Published on August 23rd, 2012 | by Mat Mckeown0
Dust: An Elysian Tail Review
I remember with fond nostalgia playing those games of old, before the era of macho space marines aboard the HMS Gun Metal Grey. When developers chose main characters that were anthropomorphised animals, either of the Bandicoot variety, Backpacked Bear or strange shoe wearing lizard with a worrisome long tongue. So with this in mind, I took some time out of my usual freeloading and general mischief making in the Hard Reset offices to have a go at the much proclaimed Dust: An Elysian Tail. Produced by Humble Hearts and designed almost completely by one man, Dust: An Elysian Tail joins that exclusive club of animal based protagonists with their membership card proudly sporting a hat wearing, sword wielding bad ass rabbit called Dust.
Assuming the role of Dust, the player awakes in a quiet and serene glade. Suddenly, a magic sword called the Blade of Ahrah approaches and speaks, which ironically confuses Dust, a talking rabbit (because Rabbits don’t talk, you see). Joined by a flying bat, cat, thing, named called Fidget. Annoyingly, this brought about a sickening flashback of Navi from the old Zelda days. Dust commences on an adventure of mystery and splendor to find out what his place is in the big bad world.
The game comes across in the Metroid vania style of hack-n-slashers. There’s’ only two modes of direction, left for backtracking and right for adventuring. The main controls are of the “easy to master standard hacko-slasho-button-masho moves” and there’s a handy dodge move that requires energy, which means players have to get tactical rather than wade in waving their sword like there’s a really large spider on the end of it.
For variety, there’s also the chance to upgrade attacks and moves, as well as collect equipment to alter your character stats. Attacks can be combined for greater effect; one move called the Dust Storm can be combined with Fidgets weak energy missile to produce a spinning storm of energy that destroys everything unfortunate to be caught in its path. Although this uses up the in game energy meter incredibly quickly, it’s nothing a few lethal sword combos with the local wildlife won’t easily fix.
So far Dust: An Elysian Tail is one of the most beautiful games I’ve played, all the characters are well designed with a weird anime feel to them, adding to the fact all the levels are pain stakingly hand painted, means the game brings about this genuine feeling of fantasy and wonder.
There’s a great depth to the characters with often hilarious back and forth’s between the support character.One such scene nearly had me in hysterics as Fidget was screaming about an enemy having, and I quote “EVIL KNIFE HANDS.”
There are also hidden secrets and unlockables that although requiring quick time event’s to unlock, (a pet hate of mine), it’s not completely flow breaking to the game and adds a nice break to all the sword slicing madness.
However, it’s not all sparkles and sunshine, there are a few issues I had with the game. Dust himself is your typical anime character; he can pull of sweet moves and awesome attacks but his dialogue is filled with complete angst and self loathing, so much so that sometimes I wanted to reach through the screen, give him a little slap around his fluffy chops and tell him to cheer up. Even the pause menu get’s in on the angst brigade as it see’s Dust standing off to the side of the screen with an apple in hand, staring at it as if hating himself for pulling it off the tree.
There is also horrendous frame rate drops if you move too quickly or get too exuberant in your sword swings and fancy particle attacks. Although nicely designed, some of the enemies don’t quite stand out from the background and since Dust Auto attacks the nearest guy near him, trying to crowd control can be difficult and a bit hard to focus on one individual. Adding to the fact that the counter move is rather unresponsive and Dust’s movement speed doesn’t get up any higher than Glacial. Quite frequently, I was blindsided by a chap sneaking up behind me that I couldn’t see because of the pretty background pictures.
I played the game on the hard difficulty setting and after getting my first attack upgrade, there wasn’t much of a challenge any more as most foes would cripple under the business end of my broad sword relatively easily. Strangest of all though; there is this inclusion of menu based healing items which is something I thought they moved away from after Resident Evil. So rather than say pick up an in game item off the floor and shove it into your mouth to instantly heal your wounds; you instead have to faff around in the menu for a while to find the item, select it then eat it. Then, you realize it didn’t heal as much as you thought so you eat more. It’s rather flow breaking to the game and can become really irritating as you try to do it mid-combat only to unpause the game and completely lose focus of where you are and what’s going on.
To sum up, although these are small flaws when compared to the fact that it was designed by one man and the amount of actual fun I had in playing the game, Dust: An Elysian Tail is a welcome and refreshing break during the slow release date of August. It’s something to kill time with and it’s rekindled my love of side scrolling hack-n-slash games. It’s a cutesy and camp game that although not really winning any awards for originality, it still turned out to be a lot more fun than I originally thought it was going to be.
Summary: A fun, fantasy filled, hack-n-slasher that's something to fill up your time until the bigger releases come out.