How many men does it take to make a good game? Well, lately the answer has often been dozens, or just one. Dean Dodrill has just released his game Dust: An Elysian Tail, and I have to say that I, for one, am impressed.
The first thing I noticed when starting Dust: An Elysian Tail is how beautiful and detailed the world looks. Everything you’ll find here has been hand drawn; character sprites/ animations, enemies, environments and even cut-scenes (both of them). This might just be one of the best looking games I’ve ever played. The environments you travel through include forests, underground caves and snow covered mountains, each with their own look and feel, and each as stunning as the last. Character animations are inspired as well, and even if there aren’t many, I never grew tired of looking at them.
These visuals help portray one of the best stories I have ever witnessed in a video game. You play as Dust, a rabbit-like creature who has been woken by a talking sword, called Ahrah, and its guardian, a nimbat called Fidget. Dust doesn’t know who he is, where he came from, or what he is supposed to do with the sword. Ahrah explains that he was summoned by Dust and the trio set off to figure out who Dust is and why he summoned Ahrah. Throughout your journey you will experience happy moments, to incredibly sad moments, to funny moments, to sad moments and then of course happy once again, in a story that will be one to remember (and experience again on one of the game’s four difficulties). Dust’s story will bring out all your emotions and continually expresses that it’s not what you are that define you, it’s your actions that define you (and yes, there is a chance you will shed a tear).
The chemistry between the three main characters is wonderful to listen to. This is thanks to great writing and exceptional voice acting. The world of Dust: An Elysian Tail is populated by some very unique characters, all based off of some form of animal. These characters range from a Koala with an Australian accent to a strange creature with a hill-billy accent. Most characters are either part of the main story or offer side quests. The side quests all feel relevant and all have their own short stories that further add to the believability of the world.
Accompanying the voice acting is a phenomenal musical score that does an excellent job of setting the mood of the environments. Guitar riffs are often heard during combat, soothing orchestral pieces are used during exploration, to complement the amazing visuals, and the game even featured some eerie music while in a haunted mansion. Although music pieces will be heard more than once, I never thought, “Aww, man! That amazing guitar riff is playing again while I’m shredding (maybe pun intended) through enemies!”
OK, so with incredible visuals and a heartfelt story, does the gameplay complete the trifold of greatness for this game? Simply put, yes, yes it does. Although simple to learn, once you fully master Dust’s moves you will feel like a powerhouse! Sure it’s possible to button mash your way through most of the fights, but once you get towards the end of the game, it’s time to start using different strategies to take out some of the enemies. Combat pretty much involves killing enemies by using your sword or by using Fidgets projectiles that you can make extra powerful by combining them with one of your own skills. You will have to be on alert during fights though because, believe it or not, enemies attack back! You can either parry or dodge their attack, which ends up being a necessity later in the game. Something interesting to mention is the fact that characters in the game sort of acknowledge that you are playing a game. The first time you meet a monster, Ahrah tells you to practice everything you have learned, while Fidget yells, “Mash the buttons! Mash the buttons!”
There are a few boss battles in Dust: An Elysian Tail, but some of them don’t really feel like boss battles. Most of them only have one attack and it can be really repetitive to kill them. If you knew what I knew, though, the easiness of the boss battles can be justified. I do offer much praise for the final boss battle but, once again, talking about anything to do with it would probably spoil the plot.
Exploration in Dust can go both ways. Firstly, there are so many hidden secrets and treasures that usually require small puzzle solving skills to unlock. It’s also worthy to add that a lot of the hidden treasures are located in inaccessible areas that you will have to go back to once you have unlocked the required abilities. These abilities are unlocked by progressing through the main story. Dust’s pacing is great too because you spend just the right amount of time in each area before a new area is opened up. Dodrill got Dust’s movements just right, they don’t feel stiff but they don’t feel floaty either. This makes platforming and combat fun to do.
There happen to be a couple of things that annoyed me when it came to exploration. The first one was the save points. If you die while venturing through the areas, unless you have a revival stone, you will have to load your last save. I did not die that often, playing on normal, but when I did, I had to go back about three squares. I’ve worked out that this was roughly five to ten minutes of travelling to get back to where I was (where I nearly died a second time). Another problem I have with the save points is that sometimes they were in places that were out of the way. I suppose the moral of that story is to not die or make sure you have revival stones. I have to note that you will probably be doing a fair bit of back tracking through environments if you want to find the hidden treasures (luckily, they are marked out for you on the map).
My final, tiny, problem with the game involved one of Fidget’s projectiles. You start with an air projectile, unlock a lightning projectile by beating a boss and find a fire projectile during your exploration. This fire projectile is needed for a late game puzzle but I never found it on my first run through the area. After running around for ages, I went back to one of the earlier areas and finally found it. I just think I should have been prevented from going any further earlier in the game until I found it..
There are some light RPG elements in Dust: An Elysian Tail. You earn experience by killing monsters and building combos. The higher the combo, the more bonus experience you get (one of the most rewarding achievements I’ve ever received came from this game. The achievement is to get a combo of 1000+, and it’s no easy feat). With this experience, you can choose to upgrade your health, attack, defence or the power of fidget’s projectiles. Along with levelling up, there is a small crafting system, and shops that sell food and armour.
Words cannot be used to describe Dust: An Elysian Tail. I urge you all to go and find some gameplay videos, or just go and buy the game to see how amazing Dust looks, sounds and plays. There is no definitive thing that makes Dust: An Elysian Tail a standout, they all contribute to create one of the best experiences I’ve ever had! With four difficulty levels, the last of which is actually quite challenging, and some challenge arenas hidden around the world, Dust: An Elysian Tail is a great buy that you won’t be able to put down. The pacing is brilliant and the story is one of the best I’ve ever played in a game. It took me roughly 12 hours to finish the game on normal difficulty. I hope we can see more from Dean Dodrill in the future!