REVIEW: Dust: An Elysian Tail
Title: Dust: An Elysian Tail
Developer: Humble Hearts
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
TL;DR: A love letter to every single side-scroller. And memes.
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When Vanilla Ware first took to the scene, their style was instantly recognizable. Beautiful side-scrolling games in tediously hand-draw art styles… Odin Sphere is paramount of their style, and you’ll instantly be reminded of that title the moment you turn Dust: An Elysian Tail on. That’s not a bad comparison at all. In fact, Dust does everything right with its own style, and even more.
Everything about this game says that it’s a simple download title. The catch is that it’s really not that simple. Seriously, it’s not. Sure, you can only do certain button combos to pull off spectacular moves, but there’s a lot to be found and done in the world of Falana.
Oh, where are my manners.
The world of Dust is beautiful, but also fascinating. In the beginning, we are introduced to a ruthless killer, an assassin almost if you will, who becomes wild and enamored with the idea of slaughtering innocent civilians in a village. There’s war in the world of Falana, a world populated by anthropomorphic denizens, and it’s between some crazy ass guy named General Gaius and his pursuit of a race called Moonbloods.
There’s nothing wrong with Moonbloods, really. Gaius just has a thing against them. An unhealthy fixation or something like that. He’s hell-bent on clearing the world of them all.
And then you awaken in a quiet glade, and you can’t remember anything. You awaken to the sounds of a floating, talking sword named Ahrah, and he cryptically tells you that he’s been “what you’ve always wanted, all along.” Yeah, how’s that for creepy? The sword names you as Dust, and you are then introduced to a flying talking cat-like rat thing named Fidget. She claims to be the sword’s guardian, and wants it back. The sword, being a smarmy sentient piece of equipment, remarks that they should all go adventuring together to find out what has really happened in Falana.
And so your journey begins.
The story sounds serious enough, but don’t let that fool you at all. The main narrative becomes deeper in its nature and much darker. Humble Hearts, however, weaves in nods to every single meme there is out there, along with hearts and kisses to major franchises that played a part in developing side-scrolling brawlers, and it lightens the mood. At one point, I was surprised with a “Mysterious Wall Chicken” after breaking down a wall. Why hello there, Symphony of the Night. An achievement can be unlocked, called “The Blue Bomber,” and there’s a section that features floating sections of road that look suspiciously like Bastion‘s walkways. Fidget even told me to “MASH ALL THE BUTTONS!”
Seriously. She did.
Cute, yes. It instantly had my respect for that, paying homage to great games of the past. But something else I immediately was enamored with was the simplicity of the combat, yet the complexity in making it an art form. Players are presented with a multitude of attack functions: there’s the basic sword swipe, a stronger attack that can combo into a throw, and a projectile attack provided by Fidget. Holding down the strong attack button allows Dust to perform a Dust Storm, which magnifies Fidget’s projectiles into a veritable shitstorm of pain. Coupled with the fact that the painful shitstorm can be combo’d into massive chains that result in some serious EXP boosts means you’ll soon be rolling in the levels. The catch is that if you’re hit in the middle of these huge combos, you lose everything.
Did I mention that there’s a side quest called “C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER”? Yeah. I love this game.
Couple with aerial attacks, this game easily competes with the big boys when it comes to the amount of moves you can pull off in one fight filled with imps and giant…rock things. In the air? No problem, just do a couple of aerial storms and everything’s on fire. Swamped on the ground? Clear it out and drop a storm. Rake up all the EXP and move on.
Don’t even think that this game skimps on stuff to do. NPCs that you encounter during your travels will give you secondary quests as you’re trying to remember your identity. These quests will take you to a blacksmith that can help you craft items, and to other NPCs that give you special keys that will help unlock doors and gain entry to secrets. Looting certainly won’t be the Diablo caliber we might be spoiled with, but it’s still looting and we like our shiny shiny ill-gotten booty.
There could be some complaints, that it’s just the same thing over and over again. It’s just monster after monster, and you could probably get away with mashing the buttons and getting to the end story with just flying around and shooting storms everywhere. But where would all the fun be in that?
A few challenges await you in Falana as you journey to discover your lost life. There will be times where you’ll pass through a stage and won’t have the right item to continue. It’s a bit like Zelda in the sense that once you pick up certain skills or items, it’s almost a must to turn back to a place where you’ve been before. Sure, they might test your patience in the long run, but it’s something common with all questing games. Got something new? It always needs to be broken in.
Unless you’ve got no pulse, there really isn’t a reason why you shouldn’t try Dust: An Elysian Tail. Although it’s a downloadable title, this game packs a punch when it comes to delivery. With beautiful aesthetics, clever and smarmy dialogue, and simple combat mechanics, the game isn’t hard to pick up. It’s hard as hell to put down though, and it will especially please fans of the side-scrolling action type.
ALL of the good things!
- A loving tribute to all things excellent in old-school games.
- Simple combat system, yet hard to master.
- Nice amount of things to do including secondary quests, looting, and gathering of specialized items.
- Did I mention that it has a really sweet soundrack?
- Some of us might feel that the game has a repetitive nature.
- Don’t have the right item to proceed? Too bad, you can’t just leave the dungeon right then and there. You have to walk all the way out.
Dust: An Elysian Tail is currently out on Xbox Live Arcade for a cool 1200MSP.
There’s definitely a lack of outright bloodshed, but the game itself touches on incredibly mature themes of death, destruction, and meaningless killing. If you think your kids can handle that, well…okay then, we suppose. But it’s best if you try to explain it in a less explicit manner.