Commentary

08/14/2012

Dust: An Elysian Tail Review

Our official look at the new indie adventure title.

By: Alexandra Geraets

Filed Under: Adventure Indie Review

Video game studios are constantly pushing their narratives and games deeper and darker, hoping for that critical emotional punch that will keep players engaged. If studios are paying attention, then they’ll hope they can do half of what Dust: An Elysian Tail has done, with one man (and a killer music and sound crew) behind it. Dean Dodrill’s creation, a side scrolling adventure game with RPG elements, has everything a great game needs: a strong narrative, an engaging combat and platforming system, gorgeous hand drawn visuals, good sound editing and voice acting, with a healthy dose of humor.

This year’s Summer of Arcade is going out with a bang, and Dust is one of the best games I’ve played all year.

Dust’s story revolves around an amnesiac fox warrior’s pursuit of his lost memories, accompanied by a talking sword, Ahrah, and a chattering flying weasel-cat-like creature called Fidget. What begins simply enough slowly evolves over the course of ten hours into a complex narrative that deals with everything from the nature of existence to why certain people deserve help or not, and onward into how much a person can change when the right (or wrong) people are influencing him. The game has surprising moments of maturity, when characters are forced to weigh the outcomes of their decisions, accepting that things do not always go according to plan, and that even the best intentions are not necessarily enough.

This is a game that starts out small and familiar, but feels fresh and unique the more time is put into it.

There is a refreshing creativity behind the game, from the anthropomorphic animal characters to the beautiful environments. Weather effects, including a truly stunning snowy mountain level that shows character footprints and the snow’s reaction to combat movement, add a nice touch of realism to the hand drawn backgrounds. The combat system is fast and fluid (“Mash the buttons!” shrieks Fidget when the first monster appears), easy to learn but hard to master when you’re facing no fewer than five enemies at a time.

Exploration is encouraged in this game, as each new area features locked gates, treasures, and hidden arena. Every location feels different, and each new ability Dust acquires on his journey will help players get the most out of the areas. Environmental hazards as the game progresses make for some interesting platforming and navigational challenges, including avalanches and running against windstorms. Enemies are varied, and rarely appear in the same area twice; if they do repeat, they are more challenging than their previous area’s counterparts.

If this summer’s downloadable games have been a mixed bag of success, Dust: An Elysian Tail is the high note to end Summer of Arcade on. The game’s stylish presentation and fast paced combat make it feel fresh and unique. Dust will appeal to a wide range of gamers, from kids, who will like the humorous banter between the characters and the exploration, to adults who will enjoy the glimpses of classic platformers from their childhoods combined with a strong, well-paced story.

If this is the future of indie games, I might be content to leave big-budget titles in the, well, dust.

***

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Dust: An Elysian Tail is a headline title in its genre

This review based on an Xbox 360 copy of the game provided by the publisher

Filed Under: Adventure Indie Review

About the Author:
Alexandra Geraets is an fan of story-driven video games. She's an even more avid fan of exploring how and why they resonate with all of us. Her essays have been found on Village Voice Media.

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