Dust: An Elysian Tail Review for Xbox 360

Dust: An Elysian Tail Review for Xbox 360

2D Epic Furriness

What do you get when you combine Odin Sphere, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and Usagi Yojimbo? The answer is Dust: An Elysian Tail, the newest offering from indie studio Humble Hearts. It’s a free-roaming 2D platformer with an emphasis on exploration, RPG elements, and hectic combat, all tied together with an absolutely gorgeous art style. It’s one of those games that will make you cry not only due to its surprisingly dark plot, but also because of the sheer beauty of its animation. Dust brings us back to an earlier period in our lives, both through its retro gameplay and an appearance that strikes a balance between modern day anime tropes and the wide-eyed anthropomorphic cartoons of yesteryear. In short, this game is pretty awesome.

Dust: An Elysian Tail Screenshot

If you’ve ever played a Vanillaware title like Muramasa: the Demon Blade or Odin Sphere, then you pretty much know what to expect here. First, the game will smack you in the face with its outstanding visuals. The environments are absolutely stunning. The backdrops themselves look like they are painted on canvas, a strange combination of Japanese-inspired art and 90s animation. However, these are made all the more impressive by the many weather effects you will encounter over the course of the game. The rainstorms will obscure your character with torrents of water while caves will shade your character dynamically with random sources of light.

Standing out quite prominently from these artistically drawn backdrops are the characters, which almost look like they come straight out of Disney’s Robin Hood . Dust, the main character, is dressed in Samurai regalia, right down to the tattered rice hat that constantly shades his eyes. He is accompanied by a flying cat/bat/fox thing called Fidget, who will essentially be your Navi for the game. However, unlike Navi, Fidget is actually bearable. She feels a lot more like a cartoon sidekick than a poor excuse for a targeting system and tutorial. She often breaks the fourth wall, but in a humorous way, allowing the game to get a few cheap laughs out of the needed tutorial segments.

Dust: An Elysian Tail Screenshot

Dust is one of those rare games that I’d hate to spoil, because the story is quite good. All I’ll say is that Dust is an amnesiac with an ancient blade named Ahrah. There is a prophecy surrounding the wielder of this blade that holds consequences for the entire world as we know it. As the story goes on, you learn more about Dust’s past, the meaning of the sword, and the fate that befalls him. All the while, you’ll be exploring themes like morality during wartime, redemption, the nature of the soul and the afterlife, and more.

The story is pretty epic and at times gets a bit dark, but the method by which it is told can be a bit shallow. The writing does fall back on a couple tropes that are wearing out their welcome, but the game’s retro animation feel almost makes it seem acceptable. Essentially, it’s hard not to look at Dust through the eyes of a child watching his favorite afterschool cartoon. As a result, you end up comparing Dust to shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles , Street Sharks , and Bucky O’Hare , and the writing is certainly leagues ahead of shows like that.

Dust: An Elysian Tail Screenshot

The overall structure of the game is very similar to the classic Metroidvania formula. Though the world is large and open, your next goal is always in sight. Many areas of the map are locked off until you progress the story, though there are still enough simple side branches to satisfy the treasure hunters out there. As Dust travels through the game, he will gain new movement and attack abilities that sometimes grant him access to areas he couldn’t reach before. There’s a hefty amount of backtracking in the game, which can get boring and repetitive at times, though usually not for long enough to interfere with the overall flow of the game.

Once again drawing a parallel to Vanillaware games, the combat system in where most of the fun lies. Dust can string together quick and powerful slices that will rip his enemies to shreds. He is very mobile and able to leap across the screen at high speeds. Hundred-hit combos are the norm in Dust, and combining them with a variety of magic skills just makes him more deadly. In Dust, it’s not really about surviving the enemy onslaught, but figuring out the most stylish way to chop them apart.

In fact, this may just be the game’s biggest downfall. While the combat in the game is a lot of fun and a serious feast for the eyes, the difficulty level never actually gets threatening. Even on higher levels, Dust has such an expanded repertoire of moves and skills that most of his opponents will crumble easily. Even the boss fights present no real challenge. While their expanded life bars may make the battles last quite long, their patterns are very easy to read and they can be dispatched by following simple flowchart tactics. In fact, the bigger threat in these battles is letting your own boredom mess up the simple flowchart.

Dust: An Elysian Tail Screenshot

This problem only becomes more pronounced when you factor in the RPG-style advancement system. Through grinding out levels and equipping the right gear, you will very easily make Dust a walking furry ball of murder before the game is even halfway done. For those of you who are unchallenged by the main game, there are a number of challenge rooms connected to leaderboards to take advantage of, but this really only appeals to score junkies.

This being said, the combat in Dust is still interesting simply because you have so many different skills to take advantage of. Perhaps it’s a good thing that the difficulty doesn’t get in the way of Dust’s high-caliber story, but it does feel as if the challenge could have been amped up a bit.

When all is said and done, Dust is one heck of a good time. Its story is great, but even when you aren’t watching a cutscene or listening to the competent voice acting, you will get plenty of joy out of simply seeing numbers pop up over your enemies’ heads in swarms. Still, Dust may not being everyone’s bag of tricks. Anyone who is put off by furry art will probably be a little creeped out by the rather realistic dimensions of some of the animal characters in the game. Still, at fifteen dollars, this is a great value. If you are looking for a new 2D action platformer, this may be the best one to come out this summer.

Brilliantly animated samurai furries. What more do you want? 4.0 Control
Though the game gets mashy at times, it certainly has that Vanillaware ninja feel. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music and the voice acting are probably the weakest parts of the game, but that’s not saying much. 4.2 Play Value
It’s definitely worth the fifteen-dollar buy. 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • Immerse yourself in a gorgeous hand-painted world on a search for your true identity.
  • As the mysterious warrior, Dust, you must master the ancient Blade of Ahrah to battle dozens of enemies with an intuitive combat system, take on a variety of quests, discover powerful upgrades throughout the massive open world, and uncover the story of an ancient civilization on the brink of extinction as you fight to uncover your own past.

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