Developing video games is tough, even from the outside that seems obvious. It's not impossible, but it's one hell of a challenge, one that takes patience, time and talent to name just a few of the requirements to make it in the industry. So designer Dean Dodrill's accomplishments with Dust: An Elysian Tail is one to be applauded. Having developed the vast majority of this charming action adventure game himself, it's clear throughout that this is Dean's baby, resulting in a game that's beautiful, fun and one of the most captivating 2D side-scrollers I've played in years.
Dust: An Elysian Tail tells the story of Dust, a being with little knowledge of his past or his own identity. He's Awaken from slumber by a talking floating sword called Ahrah and the swords protectorate Fidget, a flying bat slash cat creature thing. This strange partnership must band together to help Dust figure out both his past and future in the lands of Falana, which have been beaten down by the terrors and horrors of war. For a story, it's one that nicely contrasts against much of the games visual design and isn't afraid to touch on some mature story points from the death and killing of innocents to the terrible physical and mental impact of war on those that survive it. I found myself surprised by the direction taken by the story till the very end and it's an area of the game that held strong throughout resulting in a story that benefits in developing the world as much as it keeps the tale chugging along.
Now upon it's release Dust received some criticism for its art style, which to some degree I can understand. It's most certainly not an ugly game by any regard, the wonderful 2D landscapes are gorgeous with an impressive level of attention given to almost every level of the game, but some might find themselves turned off by the furry like characters that popular the lands of Falana. Personally I was charmed with it's interesting cast of characters all voiced to an high degree resulting in a world that's more interesting than you'd think it had any right to be. Dust's small but useful sidekick Fidget in particular is an high point thanks to some great dialogue and cute voice work by Kimlinh Tran. It all results in an high level of polish that you can't help but admire considering the time and effort put in by the mainly one man development team.
An action packed side-scroller, Dust is primarily inspired by the likes of Castlevania and Metroid with it's walled off sections that make traversal and map navigation part of the challenge. Anyone who's spent time with the genre will feel right at home here thanks to the fact that navigation is a breeze and finding all those treasures and secrets as always been part of the real fun with these sorts of games. An Elysian Tail is no different and while you'll be traveling a large variety of regions, you'll find himself traveling back to lands you've already visited in search of treasures that were once inaccessible to you. On his journey Dust will have access to new and varied powers that can be used to discover and access these treasures and even be used in combat. The powers range from the ability to slide under walls to secondary jumps to be able to double jump and reach higher points in the landscape. What's great about all these powers is that there just as effective in combat as they are when platforming.
Falana is a land filled with a nice variety of baddies to swing your magical sword at and thankfully combat remains fun for the most part, even if I did find myself button mashing most of the time. Enemies will reappear if you exit and reenter an area so it's possible to grind your skills and levels if you wish. One note I'd add is that on normal, Dust can be a little to easy and whilst there are a few challenges here and there, it's not exactly a difficult game so you might want to consider playing are a harder difficulty level if that's your thing. Leveling up and enhancing skills is a fun addition, as is the ability to craft and equip new items to wear, although some might find crafting items becomes a nuisance once you near the end. All that said, every gameplay mechanic at work plays well together resulting in an highly polished experience and one I had fun with until the very end.
So Dust: An Elysian Tail is an impressive achievement by Dean Dodrill and his team of various contributors in the two years of development. It's an impressive achievement because you wouldn't guess that the majority of it's development was worked on by only one man. Rich in content, visually beautiful and sounding great, not to mention a story that's more memorable than you've come to expect from the genre, it all results in a game I'd highly recommend you play for yourself, even if you're turned off by the character designs. Dust: An Elysian Tail is one of the most charming games I've played in quite a while.