As the last title released this year for the Xbox Summer of Arcade promotion, Dust: An Elysian Tail is a masterpiece, made even more impressive when you consider that it was made almost entirely by one man, Dean Dodrill. *See the related article ‘Humble origins: The solo odyssey behind ‘Dust: An Elysian Tail’.* While the game stumbles a little bit, and the ending seems a little bit rushed, it is still a highly recommended game that is incredibly fun.
As the game opens, your character wakes to find himself with amnesia. He is soon confronted by a talking sword and a flying cat (nimbat). The two soon join him on is quest to find out who he is. Of course, the talking sword knows who he is but isn’t spilling the beans. You are then thrust into a small tutorial and battles commence.
The game is a side scrolling action title, a blend of Castlevania and Super Metroid meets Odin Sphere. While there are minor RPG elements at play (you equip armor, rings, and necklaces and level up to increase your stats, not to mention sidequests), the game is basically a side scrolling action title. As you progress the story you gain new abilities including a double jump, the ability to climb vines, boost yourself to new heights from vents, etc. Once you have gained these abilities you can return to areas you have previously visited to reach new bits the were once inaccessible.
While there is a lot of backtracking in the game, the new skills keep this from being a chore. Finding the items that were just out of your reach before is rewarding, if not time consuming. He did place some things in some out of the way areas that are difficult to get to even with your new abilities. Not to mention difficult to see. There are some seriously ‘hidden’ items in this game. Luckily, the map marks the areas where there are items left to find so you aren’t stuck searching every square of the map. You know which square to search and this is invaluable.
This is a gorgeous game to look at. The animations are mostly smooth and brightly colored, making for some flashy combos and interesting enemies. The lone samurai look of Dust is also eye catching. There are a variety of environments to traverse including lovely forests, dark caves, the white and blues of a snow covered mountain (watch out for the avalanches and icicles), and a bright red and orange volcano. Every area is distinct and colorful and keeps the game and the backtracking visually fresh and appealing.
The one area that I was not super impressed with was the hand animated cut scenes. There aren’t a lot in the game, and you must progress quite a ways to see them, but the animation was not as super as the actual game animations. While it is just a small gripe, I would rather have seen the cut scenes using the in game engine rather than a separate animated scene. While this doesn’t detract from the game at all, I just found them not as appealing as the rest of the graphics.
One thing that should be noted is that the game jacks up the difficulty about three fourths of the way through. If you don’t spend some time backtracking to the other areas and leveling up your character you will find that the last couple levels become almost impossible to pass through (I played the game on normal mode; there are two more difficult settings). Also, make sure to power up Fidget (the cat with wings). She/he become invaluable during the last stage when all the enemies seem to block your attacks. Plus, Fidget is the only way to defeat the enemy summoning sorcerer in the graveyard section of the game. Hey, look at that! I just gave a gameplay tip in my review . . .
If you have played either Odin Sphere or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night you know what you are getting into with this game. It is an amazing work by a very dedicated fan of video games. It deserves to be played by anyone who has an interest in video gaming or old-school side scrolling action titles. The combat system gives you just enough options to feel like you are not just button mashing, and the bright, varied, colorful graphics will keep you playing. Dust: An Elysian Tail is an Xbox Live Arcade exclusive that you should play. It is an amazing game and a true labor of love.