I’ve played quite a number of games from the Xbox Live Arcade over the years and in all honesty I could probably count the games which I would consider to be memorable on one hand. The problem I have is that Arcade games usually tend to be quite linear in terms of gameplay; you know it’s either side scrolling platformers, side scrolling beat em up’s or side scrolling puzzle platformers…. you get the point. Now don’t get me wrong I do think that the quality of Arcade games have rapidly increased this year with titles such as: Call Of Juarez: Gunslinger, Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon (technically a DLC?)But I still felt as if something was missing. What I didn’t expect was that a game in which I had picked up during one of Microsoft’s huge sales for around £4.79 would turn out to be exactly what I was looking for.
Dust: An Elysian Tail was developed and designed by a single man (Dean Dodrill) and is a truly incredible example of how to do it right when it comes to graphics, music, story, characters, dialogue, and gameplay. I went into Dust not having any idea what to expect; I only bought it because it was on sale and after some research found out that it could be completed with all achievements within 15 hours. Now it’s no secret that I’m a sucker for a good soundtrack and I personally believe that having one can elevate a game significantly and as soon as I got to Dust’s title screen I knew I was in for something special. Dust consists of 6 chapters, each coming with their own unique music that plays in the background and in cut scenes to amazing effect; I rank it right up there with games like Final Fantasy VII which obviously had a great soundtrack.
Dust takes place in the fictional world of Falana which is inhabited by anthropomorphic animals. Gameplay is presented on a 2D side-scrolling plane. The player controls the main character, Dust as he tries to remember his past. Dust wields a sentient sword, the Blade of Ahrah as his main weapon. Fidget, the sword’s guardian, acts as a companion for Dust and can use magical attacks. As the player travels the world, they can acquire power-ups that permanently alter gameplay, such as the ability to double jump or climb to previously unreachable areas. Incorporating elements of role-playing games, Dust can gain experience points by defeating enemies, and in turn may level up. These can be used to raise various attributes, such as health, strength, defence or magic. AI characters can be interacted with throughout the game’s world to sell items or receive side quests.
One of the first things you’ll notice about Dust is its incredible animation which was drawn single headedly by Dean Dodrill. Each level has its own distinct background and there is even a weather system which makes it rain, thunder and lightning, become sunny and so on. There are a well-designed variety of enemies whom offer a new challenge in battle and if you’re playing on a higher difficulty you’ll need to level up before taking on some of them. As amazing as the graphics are in the world of Falana nothing quite compares to the animation of Dust himself; the realism of his movements in battle rival that of any animated show or movie.
I don’t want to post any spoilers on the storyline itself because it does have quite a few twists and turns and it doesn’t deserve to be spoiled. I will say that the story itself is really great throughout and even though Dust is quite a short game you’ll find yourself really caring about the characters and their conclusions. The gameplay is fun and very fast paced which is helped by how responsive Dust’s movements are but it is basically hack and slash so expect combos etc.
Another great thing about Dust is the dialogue which is really well done and there are some very funny and sad moments which mostly involve fidget.
There are also a number of collectibles around the world locked up in chests which are opened through quick button presses. A very cool addition to the game is 12 special chests that require 4 gold keys to be opened and each contain a different character from a different arcade game! Expect to see the likes of: Bastion, Super Meat Boy, Braid, Fez and Spelunky boy to name a few.
Considering the game has never been patched there are no real bugs to speak of except a money glitch which is easily exploited in the later stages of the game.
Dust: An Elysian Tail is a truly incredible game that I enjoyed immensely. I went into playing the game with very low expectations and I came out with what I now consider to be my favourite Arcade game. It reminded me very much of Final Fantasy games of old with its music, likeable characters, dialogue, RPG elements, storyline and oh man that ending. Each aspect kept me addicted and gripped throughout. It’s an amazing way to spend 15 hours and it was no doubt the best £4.79 I’ve ever spent. Go buy this game and show it the appreciation it deserves so we can get a sequel!
Dust: An Elysian Tail