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Dust: An Elysian Tail

[gameinfo title=”Game Info” game_name=”” developers=”Humble Hearts LLC” publishers=”Microsoft Studios” platforms=”” genres=”” release_date=”August 15, 2012″]

How many hit games these days are from single person teams? Not many if there were any before Dust: An Elysian Tail. Dust won the 2009 Dream-Build-Play; a competition thrown by Microsoft yearly for indie developers. With that win, Humble Hearts’ masterpiece moved from future Xbox LIVE Indie Game to Xbox LIVE Arcade. Dean “Noogy” Dodrill has been working hard the past three years to polish Dust into the must have title of Microsoft’s yearly Summer of Arcade promotion. Published by Microsoft, Dust: An Elysian Tail might just be the thing dreams are made of.

Amnesia is extremely contagious in the video game world. It is an easy device to allow the player to discover the world and plot alongside the main character. Dust, the character the game derives its name from, is no different as the he awakes with no memories of who he was. A legendary talking sword named Ahrah has been dormant for years and awakens to travel to Dust, much to the chagrin of its guardian, Fidget. Dust is the chosen one according to the sword and they start their journey together along with Fidget to discover Dust’s past and stop the genocide of another race. Genocide is a strange plot point for a game filled with cute furry human like animals but maybe the developer is trying to make some larger social point or just thought it would be cool if the cold-blooded lizards were the victims and the cute warm-blooded animals were systematically destroying their race. Either way, the story is engaging and strong enough to keep you wanting to progress the main quest to find out more.

The adventure takes our anthropomorphic heroes through a 2D side scrolling world of beautifully stylized graphics that look like a mish mash of Disney and Japanese anime. The graphics aren’t the only mish mash found in Dust. It is a magnum opus of multiple game play genres and styles simmered together like many a great meal out of a crockpot. At its core, it is an action RPG in a metroidvania world. Hack and slashing through the 2D environments will immediately bring memories of games like Kingdom Hearts. The best part is that each area in the game is designed much like a Metroid or Castlevania game with hidden areas, goodies to discover, and blocked off sections to come back to when you have an appropriate skill. Combat is smooth and responsive allowing you to chain together attacks, fidget’s projectiles, special moves into huge multiple hit combos. The platforming in the game is extremely thought out and allows strategy in combat by taking the fight to a different level.

As you kill, quest, and converse you gain experience and at each level up you get a point to place in one of the 4 attributes; Health, Damage, Defense, and Fidget’s Effectiveness. On tough and hardcore, the game is extremely difficult until you find the right balance of Health and Damage and if you don’t make any obvious mistakes, it turns into a bit of a cakewalk. Other RPG elements to make it into Dust include crafting, consumable food for health, equipment, shops, and quests. The side quests in Dust range from fairly simple to rather involved. Most seem to be fetch quests that take you back to areas that you have already visited often times with new abilities to explore them more fully.

The presentation of Dust is unbelievable considering it was handled by one guy. Environments are beautifully designed and include areas like forests, mountains, caverns, & fields. The animation and characterization are borderline Disney and is a real nice aesthetic for anyone that grew up on their 2D animated films. The voice acting is top notch and fits what one would expect from an animated movie with anthropomorphic characters.

Score: 9.5/10

Dust does not redefine genres or gameplay, it refines them as a love letter to the 2D games we miss and the ones that never happened due to the 3D revolution. It showcases the incredible creativity of a single person and should leave everyone to wonder what kind of games we might have experienced if 3D did not go big during the PlayStation/N64 era.

Brandon Koch

I write stuff. I play stuff. I code stuff.

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