Review: Dust: An Elysian Tail
Developer: Humble Hearts - Publisher: Microsoft Studios - Platform: Xbox Live Arcade - Release Date: August 15, 2012
Concept: Cram some of the best ideas in video games into a single, anthropomorphic package.
Graphics: Everything is colorful and vibrant, although the furry-esque character designs may be a turn-off for some.
Sound: I have no problem with the rest of the voice cast, but if I hear Fidget overreact one more time...
Playability: Platforming feels fine but the slick combat is the star of the show. Imagine Devil May Cry, minus one dimension, and you have Dust in a nutshell.
Entertainment: Don't let the cutesy visuals fool you. Dust is a decidedly hardcore experience with enough content to keep you engrossed for hours.
Replay Value: Moderate
Everything You Ever Wanted. But Furrier
As a game design student, Dust reminds me of that all-encompassing mega game my peers and I dream about. How does a game with Metroid style exploration that has action as stylish as Devil May Cry, the questing and looting of an RPG, and an eye-popping art style, sound? Amazingly ridiculous, but Dust manages to not only pull off those things, but do so in a remarkably cohesive and fun package.
Dust's story strongly reminded me of Disney's animated classics (and not just because of the talking animals). The charming and innocent-looking visuals act as a vehicle to deliver a mature and surprisingly dark narrative. Dust is a mysterious warrior who awakens to find that his memory has been completely erased. He is joined by Ahrah, a wise talking sword, and Fidget, your flying sidekick and personal means of verbal torture. Together, they embark on an tale that touches on themes of loss, betrayal, discrimination and even genocide. While the narrative feels forced at times, it's nicely written overall with some nice twists I didn't see coming at all.
Dust's ultimate calling card is it's sweet combat. Whether it's air juggling groups of monsters or landing 1000-hit combos, the lightning-quick action feels fantastic. I couldn't get enough of it and I was always looking forward to the next fight so that I could show off. Fidget validates her existence with the ability to fire projectiles such as fireballs or lightning. While initially weak, combining these moves with the Dust Storm, Dust's signature whirlwind sword attack, amplifies them into screen-clearing tempests that deal absurd amounts of damage. All of that comes together to provide some of the best action I've ever experienced in a 2D sidescroller.
Unfortunately, with such power, Dust can become pretty easy. Enemies don't challenge your skill too much and even the strongest foes crumble after a simple parry. Bosses are the biggest wusses; they can be toppled in literally seconds, save for the last one. Since your abilities aren't challenged much in the standard mode, players looking for a more rewarding experience may want to jump to the highest difficulty from the get-go. Keep in mind, though, that the difficulty can't be changed in-game.
Loot is comprised of equipment and materials, the latter of which are used to create new items. Sell a material to a merchant that doesn't have it, and they'll carry that item permanently. Thus, selling hard-to-find materials is a must to gain easy access to rare goods. As nice as it is to not have to hunt for desirable materials all the time, this system almost renders the shops useless.
Blueprints for items are constantly thrown at you, so you'll know how to make pretty much everything the store offers. Since new, better equipment doesn't arrive in shops fast enough, you'll usually get the best gear either from finding or crafting it yourself. Add in that making goods costs a fraction of what buying them would and why should I shop for equipment ever again? I didn't, and I saved a fortune in gold. But what's the thrill in that if there's nothing to spend it on? Selling blueprints for rare items or weapon upgrades would have alleviated this issue, but it's a minor complaint in the grand scheme of things.
Like any self-respecting Metroid-Vania, areas consist of branching paths with areas blocked off until you have the required item needed to unlock them. You'll revisit areas often, but numerous hidden treasures and secrets provide a nice incentive for thorough exploration. One particularly awesome batch of secrets is sure to bring a smile to fans of XBLA's catalog. Some solid side questing will keep you a busy...whatever you are, and you'll constantly try to out-do yourself in the fun challenge areas.
Don't miss out on one of the best downloadable titles of the year.
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