Aug 192012

Dust, the titular hero from Dust: An Elysian Tail starts off his first day in the game much like how I start the first day after a particularly eventful weekend: by waking up in the deep recesses of the forest with no recollection of how I got there or who I am. That’s really where our similarities end though, because Dust is there due to mysterious and epic events that we cannot spoil here, and I probably ended up in the woods due to too much Jameson or Rohypnol.. Dust gets awoken by a talking sword, the Blade of Ahrah, and its adorable guardian Fidget. I usually get jarred to consciousness by the police officer who was kind enough to find my pants for me. Lastly, Dust is whisked away to adventure by his newfound friends to save the world and uncover his lost identity – but I am usually whisked away to lockup to “sleep it off”. Luckily for your you, dear reader, it is Dust’s adventure you will be tagging along on instead of my own.

Dust and his unlikely posse travel through the 2D sidescrolling world of Falana, slaying seemingly endless scores of monsters along the way. Immediately upon teming up with the Blade of Ahrah, Dust is imbued with fantastic swordsman’s abilities instantly, sort of like how Neo learns Kung Fu in The Matrix. Combat with the sword only requires the use of two buttons, and by pressing them in different patterns you can unleash combo attacks that will be utterly devastating to the enemies on screen. Having the combat limited to two buttons may make it sound like things will be a cake walk, but learning the right patterns and timing for each enemy will be crucial to your success and is where the difficulty lies. However, don’t fear: playing the game on the normal difficulty is just challenging enough for an “advanced casual” gamer like myself to have a good time but still feel rewarded.

Aside from just slicing and dicing your foes, the cutey patooty Fidget can help by means of her projectile attacks. On their own, the attacks are nothing to write home about, but when coupled with the “Dust Storm” attack (which involves spinning the blade furiously like a propeller) from Ahrah, these projectiles turn into a cloud of heat seeking death balls. Initially there is only one type of projectile available, but Fidget learns how to fling different kinds of goodies as the game’s story progresses.

The number of enemies on screen may seem overwhelming at times, but the game will never dish out more than you can handle.

Each beast you slaughter earns you experience points to help increase Dust’s level. If you maintain a high combat combo number by avoiding taking even a single hit while simultaneously dishing out as many hits as possible, you will be awarded bonus experience points proportionate to the combo you achieved. Once he levels up, you will get to decide single attribute out of four you’d like to increase via a streamlined and simple character maintenance screen. While most people would usually criticize a game with this simple of structure as being “watered down”, it works incredibly well for Dust: An Elysian Tail because it allows you to focus on the interesting story, the endearing characters, and the insanely fun combat.

One great thing about this game is that it has a lot of different facets to it that will help it appeal to a wide audience. You won’t only be sending monsters to meet their maker, you will also have to solve some light environmental puzzles and look for treasure chests hidden in various nooks and crannies, which helps the game feel well-rounded.

To put it simply, Dust: An Elysian Tail is pure eye candy. The entire game features hand-painted characters and environments that have been rendered in full HD. The colors are sharp and bright, and a diverse palate was used. Unlike most “next gen” games, this has not been given the sepia wash treatment that has become so familiar. Even in a darker, graveyard area plagued with zombie enemies, it is clear the game’s creators made a conscious decision to embrace the bright and cartoony aesthetic. This was an incredibly smart decision on their part because it helped to set this title apart from its peers.

It’s a shame all developers can’t use this extensive of a color palate.

The same tender, loving care that was put into the game’s visual aspects was also put into the sound. The game sports a rich and dynamic soundtrack which is very appropriate for an adventure game of this caliber. Also, each character you encounter will have all of its dialogue completely read by a competent voice actor. It’s rare enough to see a AAA title with good voice acting, so it was especially nice to see it from an under-the-radar downloadable game.

Yes, you even get to frolic with deer.

Dust: An Elysian Tail took me completely by surprise. The choice of character design was a little strange at first, but the awkwardness wore off quickly, once the story and the darker undertones laced throughout it become evident. If you can stop can put down your whiskey long enough to pick up your controller and check out this game, you will quickly see the magic of Dust: An Elysian Tail. Fun and simple combat controls make this simplified RPG a game that appeals to just about everyone. Hardcore RPG fans will appreciate a break from the tedium of grinding levels, platformer fanatics will be in for quite a few challenging moments, and even beat-em-up enthusiasts will feel right at home with this game. As an added treat, the hand-painted visuals are a beautiful feast for your eyes. In a nutshell, there is little to no reason to not grab this game and delve into it – except maybe waking up in a gutter tomorrow, not knowing where you’ve placed your Xbox controller.

Dust: An Elysian Tail

Great gameplay is bundled with beautiful graphics and a well-acted script. The story is good and easy to follow.It's an Xbox 360 exclusive title at the moment, so PS3, Wii, and PC gamers will miss out; at least for the time being.
VerdictDust: An Elysian Tail could easily be the best game of 2012 so far, and is definitely one of the top five titles for the Xbox 360 system.

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