Dillon’s Dead-Heat Breakers is the third title in a series that began back in 2012. I expected to see more of Nintendo’s armadillo ranger, although I didn’t expect a five-year gap between releases. Fans will surely want to snatch up this latest game, but even those with limited series experience, like myself, might find themselves surprised by this fun entry, and contemplate picking it up.

Described as “…one heck of a racin’, battlin’, tower-defendin game, Dead-Heat Breakers blends a lot of different elements. However, everything joins together well, and the mix helps to keep things from getting dull. It’s also handled in an orderly fashion so vets and rookies alike can quickly get into the adventure and not feel lost. Scouting your surroundings, collecting materials, and reinforcing defenses, allow for slower paced strategy, while battles and races require fast action.

While Dillon is the titular character, the hero alongside him is your Mii, along with the team you hire. You’re out to save your hometown (and many others) from the Grocks. These monstrous rocks from outer space come in many varieties, and can even transform into vehicular forms. Chasing them down in a race makes for a fresh and satisfying conclusion to each confrontation.

The wild west setting in post-apocalyptic form generates an atmospheric setting. I’d describe the entire presentation as cinematic. The camera angles and cutscenes make me feel like I’m interacting with a theatrical feature on the smaller 3DS screens. Speaking of, 3D is used to admirable effect here, especially during the town sections. Hopefully, you have a decent collection of Miis on your portable because seeing them transformed into animal form is a fun treat.

Plenty of Miis populate the city (plus original characters) and bring some much-needed charm to the proceedings. No offense to Dillon, but the “Red Flash” with his tongue-tied, stew in the corner persona, will probably always be a low-tiered Nintendo mascot. You’ll get to know the Mii characters as many serve as your gunners, and careful placement of them is key – the game also does a respectable job placing them automatically. The city lets you interact with them in the hotel, which also houses your quarters and a gym. You can also shop at various markets, including one where you can earn some money as part-time help in minigame form. The arcade and stadium both let you earn rewards, and there are other places as well. Whether replaying past battles, hunting for collectables, or just chatting, the city is pretty lively under the circumstances.

Dead-Heat Breakers has plenty of positives, but I do have a couple of gripes, along with suggestions on how to improve them. One is how the game handles saving. Automatic saving can be helpful, but not at the expense of the option to do so manually, especially for a handheld game. This also has reportedly led to some bug complications, none of which I’ve experienced yet, thankfully. Two is the controls. While I’m grateful to not have to juggle the stylus, I’ve found my thumb hurting before long. The need to have to button press repeatedly for certain attacks takes its toll, and I wish a reassign option was present.

Because of my control concerns, I find myself playing the game one mission at a time. This saves my thumb, while also making repetition not much of a factor. The battles are a suitable length so I don’t feel like this approach shortchanges the game in any way. It also lessens frustration on difficult battles, like those at the mine, where a single Grock getting through results in a loss. Some of the map layouts (with bridges, water, etc.) can really make navigation challenging, albeit in a good way that necessitates exploring.

Dillon’s Dead-Heat Breakers has turned into a nice eShop surprise. Why Nintendo isn’t releasing this full priced game as a physical copy (in North America anyway) is a mystery. In fact, I’d like to see the entire trilogy compiled for a 3DS physical release or reworked for the Switch. Either way, Dillon’s Dead-Heat Breakers is a game I can put in a good word for.