|Is this one-man helmed digital-only game a diamond in the rough, or just dust in the wind?|
It is undeniable that one of the best things about this generation of gaming is the rise of the indie developer. With great games like Limbo, and Super Meat Boy, they have become quite a force to be reckoned with, especially since they have the benefit of underbidding major gaming companies for your hard earned money, while still being good. I am not going to mince words here, and am just going to immediately say that the subject of this review, Dust: An Elysian Tail...is one of the BEST games to come out in this generation, not until this game have I seen a gaming product made with such love, passion, and incredible talent in this past decade. It gets even better when you realize that this game was made...BY ONE PERSON!
We open with our titular hero Dust awakening in a glade with no memory of anything before gaining consciousness. He is approached by a sentient sword known as the Blade of Ahrah calling him its chosen wielder much to the dismay of the sword's frazzled guardian Fidget who "allows" Dust the use of the weapon if she can accompany him on his journey and reclaim the sword after all is said and done. Dust agrees and sets out with his two companions to discover his true identity, and combat the evils that will cross his path.
While this story is packed with many cliches, it is still an incredibly fun, and memorable experience that will stick with you long after the game ends. And do not be deceived by this game's colorful palate and fuzzy characters, this story contains several dark twists that will make you gasp and possibly even cry as we follow Dust on his adventure. In fact, I'd compare this game to a good Don Bluth film, in that it makes use of animal characters with human qualities, but also contains some rather mature themes that I will not spoil for you. The more cynical gamer will be able to pick apart some plot elements, but what you get here is still very enjoyable, and well written.
OH MY GOSH THIS GAME IS BEAUTIFUL!! Dust uses various hand painted backgrounds and environments that are pure visual splendor to behold and traverse. Dust himself also looks incredibly good with each animation flowing beautifully and never clashing with the background. This game also has a few fully animated cutscenes that are surprisingly well-done for a one man project. There are a few enemies and NPCs with some jerky animations, but that won't really bother anyone but major nitpickers since Dust will be hacking them to ribbons in a visually pleasing fashion.
Voice acting is also surprisingly good in this game, despite featuring an almost entirely unknown cast everyone gives their best performance regardless of how minor a character they play; Dust, and Fidget's VAs giving especially strong performances. The music of this game is very well done with the motifs matching up especially well with their respective backgrounds and situations (snowy mountain, underground cavern, boss battles, etc).
Dust is best described as a hybrid of Castlevania, Castle Crashers, and Devil May Cry. The exploration and progression is very much pulled from games like Symphony of the Night, with Dust moving on a 2D plane with a heavy emphasis on platforming and able to backtrack practically anywhere in the game to discover previously inaccessible secrets with the help of newly learned abilities (double-jumping, sliding, etc). The main difference between Dust and Castlevania is that Dust uses a world map to divide each of it's locations into different regions that open up at certain points to prevent hapless players from accidently venturing into a place with overly powerful monsters. If I have to complain about anything here, it'd be that there isn't really a "fast travel" method; throughout the stages you'll find save points that restore Dust's health (the amount depends on the chosen difficulty level) and offer the option of teleporting back to world map with the use of an expendable teleport crystal. Unfortunately you cannot teleport to another specific teleporter if you choose to do this, instead you can only begin at designated points in the level. This is ultimately a minor inconvenience, but it's something that would have been a bit helpful in side-quests.
Dust is an action RPG at its core and as such, combat plays a major role in gameplay. Dust can use the Blade of Ahrah to cleave his way through enemies in spectacular fashion not too unlike the Devil May Cry series. From the start, Dust has access to a set of combos that can be used to spice up the battle, as well a special move called the Dust Storm which has Dust twirl Ahrah and create a vacuum like effect to draw items closer and rapidly damage enemies caught in the blade's path, and a special parry move that stuns enemies if used properly. Fidget also plays a role in combat by casting one of three different magic spells she learns throughout the game with the press of a button, this may be used in conjunction with the Dust Storm to supercharge the spell into a more powerful version that does more damage and covers more ground. While combat is indeed very fun, this game's weakest point comes in the form of its boss battles. They are relatively few (only about four) and rather underwhelming in terms of difficulty since many will easily succumb to one particular combo or to Fidget's magic combined with the Dust Storm; but once again, a rather minor flaw in a very good game.
Equipment and item management are another major aspect of this game, and are handled very well for the most part. Dust can find, purchase, or create (with the right materials and the help of a blacksmith) different armor, accessories, and augments for Ahrah in basic RPG fashion. Items are also used to restore health and dispel status ailments, conveniently Dust can equip one such item for quick use with a press of a button, which cuts down on downtime significantly. And finally as with any RPG, Dust gains experience with every victory and will gain a new level when a certain amount is gained, this grants Dust a skill gem that can be allocated to his max health, attack, defense, or to Fidget's magic ability ala Castle Crashers. It's short, simple, and it gets the job done unlike most overly complicated level-up systems found in bigger RPGs.
Side-quests provide a ton of play-time in this already fairly long game and are very rewarding upon completion with either gold, experience, or just a good ole heartwarming scene. Sadly there is no new game+ option, which is rather disappointing, but with several different difficulty modes, this is slightly made up for.
This game does have flaws, but in my honest opinion, this game is worthy of taking on the "big hitters" in the gaming industry. Dean Dodrill is a man of great talent, and I really hope to see either a sequel to this game, or him moving on to do even bigger things. I loved this game so much that I was seriously moved to tears by the ending credits (and not many games can do that to me), so do yourself a favor and drop 15$ on this masterpiece for either the Xbox Live Arcade or (most recently) Steam, it has all the enjoyment of a major developer game, for the price of a night at the movies.
PC Gamers, buy it HERE NOW!! http://store.steampowered.com/app/236090
- Surprisingly good voice acting.
- Cliched, but captivating story
- Excellent combat mechanics and responsive controls
- Beautiful hand-painted backgrounds
- 15+ hour content for only 15$
- Underwhelming boss battles
- Some nitpicky plot-elements.