Review

One year after its XBLA debut, Dust: An Elysian Tail is now finally available on Steam. Created by one-man-army Dean Dodrill, whose unique vision, universe, and characters make for a vibrant platformer with strong emphasis on combat.

Set on Falana, a world inhabited by anthropomorphic animals, you are the eponymous Dust. No sooner are you introduced to the amnesiac protagonist are you joined by an adorable Nimbat, Fidget, guardian of the sentient sword Ahrah. Wielding this sword, and aided by Fidget’s projectile magic, the triumvirate set out to explore Falana and clear the fog of Dust’s memories. Along the way you will reach townships and take on side-quests from the many of the fully-voiced characters who inhabit the world.

As you move through the world you will come across lots of bad guys, and disposing of them affords you experience used to level up your health, defense, attack, or magic. They will often drop items that you can punt to the Resident Evil 4 inspired merchant, and buy foodstuffs, armour, rigs, etc. to increase your stats or replenish your health.

…a triumph of creativity, artistic vision, gameplay and well designed puzzles.

It follows a similar “gated,” structure to that of classic platfomers like Castlevania where you come across a gate or barrier that can only be opened once you progress further in the game. This is done really well and lends a sense of exploration to go with the action. These two elements strike a really nifty balance. True-to-form there are secrets strewn around levels as well as some pretty simplistic, but sometimes challenging, puzzle elements. Sometimes, the platforming along precarious edges or sharp hazards isn’t quite precise enough, but it rarely becomes an issue –  this is part-and-parcel of retro-styled platformers anyway. We wouldn’t want it too easy.

Taking on the hordes of enemies can be incredibly satisfying due to Dust’s gleefully overpowered attacks and moves. You have Light and Heavy attacks and variations of the two provide a robust and enjoyable move-set. Combat often takes place in mid-air, with moves often launching multiple enemies skywards for you to then juggle them. To do this you have many options but most likely you’ll be using the game’s trademark move where Dust raises his sword and, with an open hand, spins it wildly, causing a kind of vortex while racking up multiple hits. With this whisk-like move you can fire one of Fidget’s projectiles into the mix, causing it to amplify and, like a fireworks display, fill the screen with projectiles to continue your combo.

These moves form the foundations of your combos, and while the combat definitely favours a more brawler style approach, there is enough variation in the melee and magic to make every encounter feel fresh. Overall the combat is fun, easy to pick up, super satisfying and visually stunning. A triumph!

…the combat is fun, easy to pick up, super satisfying and visually stunning

It’s always tempting to end any compliment to a game like this by ending it with the caveat “…for an Indie game,” so it is testament to the quality of the game that I never do this. The fact it was created almost entirely by one guy is far too mind-boggling for me to even comprehend. Although it was a one-man project, the lovely audio is from HyperDuck and the writing was a joint effort between Dean and Alex Kain. Both the writing and audio contribute to the feel and maturity of the gameworld. The audio is simple but atmospheric, often lending a nice change in mood throughout the different areas, and the writing, especially the dialogue, is very well done, at times creating a delicious schism between the art style of the animals and the grim nature of the subject matter. It’s an intoxicating mixture of sights, sounds, and subject matter that make it feel so unique and sets it apart from other games.

 

Summary

A triumph of creativity, artistic vision, gameplay, and well designed puzzles. The characters are bright and full of personality and the game world feels unique and vital. The simple yet rewarding combat is backed up by a world that's begging to be explored and it's a proud homage to classic games that never feels dated.
9/10

For a 2D game the sense of depth is incredible.

Just stunning.