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Dust: An Elysian Tail (PC) artwork

Dust: An Elysian Tail (PC) review


"Don Bluthlevania"


Dust: An Elysian Tail (PC) image

Dust: An Elysian Tail doesn't offer you anything new or groundbreaking. It's a semi-Metroidvania title, decked out with a straightforward, combo-based combat system and a basic crafting feature. You explore several areas, each composed of various chambers, corridors and clearings, while farming items to build new pieces of equipment. On top of that, the protagonist is an amnesiac swordsman teamed up with a couple of unlikely comrades: a flying creature named Fidget and a talking sword called Ahrah. The former of these serves as your standard, long range magic, while the latter is your main weapon.

Yet, despite its familiarity, the game manages to send shivers down your spine. It presents you with gorgeous, 2D visuals that resemble production stills from an animated film. Even the very first area you glimpse is breathtaking. Darker forest depths make up the background, while lush greens, fireflies and bluish moonlight dominate the scene. Animation is smooth as can be, lending itself wonderfully to the game's swift combat and numerous platforming scenes.

Battle proves thoroughly satisfying, terrifically balanced and intuitive. You don't typically find yourself relying on over-complicated maneuvers to win fights, though you can certainly utilize them as you see fit. Rather than mashing the attack, you might pair up a whirlwind ability with Fidget's ranged offense to create devastating nukes and crowd-clearing slams. You never feel overwhelmed, even when the deck is clearly stacked against you. A couple of levels pit you against literal armies, one of the undead and another of the soldiers of the main antagonist, Gaius. Although you face stiff odds, the protagonist Dust is powerful enough to take out the trash quickly and effectively. It's not difficult to build up a strong combo, plus your opponents use plenty of tells to let you know they're about to strike. You receive a fair amount of time to either sidestep a major blow or throw off the opposition with a parry.

Dust: An Elysian Tail (PC) image

But make no mistake: if you slack off too much, these creatures will eat you alive. I charged through this campaign quite frequently with less than half of my hit points because I got too cocky or careless. Thankfully, restorative items are common and inexpensive to buy from one of the dozens of shops you come upon regularly.

As with any Metroidvania title, you'll come across locations barred by your inability. You seldom fully complete a stage during your initial visit. Although constant backtracking sounds irksome, the loot you obtain makes the trouble worthwhile. Some chests contain nothing but cash, while others belch out blueprints for powerful pieces of equipment. You might even stumble upon a few cages that require multiple keys to open, holding characters from bygone indie titles, including Meat Boy, Spelunky and Tim from Braid. What's more is that every one of these folks you rescue grants you a passive health bonus, so aiding them is not purely for collection purposes or bragging rights.

Other references pop up all over the campaign, mostly as subtle nuances or Easter eggs. Instead of bumping into clumsy quotes or a ton of blatant callbacks, you might notice an achievement entitled "Blue bomber" as a nod to Mega Man, or that Dust's walking animation reminds you of Alucard's from Symphony of the Night. There are also a few less obvious winks that you need to go out of your way to witness. For instance, you can obtain a red orb that summons a tornado if you crouch next to a certain rock wall. Simon's Quest, anyone?

Dust: An Elysian Tail (PC) image

Exploration also introduces you to one of Dust's few tiny issues: platforming. For the most part, you shouldn't have any problem leaping from one set piece to another. Now and then, though, you'll stumble upon a series of small, bothersome platforms. When Dust lands, he skids to a stop, often tumbling off the more minuscule ledges. Honestly, this complaint is more of a nitpick than a genuine irritation, as this issue only crops up once in a great while. Still, a few segments--including one where you must navigate a network of small platforms in a huge, dark room--really get your blood boiling because of that slippery landing.

There's a reason Dust and his pals venture to various locations and slice up monsters and soldiers. Dust sets out to recover his memories, and often becomes entangled in a town's problems. People need water, protection from monsters or help finding lost loved ones. Not only is our hero bound by duty to help them, but he benefits from it. With each of these missions, you discover more about the local lore and the recent events that set up Dust's adventure.

The best part about these quests, though, is that you encounter narrative tropes that don't always end blissfully. Sometimes you find someone's sister, safe and sound. Other times, despite your best efforts, a character perishes. You feel great when you defeat a certain villain, only to discover that his life was more problematic than you ever imagined. Now you feel like a monster for celebrating his death.

Dust: An Elysian Tail (PC) image

Situations you face are seldom cut and dry or uncomplicated. Dust might get a hero's welcome from most terrified citizens, but one person in particular regards him as a potential menace. And Dust's eventual meeting with Gaius isn't your typical interaction. Gaius doesn't obviously wax sinister or break into a Dracula-esque speech about the human condition. Their interaction shows a human side of a man who isn't above ethnic cleansing and doesn't care if building his ideal world means slaughtering whole towns, children included. Ultimately, you still despise the guy, but he doesn't come off as a totally flat foe.

Narrative isn't Dust's driving force anymore than its sleek combat, terrific exploration, cute references or magnificent visuals. This isn't a fresh take on the action-platformer genre, but it is one so solidly built that all of it strengths combine to create a spellbinding adventure that will leave you hoping for a new installment or a successor of some kind.

4.5/5

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (March 17, 2019)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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Feedback

If you enjoyed this Dust: An Elysian Tail review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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hastypixels posted March 17, 2019:

A sequel could be awesome or a curse. Dust is one of those beautiful games you can pick up every once and a while like a good book that you can enjoy comfortably with a hot chocolate - or whatever.

On an interesting note, there's a new difficulty mode that will absolutely kick your rear and I'm sure it was an answer to those who complained the game was too easy even on its hardest setting. I'd call the new mode "impossible". It's super tough.

I'm really glad you enjoy this one ... it's a rare game that a pure joy through and through. A high point for me was the voice acting; the recording quality varies somewhat, but the performances are excellent, particularly the main cast.

And seriously, who doesn't love Fidget?
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Masters posted March 18, 2019:

Joe: you accidentally clicked on the 'welcome feedback' option.
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Ogreatgames posted March 18, 2019:

.

What makes me give Dust: An Elysian Tail a super huge thumbs up is the one man developer behind it.

Except for the voice acting and music, Humble Hearts "Noogy" Dean Dodrill solo created the highly praised platform hack n' slasher indie.

He did the gameplay, visuals, and sound effects all by himself.

It took him 4 years to get this game to its polished state.

And a lot of its players can't just get enough of it.

By the way, Humble Games also developed another game called Never Stop Sneakin.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted March 18, 2019:

Hasty:
They don't necessarily have to do a sequel. They could do a separate storyline set in the same universe (a la Steamworld or Stories/Omensight). I think that would work better, and it would allow them to flesh out the world a little more and explore fresh concepts.

I have not tried the new difficulty setting yet, and probably won't any time soon. I rarely opt for a higher difficulty when I revisit games, and only take on the harder modes if I'm madly in love with the game (of which very few titles actually meet that criteria).

The voice acting was great. It's rare that you find an indie game with even passable acting, so that really helped.

Marc:
I'm actually welcoming feedback this time. I usually don't check that box for various reasons, but since I didn't submit this one through Production Room, I figured I should.

Ogreat:
I've been curious about Never Stop Sneakin', despite the mixed response it received.

Thank you all for reading!
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Masters posted March 19, 2019:

I'm actually welcoming feedback this time. I usually don't check that box for various reasons

Emphasis mine. That sounds... mysterious!

Anyway, you did a good job bigging up a game that seems as if it's been pretty consistently bigged up. I was hoping you wouldn't like it, so I wouldn't be the only one! I can't put my finger on why the game doesn't work for me, and I also can't argue with anything you've said.

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