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Dust: An Elysian Tail review

Excellent
AT A GLANCE
  • Intuitive, flowing combat
  • Excellent levels that encourage exploration
  • Playing non-stop to resolve the surprisingly stirring plot
  • How the Hardcore difficulty makes you feel like a wimp
  • Doesn’t last forever
  • That feeling when your friends walk in on you playing a game starring cartoon animal people

It was obvious, really: the next evolution of 2D action RPGs lies with cat people wielding talking swords. At first glance, Dust: An Elysian Tail may look like an action platformer intended strictly for children, due to the game’s potentially off-putting cartoon protagonists. But once you get over the fact that every character is an anthropomorphic animal, you’ll find that that this XBLA downloadable’s combat, depth, and atmosphere are all in the same league of quality as Bastion and Shadow Complex. Unlike its hyped-up predecessors in this year’s Summer of Arcade, Dust is worthy of being called one of XBLA’s finest.

 

As the amnesiac cat warrior Dust, you wake up in a daze to be greeted by the Blade of Ahrah, a talkative mystic broadsword, and its pipsqueak guardian Fidget. Within minutes of starting the game, you’ll be admiring the gorgeous hand-drawn visuals – every backdrop has a subtle liveliness to it, with small details like trees gently swaying in the breeze and constantly shifting weather. While exploring each new area, you’ll be in awe at how many small details you can spot in the lush illustrated backgrounds. That said, it’s hard to appreciate these little touches when you’re focusing all your attention on hacking hordes of monsters to death.

You’ll be slashing through imaginative enemies in droves throughout Dust, utilizing a potent mix of swordplay and magic to slice and dice through your attackers. Combat starts off gripping and stays that way, granting you fresh abilities to change up the pace at exactly the right times. You won’t have to memorize or train additional button combos to take down your opponents, either. Instead of finding the best combo and sticking with it, you’ll simply incorporate new tricks, like parrying and air-dashing, into Dust’s fantastically straightforward free-flow swordfights. This gratifying combat is blended masterfully into a Metroidvania-style world, where exploration is rewarded with hidden items and new abilities.

RPG fans will enjoy customizing their stats and equipment (the best of which is locked away in cleverly hidden chests), while action addicts can set their stats to auto-level if they prefer. Unlike countless other action platformers, you’ll never have to struggle with an obscured view of the battlefield thanks to the dynamic camera, and your limitless bag space ensures that you’ll never have to sift through a bloated inventory. Everything about Dust’s interface just feels clean and well thought out.

If you can’t stand cutesy characters, Fidget’s Navi-like tendencies may have you grating your teeth. However, for an Everyone 10+ title, the story is surprisingly affecting, dealing with weighty concepts like death, identity, and free will. You’ll often undertake sidequests not just for the bonus XP and gold, but to help out the amiable bunny-, feline- and mushroom-people in need. Provided you can tolerate her high-pitched squeaking, Fidget’s constant breaking of the fourth wall can be hoot; she’ll squeal at you to “Mash buttons!” when fighting monsters, or marvel at your nonchalant attitude towards stashing entire sheep in your inventory.

Striving for 117% completion is fun enough on its own, but leaderboards for the addictive Cirelian Trial challenge rooms are sure to please competitive gamers. In terms of difficulty, Dust is as challenging as you want it to be: On Normal, you can see most of the content (with some treasure-hunting backtracking) in around 12 hours, while on Hardcore, every single encounter becomes a desperate fight for survival. Achievement hunters will also get a kick out of the game’s 30 achievements, which all unlock with a satisfying cadence as you carry out Dust’s heroic deeds.

With its supremely satisfying swordplay, enthralling exploration, and a story you’ll want to see through to the end, Dust feels like the Xbox homage to Vanillaware’s cult classics Odin Sphere and Muramasa. Though its aesthetic may turn some biased gamers away, they’ll be missing out on some of the best single-player action that $15 can buy.

More Info

Available Platforms: Xbox 360
Genre: Platformer
ESRB Rating:
Everyone 10+

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12 comments

  • deedob - August 14, 2012 4:34 a.m.

    In the last picture of the review. Are the two bunnies on the left doing "it"?
  • StrayGator - August 13, 2012 11:20 p.m.

    THIS IS RIPPING OFF BLADE KITTEN! sorryhadtosayit.
  • Craza - August 13, 2012 8:16 p.m.

    I'm not typically a fan of these platformer style of games, but this one has piqued my interest. I found it a bit odd that they chose a movie styled type of trailer, but the visuals and combat look and sound very appealing. I'll have to check this one out later on if it ever comes down in price.
  • Shadow Of Death - August 14, 2012 5:19 a.m.

    There is an animation (movie) that's supposed to be released eventually, just FYI. Maybe that's the reason for the 'movie style' in the trailer.
  • Craza - August 15, 2012 3:03 p.m.

    Ah, okay. Makes sense.
  • BiscuitWheels - August 13, 2012 7:34 p.m.

    Are we supposed to be embarrassed if we get caught playing Sonic or Sly Cooper or any of the Ratchet and Clank games? What a weird line of thought running through this review.
  • avantguardian - August 14, 2012 1:44 a.m.

    it is weird. i mean really, why would you even give a shit?
  • Shadow Of Death - August 13, 2012 5:33 p.m.

    Good, good. I expected this game to get a high review score and I was not disappointed. It's been ind development for like 3+ years, and has undergone at least one major evolution in that time. Would have been a big letdown if it turned out to be shit after all this time.
  • BladedFalcon - August 13, 2012 5:10 p.m.

    Yeeeeeeeeeeep... My hunch about this game was not wrong... And makes it even more painful to not have a 360 right now >.< So how about a PSN port eventually eh? it could happen...
  • avantguardian - August 14, 2012 1:11 a.m.

    have you ever played odin sphere? it's like $10 on psn, and it's awesome. the excellent aesthetic belies its ps2 heritage. but yeah, i'm sooo glad there was at least one must-buy in the summer of arcade. this year was... ...lacking.
  • BladedFalcon - August 14, 2012 7:26 a.m.

    I actually played Odin's Sphere back when it originally got released as a PS2 game, and it is indeed an amazing game, from start to finish. Which reminds Murmamasa, YET another awesome game I haven't been able to play due to it being a Wii exclusive -.- SO yeah, thanks for the suggestion, but trust me, as a fan of 2D action games, there's no way I would have missed a game of this kind unless it's just not available on the consoles I currently own ^^; Also, regarding Summer of Arcade, I think you're forgetting about spleunky, which also looks awesome, and which I also wish I could play ._.
  • avantguardian - August 15, 2012 1:03 a.m.

    actually, tony hawk was the first official SoA release, and that really ley me down. i haven't checked out spelunky myself. didn't know it was exclusive. also would LOVE to play muramasa...but yeah...the wii... splitting hairs: what the internet was made for:D

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