Dust: An Elysian Tail – Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Dust: An Elysian Tail is the final game in the Summer of Arcade collection from Xbox and was created by Humble Hearts. However, the development team isn’t so much a group as it is a single person. While Dean Dodrill, the man behind the game, received help from HyperDuck Music Studios for the background music, he is the one responsible for the gameplay, design, animation, and code. I can only imagine hours amount of work he put into this game.
Yet, we need to put Dordill’s accomplishments aside and ask if Dust: An Elysian Tail stands up on its own. In short, it absolutely does.
At its most basic, the game is a Metroid-vania style game with heavy emphasis on combo-based combat. The amnesic main character, Dust, explores a world he doesn’t remember hoping to find his past. Coming along for the adventure is his talking sword, the Blade of Ahrah, and a small fox with batwings named Fidget. The three of them try to right wrongs, help the unfortunate, and eventually learn of a shadowy figure, known as General Gaius, tied into the dark dealings in the world. Do these elements sound familiar? Fans of fantasy, feel free to start screaming. These tropes are cornerstones of the horrid parts of this genre, and we’ve seen them over and over.
Thankfully, while originality isn’t a strength of this game, characterization is. The NPCs you meet throughout the world are fully voice acted and each has their own quirks and idiosyncrasies. In particular, Fidget provides chuckles by breaking the fourth wall. An early encounter with monsters provides two points of view. The Blade of Ahrah suggests proceeding cautiously and with skill. Fidget offsets calm advice, insisting “Mash the buttons!” would be better.
In addition to the truly excellent voice acting, the game’s design is gorgeous. Characters are all anthropomorphized animals of some description (yet there are still rabbits and sheep running around…weird). The colours are vibrant and, despite the cartoon look of the game, the world feels alive. To compare, if you’ve ever played Rayman Origins, you’ll have a very good idea of how this game looks and moves.
The game plays as smoothly as it looks. Combat involves racking up huge combos by slashing enemies with your sword, and using Fidget. Your tiny helper can launch fireballs at enemies that do very little damage on their own. However, a move called Dust Storm allows you to twirl your sword around and attract the projectiles Fidget fires out. Combining these two abilities enhances the power of the shots, and can allow you to quickly overcome your foes.
When you’re not fighting for your life, you need to traverse the levels. There aren’t many fancy tricks here; you’re merely jumping around and removing obstructions in your way. Like any game of its type, you’ll collect abilities and keys here and there that will allow you to go to previously unreachable areas. Unfortunately, the abilities you unlock are few, far between, and have the same originality as the core story; if you enjoy Metroid-vania games, you will have seen these skills before. A slide to enter small gaps and Resonance Gems (which unlock doors) are examples among a small number of skills.
Dust: An Elysian Tail also has RPG elements to enhance your character, yet these enhancements don’t make you feel more powerful. When you level up, you can assign a skill gem to increase your health, defence, attack or improve the damage of Fidget’s fireballs. You can further augment these stats by finding or crafting items to increase their values. However, these mechanics are RPG-lite and ultimately feel unneeded. While it’s technically necessary to build these stats to fight the progressively stronger enemies, your overall experience never changes through the leveling, crafting or equipping mechanics.
Indeed, the biggest complaint I had while playing the game was a lack of ‘build’. Imagine a very tall plateau. The game starts high up, with an amazing amount of polish. Unfortunately, it never moves further up, it never changes, and the experience remains the same. Dust’s combat move-set never changes significantly, the abilities he picks up don’t alter how you navigate the game-world and, overall, the game feels the same at the end as it did at the beginning.
Overall, this game provides a very fun, albeit level, experience. The combat is satisfying, the graphics are gorgeous, and the animation and overall aesthetic makes the world feel alive. While the game doesn’t provide a deep and complex experience, Dust: An Elysian Tail absolutely stands on its own.
Dust: An Elysian Tail is available now on the Xbox Marketplace for 1200 Microsoft Points.
Score: 4.25 / 5.0
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