Here’s some irony for you. When the Summer of Arcade promotion was announced, Dust: An Elysian’s Tail was the game I was least looking forward to. Not because I thought it was a bad game, but because I knew basically nothing about it. It simply wasn’t on my radar. With the promotion now over, Dust is easily my favorite out of the five. Brought to us by Humble Hearts, aka Dean Dodrill, it also represents this year’s “Metroidvania” style game (Shadow Complex, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet).
First off, I’m stunned that only one person put this entire thing together. It’s staggering because this game easily looks like it was developed by a whole studio of people, especially when you see all of the detail that’s gone into the game. The visual style alone looks like it was done by Vanillaware and their distinct art style. For me, the cutesy talking animals also took some time to adjust to, but it fits with the game world.
You play Dust, who looks like a blue fox in a distinctive sedge hat. He wakes in a glade with no memory and a talking sword. At first glance, it’s very easy to assume you’re simply playing as a badass swordsman, and while that’s true, the game introduces a couple other ways that make you feel right at home with Dust. The biggest way you connect with the lead character however is not from the story, but the gameplay mechanics powering the experience. The fluid animations, satisfying combat and responsive controls are really refined and work well to pull you deeper into the game experience. It’s so well done that it takes little effort jumping in and pulling off some crazy combos. The only issue I have is that sometime’s in the midst of all the on-screen chaos, it can get a little tricky figuring out where you are.
I love the diversity with the environments. Each is gorgeously hand crafted and visually unique. No dusty brown worlds here. You’re getting color and lots of it. The map as a whole seems pretty open but certain areas you’ll need to backtrack to once you have a particular item. Just from a little bit of time invested, there definitely seems to be a ton of secrets and hidden areas to explore. As a cool side note, the map seems to be made up of connected blocks like you’d see in a Metroid game or even Shadow Complex. True Metroidvania stuff going on here.
Dust does feature RPG elements, though from my experiences, they seem to be a little on the light side, not that it’s a bad thing. Your character does level up and you do have points to allocate into 4 different, yet core categories: health, attack, defense, magic. Pretty standard stuff. There seems to be ample side quests to undertake if you want them and a crafting system which I haven’t gone into much detail with yet.
It’s hard to believe that a game like this was created by only 1 person because it looks like a team put this one together. While it may have been in development for quite a while, at the end of the day, you can’t help but be amazed at what was achieved here. It’s also pretty inspiring. I’m pleasantly surprised by the content rich and beautifully hand crafted game. Here’s hoping that 2D makes a comeback because Dust has proven that there’s a ton of life left in side scrollers. Definitely check out Dust: An Elysian’s Tail now on Xbox Live Arcade.