One of the biggest past successes of Microsoft’s Summer of Arcade promotion came a few years ago with the release of Shadow Complex, Epic’s Metroid styled side-scrolling adventure. And this year gamers had high hopes that Tequila Works’ Deadlight would bring that style of gameplay back to the summer promotion but those hopes were sadly dashed though as Deadlight was not what it appeared to be. However gamers still hoping for that pure Metroid styled gameplay will find it in the final game of the Summer of Arcade promotion, Dust: An Elysian Tail.
Developed by Humble Hearts, a one man company run by Dean Dodrill, Dust: An Elysian Tail is a beautiful, hand drawn, action-adventure game that draws heavy inspiration from the Metroid series as well as Muramasa: The Demon Blade. However, at first glance the game may be off-putting as the early portions of the game seem to be derived from a mediocre anime series. In generic let us make a hero fashion, the main character Dust wakes up in a forest with no knowledge of his past. He is chosen by a mystical sword, The Blade of Ahrah, to venture forth on a grand adventure to save the land. Oh and he gets an annoying little companion, a flying cat named Fidget.
Dust: An Elysian Tail offers an increasingly emotional story that really surprised me with its depth. While the character design, voice acting and the overall general aesthetic of the game is bright and cheery, there is quite the dark tale to be told provided of course, one is able to get past the cringe worthy opening portions of the narrative. But it is not just the opening portions of the narrative that leave a mediocre first impression, the initial gameplay also leaves quite a bit to be desired.
As mentioned previously, Dust: An Elysian Tail draws heavy inspiration from the Metroid series and Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Platforming and exploration is like Metroid, while aesthetics and combat is similar to Muramasa. The platforming and exploration aspects do not really kick in until later in the game, leaving combat to carry the gameplay early on.
Regardless of his memory impairment, Dust is a master swordsman and The Blade of Ahrah is a majestic weapon. Combat in the game is simplistic in its design, with just a few buttons needed to unleash Dust’s full potential. Unlike many games which pride themselves on the countless button combinations that provide their characters with an amount of moves that will never be used, Dust: An Elysian Tail simplifies things to just a few button presses. Anyone playing can easily make Dust into a flurry of deadly steel. The challenge comes from the hordes of enemies that the game throws at him and unfortunately the early game offers no challenge making those portions somewhat boring. Just like with the narrative though, players that stick through the opening mediocrity will be rewarded with a combat system that needs to be fully explored and understood to finish the game.
Once through the first areas of the game though the story starts to set in and the gameworld starts to open up. The platforming becomes more engaging, secret areas start to reveal themselves and enemies start to become more varied offering different strategies to the player. In short, it becomes a solid gaming experience.
Making it a deeper experience though is the roleplaying-like inventory and leveling systems. Like much of the mechanics in the rest of the game, the leveling system is fairly simple. Players will gain experience to level up and then purchase an attribute upgrade. And just like in any standard game with an experience system, Dust mostly will gain experience from defeating enemies. However, he will also gain experience from exploring new areas, interacting with other characters and completing a variety of side quests. Oh yes, Dust: An Elysian Tail has side quests and while completely optional, most are easy to complete by just continuing on the main quest and those that do take a bit more work reward the player with interesting twists on the standard gameplay.
Whereas leveling up Dust will provide the biggest overall boost to his stats, there are a variety of items that can be equipped to buff the overall effectiveness of Dust and Fidget. Further enhancing the item gathering experience is the ability to craft items by finding blueprints and components dropped by fallen enemies or in treasure chests. The blueprints however can be hit or miss, sometimes providing an item that can help Dust quite a bit, and other times being completely outclassed from the get go. Of course, unused items can always be sold to the creepy shopkeeper the game utilizes.
For as good as each individual aspect of Dust: An Elysian Tail is there are two that absolutely shine to make it a must play game. The first is obviously the visuals, as the game is truly beautiful and while it may be cliché to say it, it truly looks like one is playing a cartoon. The second though is the Metroid styled gameplay. As Dust unlocks new skills through exploration, past levels open up new areas and the game becomes that much deeper. It is not a new concept in any way but it works perfectly within the confines of this game.
Ultimately there are few games that offer the amount of style and substance that Dust: An Elysian Tail does. While it is not without its problems, the overall experience provided is worth pushing past them.
- Beautiful visuals
- Metroid styled gameplay fits like a glove.
- Dark, engrossing and emotional story
- Very slow beginning
- Animations cannot be cancelled out of causing some untimely deaths