As we reach the last week of the Summer of Arcade, no clear cut standout has emerged from this crop of heavily promoted titles. The line-up has been solid, but not as stellar as what we’ve come to expect from previous years. The only hope for a critical acclaim rests on the shoulders of Dust, the titular hero in An Elysian Tail. Can this swordsman, his flying feline companion, his talking sword, and his flock of furry friends come to the rescue?
Microsoft was right to hold Dust: An Elysian Tail as the final game in this year’s Summer of Arcade. It’s clearly the premier game of the bunch and one of the best original games that has come to Xbox Live Arcade’s library. It’s easiest to describe the structure of Dust as similar to a Metroid or XBLA’s own Shadow Complex. It’s a 2D action-platforming game with locales that can be more thoroughly explored once you’ve gained new abilities – like double jumping or getting colored gems that open up new passageways. On top of the traditional Metroidvania formula, there’s an RPG leveling system and a moderate amount of loot to collect to supplement your stats. There is also crafting of loot as you gather up blueprints and materials that are dropped from the monsters that you defeat. These “materials” are actually things like teeth and fingers from your foes. That’s a little creepy, but shops are more than happy to buy them from you and once you’ve turned in a specific material the vendors will then stock it should you need to easily stock up on fingers in the future. All of these core mechanics, from the platforming to the experience system and loot, result in a nice level of depth that make collecting and exploring rewarding.
The most obviously striking thing about Dust is the gorgeous 2D artwork and animation. Every screen pops with lush and vibrant landscapes and the amount of simultaneous action is extremely impressive. Sometimes up to two dozen or so enemies are on-screen vying for Dust’s attention and the style in which he dispatches them is an assault on the eyeballs. The combat is very unique in that it blends a melee button-mashy feel with homing projectile attacks that light-up the screen with visuals reminiscent of bullet-hell shooters. The core of the fighting mechanics are Dust’s interaction with the projectiles that Fidget (the flying-cat side-kick thing called a Nimbat) harfs up. As you spit out different elementally charged shots, Dust can spin his sword causing a chain reaction that rebounds throughout all the monsters on the screen. Additionally Dust can then corkscrew through the air inflicting further damage to juggle the enemies and put together ridiculously lengthy combos that escalate north of one thousand hits. The nice thing about the combat is that it can really be as simple or complex as you’d like it to be. You can take your time whittling down opponents with Fidget’s attacks without too much threat of death or you can crazily dash through the air and parry opponents attacks on the ground to end fights quicker, but putting yourself at greater risk of losing health.
The most surprising aspect of Dust is that the writing and storytelling makes up for any worries that you may have about the copious amounts of furry characters in the game. There are definitely some heavy themes addressed in the game, but at the same time the dialogue really nails a cute and clever sense of humor. All that dialogue (and there’s lots of it) is all fully voiced and I think that adds quite a bit to the delivery of the game… even if the voice of Fidget can be gratingly sweet at times. I’m pretty sure that’s intentional, though. I mean, her name is Fidget… that tells me you are supposed to be annoyed by her. By about halfway through the game though, I couldn’t help but be a fan of the character. She’s really what makes a lot of the narrative work and the Nimbat also inserts a lot of the laughs by randomly breaking through the fourth wall. Beyond literally speaking directly to the player, there are also a lot of nods to other games that caused me to smile in Dust. For instance, naming one of the most common power-ups that springs forth from destroying walls a Mysterious Wall Chicken is a great nod to the absurdity of videogames. There are plenty of really fun moments buried within all the secret places of the map including rescuing familiar cameos from other indie games.
The little touches like those buried in-jokes highlight the level of care that was put into Dust. It’s a game that uses a proven formula, expands a bit on the RPG aspects of that model, and adds a lot of flair to the fisticuffs. Layer on the charming presentation and beautiful graphics and Dust: An Elysian Tail is a super-enjoyable experience that’s hard to put down. Summer of Arcade has been redeemed by the furries.
Outstanding | Very Good | Fair | Poor | Awful
Recommended Buy Price: $15.00
Current MSRP: $15.00
Dust: An Elysian Tail was provided for review by Microsoft. I completed the campaign in twelve hours accumulating 21 out of 30 for 280 GamerScore. I am currently at 86% completion and the overall percentage goes above 100% according to some scores I saw on the leaderboard. Dust: An Elysian Tail is an Xbox Live Arcade exclusive.