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Dust To Dust.
If you wanna check out the game for yourself.
The minimum amount of Xbox live points you'll need to get the game on Xbox Live Arcade.
Do you bother with Xbox Live Arcade or PSN games?
The Dust Storm cometh.
I have to admit, I never really paid that much attention to Xbox Live Arcade and its competitor's equivalents. Not because I was never interested (there are games on these services that i actually want) but because, as a whole, there wasn't that much on there that I just "Had to have." And I would have missed Dust: An Elysian Tail completely if I hadn't stumbled upon a review for it on gametrailers.com. I thought it looked cool, but I didn't really commit to the $15 purchase until I played the demo.And after that, I was head over heels in LOVE.
For the purposes of this review, I will be reviewing the Xbox 360 version. However, all versions of the game are basically idenitical.
Story: 7 out of 10.
Ahhh Fidget. You're so funny.
The game takes place in a fantasy world populated by disneyesque talking animals. You play as the titular character, Dust, a soldier with amnesia and a talking magic sword. You're accompanied by a flying cat...thing named Fidget as a three of you go on a quest of self discovery. Along the way things get a little more complicated as you get caught up in a genocidal war against your former commander, General Gaius, and a race of lizards known as Moonbloods. And now it's up to you to stop Gaius and become the hero of the land. The plot might sound cliché and predictable, and you'll probably see the big plot twist coming from a mile away. But even so I found myself enjoying it very much. Its dramatic, well structured, and the main characters manage to come off as sincere, particularly Dust himself. He's appropriately heroic, but he's also constantly questioning himself. I.e.: am I doing what's right? that sort of thing. You really start to sympathize with his character
But my favorite character is Fidget, the flying cat thing (see the video on the right for some of her best moments). She's basically the game's answer to Navi from Ocarina of Time, and while she can get just as annoying as the aforementioned pixie, she makes up for it with her funny and quirky personality. For example: She's a flying animal...who hates heights. Her childlike comedy is the counterpoint to what is otherwise a dark and thematically mature story.
But where Dust really shines, is in the game play.
Game Play: 9 out of 10.
Doesn't he look familiar?
The first real boss of the game: the insane Moonblood Fuse.
The best way to describe Dust's gameplay is thusly: The love child between and Muramasa: The Demon Blade Muramasa because of its flashy, over the top combat. Symphony because its emphasis on exploration and item hunting, and both because of their RPG elements. To attack you press the X button, you press A to jump, the shoulder buttons to dodge, B to have Fidget shoot magic and Y to do Dust's special attack, the Dust Storm (spinning the sword around at ridiculously high speed). The Dust Storm is probably one of the most useful attacks in the game, because it creates a vacuum around Dust that sucks in gold and items dropped by enemies, and when a enemy gets caught in the darn thing, well they get cut into strips of bacon. You can also combine it with Fidgets magic to create some truly devastating attacks (I.e.: giant pillars of flame that hit practically everything on the screen, two tiny projectiles turning into two thousand, and so on). The point is that you'll be spamming this attack all the time. Be warned though, if you use it continuously, you will get hurt by it. Symphony of the Night.
They're are usually too many enemies attacking you at once for you to use it for long, so the best method is combining it with melee combos, which you want to do anyway, because it's the only way to refill Fidgets magic power and the game keeps track of how many successful combos you land in any given fight. Basically, the higher the count that more bonus experience points, gold and what have you'll get. And Dust does have a lot of combos which you learn along the way, but most of the time you'll just be alternating between the X and Y buttons. There's also a parry move, which as you might expect, will stun your enemy for a moment and is really useful against the more powerful monsters.
The RPG elements come into the play with the level up system and equipment and item inventory. If you've played Muramasa or Symphony or even RPGs in general then you know what to expect here, certain items increase the strength of your sword, armor increases defense and accessories like rings and necklaces increase other stats and so on. Leveling up works one of two ways, you can either manually level Dust up or you can have the game do it for you. The customized stats don't really amount to much aside from which stat you want to grow faster, but it's nice to have the option.
There's also a crafting system that is graciously nothing more complicated than collecting materials and blueprints and bringing them to a blacksmith (or doing it yourself if you have a certain item) to forge. And you'll need to do this to get the more powerful gear. Collecting the materials can be tedious, but thankfully there's an RE4-style merchant that follows you and will stock any material you find, providing you've sold him at least one of each material first. It cuts down on the item hunting considerably. The merchant also sells other things like gear, healing items, keys that you use to open chests and doors, teleportation stones which you use at save points to get out of levels faster and revival stones that do.... exactly what you think they do.
Levels and towns open up as you progress through the story, or by taking on one of the games many side quests. Once available you can then select any level from a world map Megaman style. You're free to explore each level as you see fit, kinda like Symphony of the Night or Metroid. And like those games there are certain areas that are inaccessible without certain items or abilities like a double jump or wall jump or sliding, which you get as you progress through the main game. Almost every area in the level is full of monster that you have to wipe out before progressing kinda like a beat-em up, which can get repetitive, but the combat is so cool that you'll hardly even notice. There are keys and locked chests scattered throughout the levels. The keys open the chests (obviously) but you have to play a little game of Simon Says to open them. Bear in mind, though, Some chests take multiple keys before they will give up the goodies, so make sure you're stocked up accordingly. And you'll know if there is a chest in the area, because a little bubble will appear over Fidgets head for a few seconds, and it will also be marked on your map as an open circle.
There are also cages in some levels that will contain an animal or some weird thing (like a surprise appearance by Super Meat Boy of all things). You don't have to rescue them, but if you do, a house will appear on the world map that you can visit and get stats bonus and other extras so that makes it worth it. Finally, some areas have challenge arenas that you can clear for special items, bragging rights and a spot on online leaderboards.
The levels aren't as big or expansive as Dracula's castle or planet Zebes, and it's always clear where you need to go to continue. But they're still well done and fun to explore.
The only big let down about the game play are the bosses, they don't really feel the larger than life and take very little strategy to kill. I killed most of them easily by whaling on them with melee attacks and magic. The only exception is the final boss, which is a 3 phase endurance test and is quite a challenge, even on normal difficulty. At least for me he was. Everything is complimented by the great visual style.
Graphics and Presentation: 8 out of 10.
Why would I talk about the graphics now when I haven't in my other game reviews? Well, would you believe that the story, design, visuals, animation, programming and all the technical stuff (save for the music, voice acting, and parts of the story) was done by one guy, and an independent animator and illustrator who taught himself how to program at that? I'm not kidding. This game is a one-man indie show that had the lucky break of being discovered and (originally) published by Microsoft. So with that in mind, this game looks amazing, It looks like something could have been released by a major studio.
The backgrounds and overall visual design have this hand drawn quality to them, like a traditionally animated film. The character sprites are loving detailed too, its just a shame that their animation is kinda stiff. Now, I'm no animation expert, but to me the only sprites that seem to have smooth movement during the regular game are Dust and Fidget, with the rest moving to some degree like cardboard puppets. But this is a really minor complaint and can be forgiven. There are also some fully animated cut scenes (which I can't show without spoiling the story, sorry), and this is where the animated film aesthetic really shines. For a low budget independent game, they're pretty impressive.
The music is awesome too, with tracks that range from subtle to epic that really compliment both the visuals and the story without being overbearing. The voice actors all do an excellent job in my opinion, delivering their sometimes goofy lines with all the competence and skill of a thoughtfully casted anime. I don't have a single bad thing to say about it.
When its all said and done, Dust: an Elysian Tail makes for an Intoxicating experience. Some might call its mechanics dated, but they are still a blast to play, and for my money: I'll take a throw back like this over God of War any day. And no, I'm not kidding. If you wanna try it for yourself, you can download it right now on Xbox Live Arcade, the PC via Steam and most recently the PlayStation 4.
In the words of Joe Bob: "Four stars, check it out."
© 2013 Will English.