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Heartfelt 'Dust' is unforgettable

Oct 10, 2012

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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Dust: An  Elysian TailIt's a wonder that expensive, bloated, joyless AAA titles are even being created when you consider a download-only game like Dust: An Elysian Tail exists. This Xbox Live Arcade release packs more emotion, fun, and beauty into its campaign than just about any game released thus far in 2012.

Dust: An Elysian Tail holds on tight from the opening frame and never lets go. The story tells of a skilled warrior who wakes up in the middle of a forest with no memory of who he is or how he ended up where he is.

A talking sword, named Ahrah, refers to the mysterious person as "Dust", but there are many more questions the main character aims to have answered before the meaty campaign is completed.

Dust sets off for adventure in the world of Falana with two allies - the aforementioned Ahrah, who acts as both a guide and a weapon, and Fidget, a creature who assists Dust in more ways than one.

Dust: An  Elysian Tail This 2D side-scrolling action game doesn't have the most involved combat system, but the longer the story plays out, the more evident it is that there's far more to this title than hacking and slashing your way through hundreds of enemies, though there is plenty of that to do along the way.

As you progress through the story, you'll meet up with memorable characters - both friend and foe - and be offered numerous side quests, all while earning new abilities that encourage you to backtrack to previous locations and find more and more hidden treasures. If Dust: An Elysian Tail sounds a lot like games in the Metroid series, that's because it is.

Originality may not be its forte, but Dust deserves a ton of praise for its tight controls, gorgeous environments, haunting music, and addictive gameplay, and for telling a story that doesn't always take the easy way out.

Not only that, but the less-than-original aspects of the game - the upgrade system, the backtracking, the hidden items - are all done nearly perfectly. If you're going to borrow from games, at least do it well. To say anything in Dust is simply done "well" would be an understatement.

The player will learn a couple of combos at the beginning of the game, and though it may seem like more moves requiring endless memorization are coming, they don't. That said, there is still a lot of ways to take down enemies.

Dust: An  Elysian Tail There's more to the fighting than simply surviving, though. Typically, dozens of enemies coming after Dust at any given time, and the player is given the chance to string together huge hit combos.

The higher your combo, the more experience points you'll be awarded when the combo resets. The only catch is, if you get hit even once in the midst of a combo, you have to start from scratch. It's a simple but wonderful risk-and-reward system. It's extremely frustrating when you have upwards of 300 hits (or a lot more) and an enemy slashes you from behind to end things, but the system never feels cheap. If you lose a combo, it's because you weren't quick enough or creative enough.

As Dust becomes more and more powerful later on in the game, it actually becomes more difficult to string together combos, because enemies die so quickly. Giant enemies that were once to be feared and thoroughly prepared for by stocking up on health can be taken down with ease. Even bosses can be slightly underwhelming, requiring little more than a few dashes and a liberal helping of magic.

Beyond the fighting, there's lots of platforming to be done. Dust can jump and dash from the get-go, and eventual learns abilities such as a double-jump, glide, and ground slide to get through different sections of the game.

Dust: An  Elysian Tail Some of these sections need to be traversed in order to advance the story, but many others require superb platforming skills simply to find the many hidden goodies throughout Falana. The easy-to-follow map always shows the player when a section has a treasure, but actually finding each one can be quite a challenge.

In a nice homage to other independent game developers, there are 12 characters from other games - everything from Super Meat Boy to The Kid in Bastion - that can be discovered.

While there is quite a bit of backtracking, it never slows the pace of the game. And for those players who are slightly more impatient, there are teleport stones that allow for quick warping to the world map.

With a gaming world overflowing with terrible dialogue, Dust is endlessly refreshing thanks to its superb script. There are no cheesy one-liners, and just about every line spoken has a purpose to help the story proceed.

Although the voice acting is superb, Fidget's voice can be slightly grating. She's a loyal friend, but as the obvious comedic relief, she tends to sway the dramatic, serious tone of the story a little bit too much the other way.

The music, created by Alex Brandon and United Kingdom-based Hyperduck Soundworks, is absolutely phenomenal, and only adds to the beauty of the game.

Dust: An  Elysian Tail For those who have a real competitive streak to them, this single player game does offer six challenge rooms, where players are tasked with getting through and earning as many points as possible. Totals are then uploaded to online leaderboards.

While this feature could run the risk of feeling like something that's just tacked-on, it doesn't feel that way at all. The challenges are legitimately addicting and, well, challenging. Leaderboards also exist for things like overall game completion.

Dust: An Elysian Tail is the full package - the few small issues it has aren't nearly enough to warrant anything but a rousing recommendation for this game. Besides the solid gameplay and nonstop eye candy, there's simply a ton of heart here. This is easily one of the best titles to be released in 2012.

 

Dust: An Elysian Tail
Format: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Humble Hearts LLC
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone 10+
Official Site: http://www.noogy.com/main.html

Rating: 9.5 / 10

 
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