw his way through enemy defence lines so that the villages can live to fight another day. Yet with the bizarre introduction of Amiimals, Dead-Heat Breakers is all Mii, Mii, Mii, with only a dash of Dillon.
Developed by Vanpool and coming to the 3DS with both a digital and physical version, Dillon’s Rolling Western series is widely known as a tower defence game with an action twist. Playing as Dillon, the series’ eponymous hero, you’ll navigate the harsh terrain of the wild west to defend the surrounding villages from the deadly, Scrog-eating Grocks. As the third game in the series, Dillon’s Dead-Heat Breakers largely follows the same path, meeting a few peculiar concepts along the way.
Unlike its predecessor, Dead-Heat Breakers is set within a post-apocalyptic, futuristic wild west. Many of the City’s surrounding villages have been ransacked by enemy Grocks, left with nothing but their tower defence systems in place to guard their livelihood. Villagers are continuously overwhelmed with new breeds of Grock and often enlist the help of resident Gunners to aid them in their fight for survival. As a result, some villagers have fled to the City to seek refuge inside its walls. Yet even the City, with its dilapidated iron-link fences, rusted cars and broken brick walls, doesn’t feel safe. Even by The Walking Dead’s standards, it’s less Woodbury and more Prescott. Yet there’s a community; a driving force inside the City’s walls that ensures there’s enough food, drink and entertainment for its people. Intriguingly, it’s the storyline that’s of the most interest in Dead-Heat Breakers rather than the gameplay itself.
As a series’ first, Dead-Heat Breakers introduces Miis, and your Mii specifically, as a playable character. Transformed into an ‘Amiimal’, you’ve been sent by your village to seek help from the City and discover a way to defeat the strange, otherworldly foes, hovering above your home. Since arriving in the City, Dillon’s hamster sidekick Russ discovers your village is under a red, glittering dome and their fate now lies solely in your hands. In exchange for helping Dillon fend off Grocks, Russ will help you build an ultimate weapon to destroy the dome and save your village from obliteration.
Dead-Heat Breakers follows a straightforward, linear path. While you’ll play as Dillon during battle segments and during races, your Mii takes centre stage. Between playing minigames and selling materials to raise funds, to hiring gunners and strategically placing them on the battlefield, you’ll have to do everything as a Mii on a rinse and repeat schedule. Not only is it tiresome and mundane, there’s a certain gimmick here that takes the focus away from Dillon. The inclusion of Miis as Amiimals feels horribly forced, particularly when they are – quite obviously – humans dressed up in animal costumes. Speaking in borrowed Inkling language from the Splatoon series, Amiimals are hired as Gunners to defend village towers from Grocks. As per usual, Gunners come at different prices, depending on their level and the weapon they hold. Choose from Impact Blasters, Long-Busters, Vulcan Cannons and Plasma Cannons to name but a few, and place them on the battlefield where you believe they’ll do the most damage. While useful in battles, Amiimals are such a bizarre concept that it immediately jars with the series, leaving Dillon with little more than a surreptitious bit-part.
In terms of gameplay, Dead-Heat Breakers remains simplistic. Raise money to hire gunners, take on a village request, complete said request and earn money to hire more gunners for the next request. While the game tries to vary the daily grind with three minigames and ‘race days’ with Dillon to earn extra cash, it’s largely limited by its setting. Players will only be able to choose one or two minigames to play before the next Village request comes through, ergo you can’t grind for any extra money. Players will even be blocked from entering the guest bedroom during a Village request, so there’s no way to escape should you be left short on cash. Of course, this poses an extra challenge to players. Do you spend all your money on hiring the maximum amount of Gunners, or do you save some of it back for the next request? Although this feeds into the strategy of Dead-Heat Breakers, there’s very little reward. Upgrades are scarce and expensive, treasures you find in battle can be sold to Weldon for varying prices, and materials you gather can be sold off in the hopes of making ends meet. It’s ironic that you spend most of your time counting your pennies on the streets of the City, rather than battling against Grocks. Hats off to Vanpool’s team of writers, however, as Weldon’s quips about unusual treasures extracted a quick giggle from me.
For the most part, though, playing as Dillon in battles is fun, intense and visually appealing in stereoscopic 3D. With a wide variety of attacks, you can roll, grind and claw attack to your heart’s content against Grocks. Each enemy Grock offers different characteristics too, so you’ll need to learn which attacks work best against them. For example, the jump claw attack must be used against the Spike Grocks, failing to do so can cause Dillon to lose a heart, while the water Grocks can only be attacked on land within close encounters. Engaging enemy attacks can be a blessing or a hindrance, so players must think strategically to work out whether they can take on enemies with their current heart count, or whether it’s best to take the lead and charge your Gunners’ battle stations.
Before each battle, players must assign Gunners to towers placed on the map, fortify their defences with materials such as iron and steel, and discover the lay of the land, charge tower stations, and mine for materials as Dillon in preparation. Once the battle begins, you’ll need to keep a close eye on enemy drops and your team’s charging stations. Getting up close and personal with enemies is where the real action takes place, however, as encountering an enemy Grock on the field will place you within a battle square, or plateau. By using Dillon’s various attacks, players can defeat enemies and collect dropped materials for later use at Weldon’s store.
New to Dead-Heat Breakers, battles will enter a fourth and final phase where Dillon must chase down enemies that have transformed into vehicular Grocks. Think Transformers meets Power Rangers’ “It’s Mophin’ time!” It’s fast, fun and utterly exhausting. Dillon must race against the clock to take down between 7 and 9 Grocks, before they ‘mega morph’ into their final Boss Grock phase. While there’s some issues with map terrain and layout here, the fourth phase of battle is certainly the most action packed. Become dead-heat or you’re dead meat.
After the battle, players will receive a cash payout based on how well Dillon and their team of Gunners fought. Should you have failed the mission, you’ll have a few options to choose from; go back to the hotel and hire another round of Gunners; return to the title; or start the battle from the beginning. Opting for the latter means you’ll have to make adequate battle preparations once again. Although tweaking your Gunners’ positions is needed, farming for materials and charging stations shouldn’t be mandatory at this point. Whilst there is an option to skip battle prep if you’re familiar with the layout, it’s not recommended as prep progress doesn’t save should you receive the dreaded Game Over. That means no charge on your stations and loss of crucial mining materials.
With a 15+ hour storyline, Dillon’s Dead-Heat Breakers is fun when played in short bursts. The varied map terrain and heated battle action helps keep the monotony at bay, but the daily minigame-to-money grind and the odd, forced inclusion of Amiimals leaves this tower defence game with a bitter taste. Frankly, Dillon deserves better.
A copy of Dillon’s Dead-Heat Breakers was provided to us by Nintendo UK for the purposes of this review.