Somewhere out there, someone is wishing for a Metroidvania-style game with hand-painted artwork. I’m sure it’s probably a bit more than one. Now, let’s say said person also, umm, enjoys anthropomorphic animal people. In this particular instance, that person should be very excited. What about the rest of us, though? Is Dust: An Elysian Tail a proper dessert to end the Summer of Arcade or is it just dust in the wind? (I am so, so sorry.)
Anyone who has played a Metroid game or even Shadow Complex should feel right at home with Dust: An Elysian Tail, though I would definitely argue that it has more similarities with post-Symphony of the Night Castlevania titles. As Dust, you are free to explore the world of Falana, scouring the map for all of the hidden loot you can find. As you progress, you’ll gain more abilities allowing you to find even more hidden chests in previously accessed areas. The simple “circle means more treasure, dot means you’ve already gotten treasure” map format that’s synonymous with the genre is here in full effect.
Now that I’ve told you how Dust: An Elysian Tail is similar to its forefathers, I’m ready to tell you how it’s different: the combat. The closest comparison that I can draw for the combat are the Dishwasher games for XBLA, both in look and feel. The X button does a basic slicing attack, which can be combo-ed into different moves using the Y button. The B button is used to have your bat-like companion, Fidget, cast a wimpy projectile attack. These projectiles are enhanced by most of Dust’s Y button attacks, which can change three measly fireballs into a devastating area-of-effect attack. Juggling opponents is always fun and the game never ceases to throw new enemy types at you with each new area. What seems like a simple, mashy combat system quickly opens up to become something deeper and more satisfying.
There are robust RPG mechanics at work, as well. Fighting enemies and completing quests nets you experience which can be used to level up Dust in four different stats: Attack, Defense, Max Health, and Fidget’s Attack. Each level gives you one skill point that can be applied to one of the four. What interesting is how much improvement you actually gain after each level. Some of the stat bonuses just seem crazy, especially when combined with the loot mechanics. If you’re a fan of the ludicrously high stat numbers in games like the Final Fantasy series, you’ll be very excited about this.
Did I mention there was loot? There’s not only findable loot, but craftable loot, too. Slaying enemies yields coins, crafting materials and, if you’re lucky, sometimes blueprints to craft new weapon augments and armor. Each time a hidden chest is found, it’s exhilarating. With the crazy high numbers you’re constantly adding to your stats, it’s easy to get excited about a new upgrade.
That high does come with some lows, though. Each chest hidden in the world requires a key to open, which are also hidden. Finding a chest without a key does you no good. Likewise, it can be very disappointing to backtrack five screens back to an area with an open circle only to find another key. Other than a few slight targeting issues I had in very specific portions of the game, that’s really the only gripe I can find here. From a sheer playability standpoint, Dust is highly recommended.
[+Accessible, Deep Combat] [+Fun Stat-Building and Loot] [+Exhilaration with Each Found Chest] [-Finding Keys Can Be Disappointing] [-Slight Targeting Issues in Crowded Areas]
Simply put, Dust is a beautiful game. Subtle effects like the character’s reflections in ice make this a real looker. As far as hand-drawn games go, this is second only to Rayman Origins. That’s not a slight, that’s very high praise. Animations were obviously meticulously crafted and the environments are colorful, varied, and occasionally downright gorgeous. It’s one of those games that makes me proud to own and HDTV. As pretty as they are, screenshots do not do this game justice. Do yourself a favor and seek out some video. You’ll be glad you did.
During cutscenes, animated versions of the characters pop up beside the text with an art-style that may not click with everyone. In fact, the cutscenes themselves won’t click with everyone. Sometimes, overly long-winded dialogue can bog down the pacing of the game and some of the voice acting is almost unbearable. I found myself reading all of the dialogue and clicking through it before the actors had done their part. I rarely ever do that. That said, some of the writing is very clever and by the end the story had piqued my interest. Fidget’s Fourth Wall-breaking antics are hit and miss (mostly miss), but I will admit to cracking a smile at them more than once.
As far as soundtracks go, I genuinely enjoyed this game’s tunes. If asked to hum something from it a day later, I would be unable to oblige, but I did enjoy it during the game. It always sets a nice tone for the action on screen.
[+Beautiful] [*Enjoyable, Unmemorable Soundtrack] [*Cutscene Art Style May Not Click With Everyone] [-Substandard Voice Acting]
If you like this type of game, there is no doubting the value proposition here. My initial playthrough rounded out at almost exactly ten hours. That was with significant optional backtracking and sidequesting, yes, but I only managed around 90% completion. I absolutely feel compelled to go back and get more. If that’s not enough for you, there’s still two harder difficulties above normal to challenge yourself with. For $15, that’s a lot of high quality content.
[+Lengthy Campaign] [+Treasure Finding and Multiple Difficulties Increase Replayability] [+Fifteen Dollars]
I was highly impressed by Dust: An Elysian Tail. If you’ve ever been a fan of Metroid-esque games, I would absolutely recommend this purchase. It may not be quite the revelation Shadow Complex was a few years ago, but it’s well-worth your time and your money. I very rarely feel the need to get to 100% in games, but I will almost certainly be exploring every crevice of Falana just to see what’s there. If you’re hankering for this type of game, jump right in. Enjoy.
[+Accessible, Deep Combat] [+Fun Stat-Building and Loot] [+Exhilaration with Each Found Chest] [+Beautiful] [+Lengthy Campaign] [+Treasure Finding and Multiple Difficulties Increase Replayability] [+Fifteen Dollars] [*Enjoyable, Unmemorable Soundtrack] [*Cutscene Art Style May Not Click With Everyone] [-Finding Keys Can Be Disappointing] [-Slight Targeting Issues in Crowded Areas]