Dust: An Elysian Tail review
Dust: An Elysian Tail is one of those stories that should really get the blood of independent game developers pumping. It’s one of vital success, the story of Dean Dodrill and his work of love, which got selected as part of the 2009 Dream.Build.Play competition hosted by Microsoft and, three years later, finally finds its place on Xbox Live Arcade as a heavily advertised title. What’s more, Dodrill actually made the most of the time given to him to polish the game for its final release, as every aspect has been fine tuned to make it one of the best downloadable games for the service. Not bad for a one-man army.
The story of Dust revolves around a similarly named character, a hooded warrior who’s been called upon to rescue his village when it comes under attack by nasty beats and rock warriors. Not only does Dust have to find out their origin, but he also has to help townsfolk throughout each area, locating loved ones and acquiring certain items.
He’s not alone, however. Dust can call upon the assistance of his fairy friend, Fidget, who’s a little squeaky in voice, but delivers a bigger punch than she could ever imagine with her magic. What’s more, Dust’s sword of choice also speaks up quite often, providing motivational advice and tips on how to kick butt.
When it comes to combat, Dust: An Elysian Tail is a well oiled machine. You’ll be able to chain together a variety of combos with the swift fighter, including ground attacks, grab throws and air launches. His nimbleness also allows him to dash out of harm’s way, and create wind gusts, which are useful for transporting fruit bombs necessary to break through walls – and strike enemies quickly, of course.
Fidget serves a purpose in battle as well. Her magic doesn’t seem like much at first, but conduct it with your windmill spin and you’ll create a plethora of laser beams that strikes anyone within a certain distance. It’s a remarkable sight, and a great tactic to use if you’re running a bit low on health.
Dust: An Elysian Tail doesn’t have shortage on items, as you can acquire health packs and other goods, like keys, over the course of your journey. In addition, you can also level up your character with hidden gemstones scattered throughout the Metroidvania-style world, and even find treasure chests so you can customize yourself better with armor. That adds replay value galore here.
But perhaps the most striking aspect of Dust is its presentation. For a game put together by a single person (even if he was on the Jazz Jackrabbit team), this is a startlingly designed game. The animation is stellar, the backdrops a reminder of classic 2D side scrollers from the PlayStation/Saturn days, and the speech cut scenes straight up inspired by anime. What’s more, the map system is not only coherent, but helpful, and the magic attacks are fun to watch. Likewise, the music – the only part of the game not handled by Dodrill – is simply fantastic, made up of great battle tunes and soothing town exploration ditties that are great to listen to. The voice acting is great as well, even if Fidget is a bit too squeaky at times. Ah, the life of a fairy.
With its numerous hidden items and dozens of missions that would put Vanillaware’s Muramasa into a quivering state, Dust: An Elysian Tail only comes up short in a couple of areas. First, you’re required to talk to a certain amount of people in each town before you move on, which can be tedious when you’re itching for battle. Secondly, the price is a little high, as Dust was originally planned as an Xbox Live indie release, and since bumped up to the 1200 Microsoft point ($15) cost.
Fortunately, Dust: An Elysian Tail has more than enough going for it to justify its new price point The graphics dazzle, the gameplay offers beat-em-up variety aplenty, and the replay value is through the roof, even without any major Xbox Live compatibility. Sometimes you just gotta take it back to the old school, and Dust does it with great aplomb.
To that, we say, well done, Dodrill. We just hope whatever comes next is equally as amazing, and we won't have to wait three-something years for it.