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Dust: An Elysian Tail Review

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On 08/20/2012 at 11:38 PM by Jon Lewis

If Muramasa: Demon Blade and Metroid had a baby…

For fans of 2D action platformers, great art, and combo heavy combat.

When I looked into this year’s Summer of Arcade, this one stuck out to me the most. Between the art style and insane looking combat, I felt like this game would stand out amongst the rest of the arcade titles released. Now that all of them are out, many might consider this Summer of Arcade one of the weakest. Thankfully, Dust: An Elysian Tail delivers on its initial promise of a beautiful art style and intense combat engine, but there is a lot more to the game than just looks.

Players take control of Dust, a man who awakens to realize that he has no memory. The mysterious hero wields a magical talking sword named Ahrah and a little fox-bat creature named Fidget follows him on his quest of self-discovery. The story is presented in a confusing manner; at times the game is very serious, dealing with themes of loss and redemption, but at other times the dialogue is very humorous and doesn’t take itself seriously. The characters often break the 4th wall, acknowledging that they are in a video game. One character in particular reminded me of the famous merchant from Resident Evil 4, and little did I know, Fidget makes a (funny) reference to that exact merchant. Ultimately, the plot is an interesting one, and by the end really had a lasting effect on me.

To go along with the surprisingly robust story, Dust boasts some pretty great gameplay. The gameplay is very Metroid-inspired: players explore a 2D area with many different paths that you can take depending on your current skill set. Each level is able to be revisited, so if you happen to come across an area that you don’t have the ability to access, you can always go back. Areas vary from hub towns where you meet various NPC’s and gain access to side quests, while others are strictly for main quest purposes. Story areas often end in a boss battle, which aren’t too difficult, discounting the final battle. If one isn’t prepared for the final battle, they will have a lot of trouble, even if you are playing on the normal difficulty.

Over the course of the game, Dust can unlock new abilities like a slide, a wall jump, and a double jump to access new areas. While there is a decent amount of exploration, it’s not necessarily a deep platformer. Where the game shines is in its combat.

From the first encounter, players will be drawn in, especially players who love stylistic and combo heavy combat. There are standard basic combos that can be done with the X and Y buttons. Along with that, an ability known as the Dust Storm (which is performed by pressing and holding Y) has Dust spinning his sword like a propeller. While it does work well by itself, its main use comes along with Fidget's abilities. By pressing B, Fidget can shoot out a small projectile, but by combining that with the Dust Storm, it ramps up the effects and results in devastating and high hit attacks. Over the course of the game, Fidget acquires new abilities like fire, and electricity that alter the effects of the Dust Storm. Players can launch enemies into the sky, combo them to the top of the screen and, especially in combination with Fidget and the Dust Storm, the results are extremely satisfying.

While the combat is indeed fun, it doesn’t evolve too much. It is always fun to strive for a massive, 1,000-hit combo (there’s even a sidequest attached to that feat) I wish that there was a little bit more combo variety. Along with that, especially during the end sequences, fights become so hectic to the point where it's hard to tell what’s going on. Often times, it feels like you are just button mashing, with little control of your combo. Despite that, I enjoyed it throughout my 10 hour adventure and it didn’t grow stale until very late in the game.

Going hand in hand with the combat is an RPG-like level up system. As players fight enemies, they gain loot, money and experience that they can use to increase the strength of Dust. You can upgrade your health, attack power, defense and Fidget's abilities to optimize your play style. In the game's many shops, you can spend money on health items and equipment that make Dust considerably stronger. You can also find blueprints for items that you can craft later on in the game.

One obvious thing that I can’t ignore is the art style. The environments are beautiful and at times are breathtaking. You will see a bunch of different areas, from dark caverns to haunted mansions and snowy mountain tops. Each of these areas look great, however the characters themselves look a bit off. The character sprites, more specifically in conversation, look out of place and they look like they belong in a different game. The designs look a bit like Disney characters mixed with anime characters, which came off to me as odd. The game does host a few animated cut scenes which are well done, but obviously lacking in the grand scheme of things.

Though the character models aren’t perfect and the voice acting isn't great (Fidget’s voice is pretty annoying), I enjoyed my time with Dust. For an Arcade game, there is tons of value. The main quest will take you 7 to 10 hours to complete and much more if you go for a 100% completion. Players who love combo crazy combat and exploration will likely cherish their time with Dust. I too look forward to more from this series, because what is achieved here is a great combination of various gameplay elements. If you are looking for a small title to play just before the holiday rush, look no further--Dust: An Elysian Tail is the game for you. 

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Our Take

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

08/21/2012 at 10:36 AM

You had me at the tagline referencing two of my favorite games.

Honestly, I really really want this game to come out in some physical form. I'd love to have whatever packaging they dream up for a game like this. 

On a side note, I haven't been able to find out anything about the developer at all. He appears to have taken down his website and cleared out his facebook page, which is a pity. This is an amazing feat for someone to have accomplished mostly on their own, and I'd love to be able to find out more about his work.


08/31/2012 at 01:00 AM

I agree with this review for the most part. I was really hoping the combat would have more depth. Like you said it doesn't evolve much past what it is early on. And the air Dust Storm/Fidget combo becomes a bit too effective and an easy way to get through battles later on. It is still a lot of fun, but not as great as I'd hoped.

But I love the artstyle. The story is better and more involved than I thought it would be. The rpg and exploration elements are well done. And overall I really loved the game. And it really is an amazing accomplishment for one guy to do most of this. Anyway great review. I had been meaning to check it out since I finished the game.

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