(Dust: An Elysian Tail is available on Steam and XBLA)
I’ll cut to the chase.
Dust; an Elysian Tail is a vertical beat-em-up. As in, it’s one of those sidescrolling beat-em-up games where you not only go left and right beating up your foes, but you can also combo your enemies way up into the sky, and then all the way back down.
This looks like some kind of super attack that’s hard to pull off and requires some kind of super meter, right? WRONG. You can do these kinds of explosions all the time once you get the right projectile element. And that’s not the only badass thing you’ll be doing once you pick up that mysterious talking sword…
So, let’s start with story.
The game opens with a playable segment wherein the legend of shadowy and merciless warrior is told. Soon after, you see the hero of the story, the titular Dust, wake up in a clearing in a strange forest with no memory of who he is, where he came from, or how he knows how to use a blade with such grace. From there unfolds a story about heroism, justice, discrimination and finding and reforging one’s own identity. It’s really engaging, emotional, and isn’t afraid to get dead serious when it’s appropriate. And it’s got a downright awesome climax and final act that stuck with me for days afterwards.
By the way, did I mention that it’s all those three things even though everyone is an anthropomorphic animal? Yeah, yeah, some of you might balk at the idea of there being talking clothed animals in a great story with lots of serious bits to it, but if that’s the case you really need to get over yourselves.
Yes, Dust. Yes they are. See? Even the hero agrees! Discrimination against anthropomorphic animals is BAD!
The game also loaded with little funny moments, many of them coming from your trusty sidekick and projectile master extraordinaire, Fidget the Nimbat (Yes, Nimbat is actually the name of her species), as well as making gags that poke holes in the fourth wall from time to time.
As for Dust, he’s very expressive and develops rapidly as a character despite his amnesia condition. It’s honestly great to see another one of those extremely rare amnesiacs who can still remember how to have emotions. By the time you reach the end of the game, he’s a full on badass and extremely likeable. The way he bounces off the optimistic and hilarious Fidget, as well as his dead serious talking sword and the variety of other characters you’ll meet works beautifully.
Now, onto gameplay…
The action flows really well, and is a joy to play. Dust can perform basic sword combos, throw in powerful grabs, knock enemies into the air, and perform a useful twister move (the Dust Storm) in the air and on the ground that’s great for chasing and comboing enemies. Further, your trusty partner Fidget can fire little weak projectiles that can be amplified to ridiculous levels of usefulness when combined with the Dust Storm. By combining these sword combos with the projectiles and Dust Storm, you’ll be able to combo the many foes in your path to hell and back.
As to combos, not only are they fun, but they’re rewarding. The longer your combo, the more bonus EXP you’ll get once the combo naturally ends. Making long combos is thus one of the best ways to level up. However, taking a hit during a combo will immediately break your combo and you’ll get no bonus. And make no mistake, the huge swarms of enemies you’ll face will do everything they can to break that combo and make you rue the day you decided to wake up in a clearing with no memory.
Fortunately, you’ll have a few other useful mechanics at your disposal. On each level up, you’ll get a “skill gem” that you can allocate to either Attack Power, Health, Projectile Power, or Defense. This allows for a decent amount of wiggle room on how you play. Personally, I prioritized defense, since I’m very careless in these kinds of games. Plus, you can assign purchased and looted healing items to a convenient button to heal with one button press so you don’t need to go into the menu in the middle of a fight to heal (although this is still a valid option).
Finally, there are tons of secrets to find, and lots of quests to complete. Every area you visit is littered with magical keys and chests, tucked away in various nooks and crannies, many requiring you to return later with new abilities. By slamming one of the keys into a chest, you’ll enter a brief unlocking minigame, and then be rewarded with a shower of money, healing items, blueprints for armor and rings, and sometimes a whole party of enemies. Rarely you’ll even find a character from another game hidden away that will be both a funny reference and also boost your maximum health by 5% just for finding them. As to the quests, there are many of them, usually “bring back X item” or “find X person”. But more than that, they’re fantastic at helping you get in touch with the world and the characters in it. Some of them are downright clever in the way they unfold (A certain quest involving a “box” was especially interesting), and are very much worth doing, even just on story value alone. Although…Make you use the poison ivy when given the option. Son of a rat deserved it and I’m very upset I didn’t give it to him. >: P
The game also has absolutely fantastic visuals. For an indie title, they’re incredibly sharp, colorful and gorgeous to look at, looking great even in the heat of combat. The game has some SERIOUSLY good art in it.
No Fidget, that’s not a good example! I know you’re proud of your work, but…
Here’s a much better example of what I’m talking about:
You’ll want to right click on this one and view it fullscreen. Trust me.
If you think that picture looks good now, you’ll be very impressed to see it in motion. When I saw this particular vista I literally stopped in my tracks and just admired it for a minute. There are plenty more great views like this as well. Archer’s Pass is another particularly impressive place you’ll visit early on, for example.
The only way I can criticize the art is to mention how cluster!@#$y it gets in full on combat. Yeah, the colorful projectiles and vivid animations and large enemy hordes are nice. But sometimes I found myself losing track of potential threats to my combo meter when in the thick of combat, with fireballs exploding everywhere and Dust zipping all over the place, and then getting a wolf bite to the tail when I least expected it.
To conclude, Dust: An Elysian Tail is a fantastic game, and a superb beat-em-up action game. This one comes highly recommended. If you’re one of the people who actually played and liked Muramasa The Demon Blade for the Wii, you need to get this game yesterday.