In between a wave of ports and remakes announced for the 3DS at March's Nintendo Direct it was Dillon's Dead-Heat Breakers that really caught our eye. The mix of rapid races, tower defence action, and post-apocalyptic setting intrigued us as well as its ploy to target a more casual audience than previous entries in the franchise. Dillon might not be as well known as many of the other mascots that call Nintendo's handheld platform home, but could this be the one to score him some recognition?
Curious is perhaps the most fitting way to describe the opening of Dillon's Dead-Heat Breakers. You start as your Mii creeps into the spotlight in an otherwise pitch-black room, a barrel then comes crashing down on top of them transforming them into an anthropomorphic rabbit, cat or mouse. It turns out that your village has been invaded by pesky rock monsters known as Grocks and they're spreading like the plague across the post-apocalyptic western world. Fortunately, the Red Flash himself Dillon comes to your aid, but matters are more complicated than first thought as your homeland is surrounded by an impenetrable force field. Your only chance of rescue is helping other surrounding villages to gather the materials and funds required to build a super weapon.
Close-quarters combat, tower defence action and an assortment of varied mini-games make up the bulk of this roughly 15-hour adventure. Before starting a stage you'll use your funds to hire a skilled team of gunners that will assist you out on the battlefield. Each potential new recruit has their own weapon, attack stat and attack radius and each one will come at their own price. Your money will never usually stretch too far, so you'll have to pick your team wisely and amass a crew that feels balanced and not just hinged on one superior member. If you find yourself stuck you can ask Russ (Dillon's squirrel companion) for his advice and he will place a thumbs up next to any worthy hires. There's also a seedy-looking snake who hangs in the corner of the hotel lobby who will dish out intel on gunners if you are to pass some of your savings his way.
After meeting the mayor of an invaded village you'll start by strategically placing your gunners across the map and reinforcing base structures with much tougher materials. During these sections, you must eliminate all attacking waves of Grocks before they destroy too many of your bases and gobble up any defenceless creatures (known as Scrogs) found inside. After starting a battle you'll bolt across the stage fighting waves of Grocks, charging your gunners weapons and sending your Mii to swoop in and attack on your behalf. Once the enemy numbers slim down they will transform into their wheeled forms and then it becomes a frantic dash around the arena as you slam into them before the clock ticks down. If you miss this timer the Grocks will transform yet again into a more devastating form and ending the battle successfully becomes a much tougher feat.
Each village you encounter has its own layout and set obstacles such as ramps you'll need to boost over to avoid landing in water and sandy patches which will slow you down. There are also 25 different types of Grocks which will vary between each stage. Armoured Grocks, Poison Grocks, and Jumping Grocks are just some of the varieties you'll encounter with each having their own attack patterns and specific weaknesses. Armoured Grocks, for example, must be attacked from behind due to their reinforced shell, while Boss Grocks must be defeated before they exit the battle arena. All of these Grocks drop different types of materials and you'll need to collect a variety of resources if you're going to build the super weapon.
Combat takes place within a rather cramped arena and sees you chain together a range of frantic attacks. Encounters trigger when you collide with monsters in the overworld in a manner that is not dissimilar to some classic JRPGS. Dillon can grind against foes with his shell, ground pound and slash vigorously with his claws, and all of this is done via mashing the A button along with other various combinations. There are also chips that you can purchase from the merchant that can be used to temporarily trigger effects like bomb blasts and a more pronounced boost. While the combat didn't present us with much breathing room we loved how the enemy variety always kept us on our toes when attacking.
Optional cave quests cater for those hungry for more challenge and offer a chance to snag some rare resources. These quests play by the same rules as the campaign but the penalty for failure is pretty fierce as you will lose all of the money spent and you won't have a chance to restart. Also bulking up the playtime is the option to replay any stages from the story within the Garage. This enables you to unlock some sweet concept art and gather any materials that you missed on your first run. As each stage also rewards you on a points-based system (for factors like your finish time, scrogs saved, and bases attacked, etc.) there's always the incentive to go back to improve your score.
In between tower defence sections, you'll work to raise funds within an area known as the City, taking on errands and competing in competitions. There's a VR shooting mini-game in the Hyper Arcade, which sees you blast waves of virtual Grocks and rack up the highest score possible. There's a pretty standard set of time trial races at the arena where you help former champ Dillon tear up the track and restore his former legacy. Errands you can undertake see you sorting through rubbish at a recycling plant and managing the cash register at the City's general store. Whilst these mini-games are available in a range of difficulty settings they do become tedious fast as you'll be repeating them again and again between stages. The tower defence sections also remain similar but they at least offer tactical depth.
Further proof that the 3DS still has plenty of juice left in it, Dillon's Dead-Heat Breakers is packed with plenty to do and makes for a solid introduction to the tower defence genre for younger fans and newcomers. We loved how accessible it felt and how each village encounter appeared fresh due to varied layouts, Grock encounters, and environmental obstacles. It can feel repetitive especially during the much weaker mini-game sections and its difficulty may be much more relaxed compared to previous entries, but this is still one that fans of the Red Flash in particular shouldn't miss.