Representing the efforts of just one man, Dean Dodrill, Dust: An Elysian Tail is a testament to just how good an Xbox Live Arcade game can be. Set in the mystical world of Falana, Dust in a 2D sidescrolling, metroidvania style game which follows the adventure of the eponymous protagonist, Dust, as he attempts to unearth the mysterious of his forgotten past with the aid of a talking sword and his trusty sidekick, Fidget.
One of the best, and most distinctive features of Dust is its appearance; it truly is a beautiful game to look at. Animations and environments are all done by hand, and the game boasts a cartoony, watercolour aesthetic. Scenery varies from magical forests to snow-capped mountains to active volcanoes to underground caves, with each environment looking more spectacular than the last. Even after 15 hours of playtime, the scenery was still vivid and a joy to behold. Some thoughtful lighting effects and dynamic weather patterns add an extra layer to environments, and really have a big impact on the mood.
Characters are equally vibrant and well-realised, and consist of numerous anthropomorphic animals. All the characters were unique and memorable, including the most minor of roles, with my particular favourites being the inhabitants of the underground village of Mudpot. However, when it comes to animations, Dust, the main character, really steals the show. From the first swing of his sword, Dust looks awesome, spinning and slicing his way through the environment like a hurricane made out of razor blades. Once you add Fidget’s magical attacks into the mix, and have electric storms and burning pillars filling the screen, you’re guaranteed some fast-paced, engrossing action, all of which looks fantastic.
Combat is fluid and easy to get the hang of. Although there aren’t that many moves to master, combat still felt fresh and exciting throughout the course of the game, with 1000 hit combos coming thick and fast. However, it doesn’t take too long to realise that it’s easy to win almost any encounter by simply spamming magic powers, and this even applies to boss fights, all of which were a bit simple and underwhelming – they simply played out like all over encounters, only much longer because of the extra long life bars. My only other complaint regarding the otherwise excellent combat would be that it sometimes becomes hard to keep track of where Dust is, and what exactly is going on in terms of combat – this was especially true of the final chapter, where you would often be hordes of enemies with the support of a bunch of allies.
Aside from spinning and slicing, gameplay consists of platforming and exploration. Although these elements definitely play second fiddle to the combat they definitely haven’t been neglected. There are plenty of abilities to earn throughout the course of the game, meaning that it’s always worth heading back to previously explored areas in order to gain access to new rooms and regions that were previously inaccessible. For completionists this is an absolute must, as there is often hidden treasure waiting as a reward. There are also some fairly shallow RPG elements, such as crafting and levelling up, although both of these are very basic and don’t add too much in terms of personalisation. A new game + mode is strangely lacking.
The large regions are supported by a wide array of side quests, handed out by Dust’s vibrant supporting cast. These missions really helped to add an extra layer of personality to the world, and were a great way to earn extra rewards and experience. Although there were a few arbitrary ‘go here, fetch this, come back’ type missions, a lot of the side-quests felt original and meaningful.
Of course, none of these compare to the main quest, which is very engrossing, even if it does sometimes take a back-seat to the explosive combat. The story centres around Dust’s attempt to regain his memory, whilst helping the inhabitants of a war-torn country resist invasion from foreign forces. The plot is given real weight by the quality of the voice acting, although I found Dust’s voice to be rather annoying. However, having said that, Fidget’s performance was one of the best I’ve seen in recent years, and was able to manage moods ranging from lighthearted banter to emotional climax.
With over 20 side-missions to complete, alongside an expansive main quest, plus numerous secrets, collectibles and challenges, there really is a lot to do in Dust: An Elysian Tail, which makes it more than worth the 1200MS price tag. With its distinctive, beautiful graphics and engrossing combat, this is easily the best game from the year’s Summer of Arcade, not to mention one of the best Arcade games to recently be released.
Dust: An Elysian Tail is available now for XBLA.