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Dust: An Elysian Tail

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By Bobfish12-09-2013
MrJenssen (editor)
Bis18marck70 (editor)
Dust: An Elysian Tail

The Defence

Developer:
Humble Hearts LLC
Publisher:
Microsoft
Genre:
Action, Adventure, Indie
Release Date:
24-05-2013

The Prosecution

CPU:
Intel Core 2 Duo
AMD Athlon 64 X2 5600+
VGA:
Nvidia GeForce 9600 GT
AMD Radeon HD 5770
RAM:
2 GB
HDD:
1.5 GB
DirectX:
10

The Case

Dust has a surprisingly long and storied history. It was produced almost entirely by one man, who expected the game to take only three months to complete and targeted at the Xbox Indie channel. After winning the Microsoft Dream Build Play challenge in 2009 however, the project became more ambitious and earned itself a contract to appear on the Xbox Live Arcade. Eventually culminating in a three and a half year development cycle with full voice acting and an original soundtrack. Now that Dust has made its, or if you prefer, his way over to Steam, let's take a look and see what all the fuss is about.

The Trial

Dust was a difficult game to pin down initially. On the one hand, it features a beautifully striking, cartoony visual style that immediately captivates you. On the other, it's a side scrolling beat'em up, with a strong focus on rapid reaction times and heavy combos. Not the kind of thing I usually choose to play. Not at all. To be perfectly honest, I took this upon myself primarily because I was the only one available to do so at the time. Expecting to while away a few hours of my time for a game that would prove to be decent, but not my thing in the end.

Perfectly safe.

Perfectly safe.

How wrong I was. As previously mentioned, the art style - and this truly is art, featuring hand drawn characters and environments - is absolutely gorgeous. It does mean the game is extremely low end, without any of the advanced features that the big budget titles would have. No DX11, tessellation or any of those fancy things. But it honestly does not need them. It is gorgeous to look at. And that caught my attention right from the get-go. For good reason. Atmosphere just oozes from your very monitor as you make your way through picturesque vistas, beautifully rendered with fantastical creatures, both friendly and foe.

The thing that really surprised me is how much I also enjoyed the actual gameplay. There are two basic directions of movement, left and right, though there is vertical movement too in the form of jumping and dropping to lower platforms. The meat of the game comes in the combat, which itself only gives three options. For lack of a better term, you have your standard and magic attacks as well as projectile attacks in the form of your flying companion Fidget. It's a deceptively simple system, which allows the game to flow fluidly. The key is in combining the three to keep the combos going. Though surprisingly, unlike most similar games, this is not done to pull off increasingly more powerful attacks but rather to earn greater experience bonuses to gain levels faster.

Ahh, breaking the fourth wall, how meta. But it's Fidget. She's allowed.

Ahh, breaking the fourth wall, how meta. But it's Fidget. She's allowed.

Add to that an absolutely superb soundtrack, with striking incidental sounds, which make the combat feel visceral and infinitely satisfying, even when on the receiving end of a large stone fist in the face to break your chain. Then pile on top some of the best voice acting I've ever heard and you have yourself a game well worthy of all the acclaim it has garnered and a lot more beside. The titular character Dust, in particular, is fleshed out with line delivery second to none. Whilst Fidget, a flying squirrel-like ‘Nimbat’ creature - who is afraid of heights by the way - is absolutely adorable.

The first time she speaks, she has one of those voices you cringe at, certain that she will come to grate on your nerves to the point you want to stab yourself in the ears with a bread knife. Yet somehow, after only a few words, even the most jaded Brony-hating man's man will not be able to help but fall hopelessly in love with her. She somehow manages to have a voice like Fran Drescher, without driving nails through your soul every time she speaks. How is that even possible?!

What have I been smoking?! And...where do I get more?

What have I been smoking?! And...where do I get more?

The narrative, meanwhile, is very end heavy. Though it doesn't feel that way. You instead have a series of seemingly unrelated early events, often with only tenuous links between one chapter and the next, but the end payoff is shockingly satisfying. It would be impossible to explain how without giving away plot-breaking spoilers, so suffice it to say that nothing, no matter how insignificant it may seem, is irrelevant in Dust’s story. Everything ties in smoothly in the closing chapters. Even the apparent error in the game's title, An Elysian Tail, is explained. It is not merely a clever play on the word tale.

It's difficult to find anything to fault the game for. Even the difficulty on the higher settings never becomes trying. It is tough, certainly, but it never feels cheap and is always rewarding when you doggedly battle your way through to overcome that one fight you found to be almost impossible. Instead, you have that moment where you pump the air in triumph and cry out your victory for the entire world to see.

The Verdict

The long and the short of it is that Dust is quite possibly the perfect game. Not in the sense of being the game that everyone will love, but in that it achieves absolutely everything it sets out to do. It wraps up its plot without any loose ends, the gameplay is tight and never feels sloppy, the quality of environments, characters, voice acting and so on, remains entirely consistent throughout. If I was to make a complaint, it would be the length of the final battle section. The entire final chapter is effectively one running battle, with some of the toughest, most persistent enemies in the game, but even that is precisely what it intended to be. It would, after all, be difficult to have a clash of two armies without a lot of fighting.

Case Review

  • Art Style: Though not technically advanced, the visuals are absolutely gorgeous.
  • Combat: Fast, frenetic, fluid and furiously fun even when you are losing.
  • Fidget: I’m not quite sure what a Nimbat is...but I want one!
  • Voice Acting: It is simply impossible to express just how good it really is.
  • Plot: Though tied up expertly, it can feel like it lacks direction early on.
  • Final Battle: Though it never feels gratuitous, it does drag on just a tiny bit too long.
5
Score: 5/5
It achieves absolutely everything it sets out to do.

Appeal

Anime - big eyes, big swords and girlish men. Yup, you probably guessed right - I am not a fan. So you probably can already see my appeal just tearing Dust a new one, right? Well, to my own surprise, you are wrong. The game is awesome! Even though it is deeply ingrained with the spirit of modern Asian animation, it is anything but. The game even actually feels like it is making fun of the usual anime tropes, with witty dialogue and great voice acting.

The rest of what Dust has to offer is no worse either. The visuals are sharp and detailed with butter-smooth animations while the gameplay is engaging and progressive. After each level, you’ll feel like you are moving up in the world; visiting new places, learning new abilities and facing new types of enemies. With the addition of a well-known indie character hangout-place Easter Egg, this game can keep you occupied for a decent amount of time. So don’t be afraid, and don’t judge this game by its exterior, it’s very good on the inside.

4
Score: 4/5

Appeal

Let’s get one thing out of the way - I do not like the art direction of this game. Let’s be honest, anthropomorphic animals isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But while I dislike the actual style of the art, I can appreciate that the quality of it is high and the animation is smooth too. And because of the art style, I feel that Dust: An Elysian Tail would be an excellent game to use to introduce a non-gamer to gaming, especially younger ones. However, that is not to say that this game is overly simplistic or that there’s nothing here for the type of gamer that frequents this site. The game has a selection of difficulty settings, achievements, side quests and lots of secrets to uncover. Even on the tutorial level, during my first playthrough, I didn’t get 100% completion for the stage as there were still things I missed.

The story starts out more than a little clichéd: you play the amnesiac swordsman Dust who has somehow summoned an enchanted, talking blade, Ahrah, and you fight alongside your itty bitty, flying comic relief sidekick - Fidget. However, whilst on the clichéd side of things, all of these elements are presented confidently and their presence doesn’t detract from the game beyond being well-worn narrative tropes. The dialogue is memorable, and for the most part well written. It genuinely made me smile at times and it is also chock full of references to other games. The voice acting itself also isn’t half bad - I was hardly annoyed by any of the characters’ voices at all.

But what is Dust actually like to play? The game is a side scrolling slash ‘em up with heavy focus on platforming as well as some puzzles and RPG-elements added in for good measure. There’s an interesting mix here, though the RPG elements do tend to take a backseat to everything else. But, all in all, for a game more or less developed and programmed by one guy, Dean Dodrill, Dust: An Elysian Tail is surprisingly well-made. The art style is likely to cause some mature gamers to steer clear of it, but Dust is still a fun game with some solid gameplay and combat mechanics to enjoy whether you are new to gaming or already familiar with it.

3.5
Score: 3.5/5
Comments (4)
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Posts: 3290

Because Fidget, no further explanation necessary

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Posts: 228

Furries are already furiously masturbating to this game.

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Posts: 1317

well... Not MADE in Japan. But... oh, you know!

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Posts: 1317

Why does Fidget have a bust?

Oh. Because it's made in Japan.