Giant Bomb Review

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Dust: An Elysian Tail Review

5
  • XBGS

Deep and involving mechanics, lavish, fluid artwork, and an emotionally resonant storyline--Dust pretty much has it all.

Dust's heart is its exceptionally fast-paced and responsive combo-based fighting system.

On first glance, Dust: An Elysian Tail looks like it has a little bit of everything. There's a responsive, lightning-fast combat system that lets you juggle enemies, suplex them out of the air, or combo them several screens high. You've got a full raft of RPG mechanics, so you can level up and distribute skill points, and equip armor and items that buff different attributes and add effects like health regen or increased drop rates. The equipment system goes a step further with a full crafting system that lets you build even better stuff than you can buy, and there's a ton of other peripheral secrets to discover in your travels. All these mechanics are gathered together in service of a memorable, well written storyline, and swaddled in some of the most lavishly produced 2D video game art seen anytime lately.

The core of what makes Dust so rewarding is the quality and immediacy of the combat. You start out with basic abilities to do things like pop enemies up into the air or dash behind them and do a turnaround attack, and soon you get a sword-twirling trick called the dust storm that allows you to juggle multiple enemies, and also amplify the spells spewed by your little flying rodent whatsit Fidget into screen-clearing dervishes of magical destruction. Using all your juggles and spells and other combat moves effectively will net you combo hit counts well into the hundreds, which is especially useful since you earn bonus experience for solid combos. Dust's feedback loop of combat and character progression makes you constantly feel like you're becoming more powerful all the way up to the last minutes of the game, and the controls are so quick and responsive that it just gets more and more fun as you start laying waste to a dozen enemies at a time with ever increasing style.

The game has picked up a reputation as a Metroidvania game, and Dust does have the grid-like map that's the hallmark of that sort of game, but the similarities to something like Shadow Complex are partially superficial. Dust doesn't offer a single contiguous world that you can navigate from end to end, but rather a bunch of different smaller areas that you warp between on a world map. And once you get inside one of those areas, the graph-paper map doesn't follow your every move; each map square only corresponds to an entire "screen" that might take you five minutes to work your way across. That expectation of using the map to pinpoint exactly where I was at all times kind of threw me for a loop when I first started playing Dust, since you still end up fumbling your way around a good bit within complex screens, but once you unlock the world map and get a feel for how everything is put together, the game makes perfect sense. It helps that Dust does share that central Metroidvania conceit of taunting you with areas you obviously don't have access to early on, then doling out abilities like a slide and double jump later on that give you access to those areas, giving you a lot of reason to backtrack.

There's plenty of story and side quests to keep you busy for at least a dozen hours.

Actually, I was surprised how much time I wanted to sink into going back and looking for secrets. The game is chock-a-block with hidden treasure chests that hold most of the best items and crafting recipes in the game, and a lot of those chests are very well hidden in clever places in the environment. Those are just the nuts-and-bolts secrets, though. What's even more memorable are the dozen notable characters taken from other Xbox Live Arcade indie games that are deeply hidden throughout Dust's expansive levels. It takes a lot of work to find some of these guys--one of the solutions had me getting a clue from a note I found in a completely different area, then kneeling in a specific spot like I was playing Simon's Quest all of a sudden--and they reward you with health bonuses when you find them. More importantly, you really have to see for yourself the amount of detail and craft that went into making each secret character's area feel visually and thematically consistent with the games they're taken from. Dust goes to the extreme lengths of changing its own art style, visual presentation, and mechanics in some cases to emulate and pay homage to these other standout downloadable games, the ranks of which this game is likely to join in the near future.

Aside from the secret stuff, Dust has a good 10 or more hours of pure story and side content, including a bunch of optional quests you can pick up from friendly characters in multiple towns. The game becomes occupied with some fairly dark themes, as you delve into the story of the skilled warrior Dust who, together with Fidget and his ancient talking sword, sets out on a quest to figure out who he is and where he came from. Yes, an amnesiac protagonist--I can hear you rolling your eyes from here. But the game's finely crafted storytelling efforts keep that clichéd premise from feeling out of place, even as the nature of the truth becomes more and more grim. The game encompasses a broader scope the more you play, as you realize who's involved in the central mystery and how much is at stake, and the story ultimately reaches a more satisfying and emotionally resonant conclusion than most 60 dollar retail games I can think of.

The soft focus and fluid animation are awfully easy on the eyes.

At the same time, Dust is almost paradoxically bursting with an ebullient brand of charm. There's a ton of referential and self-aware humor that makes light of video game conventions in general and a number of memorable games in particular. (The very first item you pick up is an amusing reference to Symphony of the Night, which is a clear influence here.) The game tastefully knows not to lean too heavily on this stuff, ensuring that it never crosses the line and becomes too cloying or corny. Dust juggles light and dark in a way that makes it easy for you to feel good about, even if you haven't spent any time seriously considering talking animal characters since the last time you watched An American Tail or Disney's Robin Hood. All this is enhanced by a cast of excellent voice actors who do both the jokes and the plot a service, giving uniformly well considered line readings that make you feel like someone who really knew and cared about the material was sitting there directing them the whole time.

That Dust is largely the work of one lone developer makes it all the more impressive, but the circumstances of the game's development aren't even a consideration when you consider how good the game is at face value. Cramming this many elements into a single downloadable game seems like an audacious move, but Dust pulls it off with confidence, style, and heart, resulting in a game that deserves to be played by a lot of people.

Brad Shoemaker on Google+
141 Comments
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Edited by Cyrisaurus

Too many games with the name "Dust"

Posted by DanHammett

Word.

Posted by Beforet

Bradly Shoemaker confirmed for closet furry!

Just kidding, this game seems great.

Posted by L44

@Cyrisaurus said:

Too many games with the name "Dust"

Posted by SmilingPig

@L44 said:

@Cyrisaurus said:

Too many games with the name "Dust"

Edited by BaconGames

Nothing about what Brad said is surprising. I'm glad it turned out well for the dev and the people playing it. I just can't get past how the game looks like a flash game to me. Art style is whatever, take it or leave it, but I just think the graphics are actively turning me away. Shame because otherwise I would sink right in and enjoy every minute. Guess it helps the choice was made for me as I don't own an Xbox.

Still though, same conclusion if it likely does come to Steam.

Posted by TastiestJamb

@Beforet: This game is great. I still can't wrap my head around how one person could make all of it happen.

Posted by OllyOxenFree

Hmm, Brod Shoemocker is convincing me giving this a whirl. Like some others said, though, the Flash animation-esque style is kind of turning me off.

Posted by jozzy

Brad seems to have a special place in his heart for downloadable games and scores them accordingly.

Posted by ImmortalSaiyan

Wow, this is a really positive review, glad he likes it so much. Even though I don't agree.

Posted by DoctorWelch

Can't wait to play this game. It really sounds amazing.

Posted by SpunkyHePanda

If it's good enough for New York Giraffe, it's good enough for me.

Posted by Giantstalker

@BaconGames: I kind of agree, the look of it really is hit or miss (and it misses for me as well). I wonder if that'll affect how well it does in the long run.

Posted by PillClinton

I liked the trial quite a bit, and since I've already downloaded the whole damn thing I guess I might as well buy it now. Thanks a lot, Brad.

Posted by kindgineer

Such a heart warming review. I'm really glad to see this game - that took a very long time and hard effort to accomplish - release and review well. I haven't had a chance to try it out yet, but I definitely look forward to it's download.

Also, I can't really say that the artwork "does it" or "kills it" for me because I don't really have the furry bias in me. While I think that community is a bit odd, I haven't heard fantastical tales or vice versa on their activities so the art-form seems more like a deviant art splurge more than anything.

Posted by Phatmac

Yep, this game is great! 6 hours in and it keeps getting better.

Posted by MikkaQ

I keep hating myself every time I want an XBLA game cause a "15$" game invariably ends up being 20$ since 1200 points cards don't exist and Microsoft won't sell you that amount online either.

If that horrendous system continues through the next Xbox, I'm probably completely done with XBLA games and as such probably Xbox in general since those are just about their only exclusives these days. They all come to Steam within a year anyway.

Regardless I'll have to make an exception for this, seems worth the 20.

Posted by SeanCoughing

Totally getting this when i have more time. I like the addition of other xbla characters, loved the in the quick look when jeff saw meatboy and said "whats this asshole doing here!?".

Edited by MarkWahlberg

What, um... What is Mr. Dust doing, on that cover art? I assume he's just holding someone's lifeless body in a tragic scene or something? Maybe it's just the recent kerfuffle over internet fetishes in regards to this game, but the... positioning in that image looks a bit suspect. If you catch my drift.

Posted by SoothsayerGB

Great review!

Posted by SockemJetpack

I'm enjoying it as well. I will admit I'm not big on the main characters design and those dang exploding orange guys need to breathe in more often. Stupid oranges.

Good review Mr Shoemaker. If I didn't already buy it I would feel secure in buying it after reading this.

Posted by Winsord

@MikkaQ said:

I keep hating myself every time I want an XBLA game cause a "15$" game invariably ends up being 20$ since 1200 points cards don't exist and Microsoft won't sell you that amount online either.

If that horrendous system continues through the next Xbox, I'm probably completely done with XBLA games and as such probably Xbox in general since those are just about their only exclusives these days. They all come to Steam within a year anyway.

Regardless I'll have to make an exception for this, seems worth the 20.

It's even worse in Canada where if you buy a physical card, it's $20 for 1400 points, with which you can even get two 800 points games. I really wish they'd do away with the points system for the next console and just give me the same price, but you know they're making way too much easy/extra money from the awful system they've got in place now.

Posted by Amaru25

Really like the art style but the main character's design looks like crap to me.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

I always like reading Brad's enthusiastic, warm reviews for the occasional gems out there. This and his Dead Island reviews reflect a lot of what I personally enjoy about games. Looking forward to playing Dust sometime soon.

Moderator Online
Posted by Thoseposers

@MikkaQ said:

I keep hating myself every time I want an XBLA game cause a "15$" game invariably ends up being 20$ since 1200 points cards don't exist and Microsoft won't sell you that amount online either.

If that horrendous system continues through the next Xbox, I'm probably completely done with XBLA games and as such probably Xbox in general since those are just about their only exclusives these days. They all come to Steam within a year anyway.

Regardless I'll have to make an exception for this, seems worth the 20.

you can always buy the ten dollars worth of points then buy the five dollars. that's what i usually do.

Posted by vikingdeath1

Just finished this today, spent maybe a couple hours getting the last 10 levels (it was actually a fun grind) and the rest of the "friends" and MAN that game is fun! Hope a sequel gets made And is good!!

Posted by 234r2we232

The character design is a serious turn-off. It reminds me of some Sonic obsessed 13 year old's fan fiction.

Posted by ChrisTaran

Everything about this game looks amazing. The animation is some of the best and smoothest I've seen in a 2D game outside of something like Muramasa or Odin Sphere, however the art style (and I do -not- mean the fact that it is anthropomorphic animals) is just terrible to me. Enough so to keep me away. It looks like bad Deviant Art submissions.

Can not fault anyone that likes it though.

Posted by metalsnakezero

Man, I seriously need to get this game now.

Posted by zombie2011

This game is really great, the best game i've played this year.

Posted by Vegetable_Side_Dish

Knew this was a Brad review from the blurb <3

Posted by LethalKi11ler

I don't know why but the art style is kinda turning me off it :/ Might seem like I'm a graphic whore but it's not about the graphics, I just can't stand the look of the game... Maybe one day?

Posted by csl316

Well deserved. I played 3 hours one night, then I watched my friend play for 3 hours the next day, and then he watched me play another 3 hours immediately after. And we were still up for more!

Edited by MikkaQ

@Winsord: No I know! I live in Toronto, this is my exact problem with buying XBLA games. The 200 points is not worth my extra 5 bucks, at my budget that's a meal. And a meal is valuable to my broke college-aged ass.

@Thoseposers: I can't, this might just be Canada, but they only sell 1000 points for 15$, then 500 points for 7.50$ on the console and Xbox site, or just 1400 on a card for 20 in a store. It's a ripoff.

Edited by mutha3

At the same time, Dust is almost paradoxically bursting with an ebullient brand of charm.
 

I can't be the only who had to google "ebullient"here...
 
Anyway, this game looks like its right up my alley, mechanics wise. Order of Ecclesia(did I get that title right? whatever.) on the DS is one of my favorite games of all times. I haven't played a metroidvania in years, though, because really-- there aren't enough of them out there.
Posted by Trilogy

@BaconGames said:

Nothing about what Brad said is surprising. I'm glad it turned out well for the dev and the people playing it. I just can't get past how the game looks like a flash game to me. Art style is whatever, take it or leave it, but I just think the graphics are actively turning me away. Shame because otherwise I would sink right in and enjoy every minute. Guess it helps the choice was made for me as I don't own an Xbox.

Still though, same conclusion if it likely does come to Steam.

Looks like a flash game? What fucking flash games have you been playing. Open your eyes, duder.

Posted by SejsCube

Really can't shake the Guardian Heroes + Symphony of the Night + Furries vibe I get off this game.

The art is mechanically wonderful, even if I don't care for the particular flavor of characterization ... but the narrative really shows it as a one-man effort. By which I mean it suffers terribly from fanfictionitis. Original character, do not steal. I wish I could like this game more.

Posted by Jace

www.furrybomb.com

Posted by cb1115

Completely agree with this review. Fantastic game.

Posted by MURDERSMASH

Fantastic review, Brad. I just beat the game today, and when Brad says "emotionally-resonant story", he absolutely means it. I've never been so moved by a game before in my life, and I've been playing video games for almost 30 years. Seriously. Dust's story just made a grown man cry. Absolutely worth your money.

@MarkWahlberg said:

What, um... What is Mr. Dust doing, on that cover art? I assume he's just holding someone's lifeless body in a tragic scene or something? Maybe it's just the recent kerfuffle over internet fetishes in regards to this game, but the... positioning in that image looks a bit suspect. If you catch my drift.

When you play the game all the way through, and understand the story, who Dust is, and who he was before, the cover art will make perfect sense.

Posted by m2cks

One cannot imagine my excitement to see Brad giving Dust a 5. I totally agree with him- this game is definitely going to be on my top 5 of 2012; it's just that good.

Posted by Campion

This was a really well written review, and to be honest I'm surprised you guys gave it a solid 5.

Posted by ModernMoriarty

Well, if he likes it, then fair enough. But this still seems like an overly generous score to me, reminiscent of when Syndicate got 5 stars from Jeff. I'm not saying either game is bad as such (I'm not impressed with Dust, though I liked Syndicate), but are either of them really 5 stars good?!

Just seems a bit lenient...

Posted by Winsord

@MikkaQ said:

@Winsord: No I know! I live in Toronto, this is my exact problem with buying XBLA games. The 200 points is not worth my extra 5 bucks, at my budget that's a meal. And a meal is valuable to my broke college-aged ass.

Alright, so you share my pain, haha. Yeah, even if you want 1500 points digitally, it's like $25 after taxes. I completely agree with you, and they've missed out on a lot of purchases from me (and surely others, like yourself) because every game costs about $7.50 more than it actually costs.

Edited by Draxyle

Hoping for an eventual PC release. I have to appreciate one man's drive to carry out his vision, despite the grueling amount of years it would take. Some of the best games out there are from people with a focused goal in mind, without hundreds of competing staff trying to staple their own ideas into a patchwork mess.

Posted by thefloorislava

I was wondering what this game was going to get. Dust totally sucked me in this weekend and completely pulled me away from Darksiders 2. An amazing game.

Posted by criacow

Oh hooray. I had just bought it earlier today--I was really hoping it stayed awesome throughout, so I'm glad to see it does.

Posted by MooseyMcMan

I should probably play this game. And re-watch that version of Robin Hood. Always was the best version.

Moderator
Posted by newmania

Looks awesome but I'm going to wait until it's $5 on Steam.

Posted by Igottadeuce

No, sir. I don't like it.

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