Review – Dust: An Elysian Tail (XBLA)

Dust: An Elysian Tale Review
Xbox Live Arcade
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Super Metroid have a near-permanent place in my all-time top 10. They, of course, spawned their own mini genre: Metroidvania. These games are 2D action titles with expansive maps that are only fully explorable after unlocking certain power-ups. They also tend to have RPG elements such as new equipment and leveling-up your character’s statistics. Shadow Complex for XBLA is another example, and is a damn fine game.

Dust: An Elysian Tale has shades of Metroidvania, though it’s a bit more straightforward. Before playing it, I was a bit turned off by the art design, despite the glowing reviews. Anthropomorphic animals aren’t my favorite thing ever, especially as the game’s tone seemed relatively serious. In execution, though, it didn’t bother me. Having different animal species is akin to having different races. The normal citizens are kind of like bunnies; then you have the almost Goron-esque (from Zelda) subterranean people; and finally, a later species is revealed.

Overall, the visuals are very impressive. It’s got an anime vibe to it, and the environments are diverse. You don’t have much repeating textures; every area feels fresh. The constantly cycling weather and lighting effects are subtle but help, too.

Dust has some above-average voice acting, though the music is understated at best. I especially liked Dust’s sidekick, Fidget. A flying cat not dissimilar to Ruby from Lunar 2: Eternal Blue, Fidget always has something witty to say without being overpowering. Everyone else has their own distinct voice and personality. It’s a bit clichéd, but I appreciate it.

Dust, the character, is one of those amnesiacs we so often play as in video games. Even his sidekick and his talking sword either can’t or won’t shed much light on his roots. He’s compelled to do the right thing and help out citizens in need, but is that really who he is?

The gameplay is basically hack-and-slash. Dust has some combos, but I essentially spammed the two strike buttons. Things open up when Fidget gets in on the action through some projectile attacks, and you master the parry move to dizzy enemies. You’ll be motivated to keep combos going, as it will directly affect the amount of experience you’re awarded. While it’s no Bayonetta by any stretch, I never tired of fighting bad-guys, who respawn when you return to an area of the map.

Eventually, Dust gets all the typical upgrades you expect from this type of game – slide moves, double-jumps, etc. These make combat a bit more fun, and also allow you to uncover every nook and cranny. Usually, though, these temporarily off-limits spots only lead to treasure chests or the keys used to unlock them. Sometimes you’ll get a cameo from other popular XBLA games, which was nice. I was motivated to get 100% of everything (116%, according to my save file), but you may not be. Dust took me 20 hours to play through – by far the longest of anyone on my friend list. Even if you cut out my backtracking and completionist tendencies, you’re looking at well over a dozen hours for a download game. And there’s very little filler.

Equipment is handled smartly. You can outright buy things from vendors, or get loot drops from enemies. You’ll also find materials; discover blueprints, and you can have the blacksmith combine them into new armor, rings, or other accessories. You won’t have to grind to get these materials, however. Sell one to a vendor, and they’ll start to stock them at all shops.

Dust wasn’t very difficult. I died a couple times in the first 10 hours, but after that I usually felt overpowered for anything I came across. There are some cheap enemies that will blow up and cause massive damage if you don’t skirt out of the way. Later enemies will also parry your strikes, but they’re still not too tough to take down. But again, I never tired of fighting and was pretty tied to the game. It’s always a good sign when I’m hesitant to finish a game because I want to keep things going.

It’s funny: I could see Dust as a SNES title, provided the production values were severely diminished. It would have fit right in amid Rocket Knight Adventures and Actraiser on the 16-bit machine. But we have the benefit of being able to get it for around $15 on Xbox 360 with all the bells and whistles of this console generation. I suggest you do just that, and enjoy one of the best download games yet.

Final Score 4 out of 5


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