In the past four years, the games that have closed out the Summer of Arcade go as follows: Castle Crashers (2008), Shadow Complex (2009), Lara Craft and the Guardian of Light (2010), and Toy Soldiers: Cold War (2011). So to say expectations for Humble Hearts’ (comprised of one sole heart, Dean Dodrill) first creation, Dust: An Elysian Tail, were high would be one of the biggest understatements of the year. Dodrill’s Dust, which is also a tie-in to Dodrill’s animated series he’s currently at work on, seemed none too afraid of those expectations by entering its way onto everyone’s radar by showing off bright, vibrant visuals and an insane Devil May Cry style combat system that encourages combos and pushes hit counts up higher than you could imagine.
Unsurprisingly, those are two of Dust’s best qualities. One thing that may be a bit unexpected is the interesting tale that Dust tells throughout its 10-12 hours lifespan. Featuring a broad world absolutely filled with lovable characters, Dust’s story and world are among some of the best I’ve seen in an Arcade game. The ongoing uncertainty with the identity of the main character, Dust, is one of the driving forces that control your emotions from beginning to end. While that is going on, an overarching story is taking place that involves a villain named General Gaius that is attempting to take out a whole race called the Moonbloods. Though he’s unsure who he really is, Dust is having none of that and does his best to stop Gaius in his plight. Apart from the main storylines, Dust has around ten or fifteen side quests spread across its beautiful world. Some of which are simple “receive X number of items” and some that go deeper than that and tell a story of their own.
Writing is at times a bit back and forth however. Most of the time, the writing is just fine, sometimes containing a bit of wit, but there are a few times where the Japanese influence is clear and characters become a bit annoying. Whether it be nagging or just being unfunny, the main offender is your partner Fidget. Fidget is similar to a fairy, flying around with you the whole time, though she’s actually very useful. She is queen to blame for my issues but overall, her character is supposed to act like a sort of little sister to Dust so maybe the annoyingness is expected. In the end, you learn to love Fidget, frustrating qualities and all.
While the story is undoubtedly fantastic, the visuals are where it’s at. The art and attention to detail put on every aspect of Dust is absolutely astonishing. The character designs are spot on and reflect their respective personality perfectly. The level design is no slouch either, showing off bright fire and drab graveyard environments that never cease to please your precious eyeballs. It’s clear there was no environment left unpolished in Dust’s development cycle as everything has that nice coat of paint that makes you stop the game and just stare. Dust is without a doubt one of the best looking games released in years.
My admiration for both the story arch and the visuals aside, the heart of Dust is the combat. Dust is your typical side scrolling brawler, enhanced by beautiful combos. These combos are easily accessible as achieving them is as simple as pressing B, X, then Y. From there, you will have your enemy in the air and be wailing on his flying body. Usually, the issue with simplistic combat is that it quickly becomes a bit of a bore to slog through. Thankfully, that issue is avoided in Dust. Maybe it’s how incredible everything looks, or maybe it’s just the fact that the combat is fun as hell to take part in but Dodrill achieves something most brawlers cannot in keeping his combat style fresh and full of jaw dropping moments.
That is, up until the final few hours of Dust, that’s when the excitement and admiration begins to slowly morph into anger. The final hour of Dust is one of the most shockingly disappointing hours of gaming I’ve played. As you enter your last chapter, the combat becomes relentless, throwing incredibly strong and armored enemies at you that are much more powerful that Dust. This wouldn’t be a problem if there were only a few to deal with, but instead you have to take on about fifteen at a time and it seems that immediately upon defeating that fifteen, twenty more show up behind them. Acquiring health is not an easy task either, as you must buy fairly expensive food for health. Again, this would be fine if money wasn’t a hard thing to come by but it is. It seemed like almost every bit of money I picked up along the way went right into food. Though it felt like three hours due to the amount I died, once you get past the thirty minute combat sequence, you’re greeted by an awful boss battle. The boss battle consists of performing the same aforementioned B, X, and Y combo repeatedly until his life bar is depleted but the game isn’t over yet, as they then combine the previously frustrating combat sequence and the boss battle into one, forcing you to contain the twenty enemies around you while simultaneously dealing with the boss that kills you in about two swipes of his sword. As you can guess, some controller tossing emerged from this situation.
My thoughts on Dust: An Elysian Tail are very hard to put into words, near everything about it was immaculate up until the final hour where everything became tarnished with an awful stench. The fact of the matter is, no game should be judged by one hour and instead should be judged by the whole experience. That being said, if you don’t mind a frustrating final hour, Dust is a truly special product to pick up. It’s beautiful, it’s fun, it’s interesting, and it’s frustrating as hell. It’s Dust: An Elysian Tail and it deserves your purchase.
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