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Dust: An Elysian Tail (PC) artwork

Dust: An Elysian Tail (PC) review

"You can appreciate the flaws and the ambitions in every detail"

Back when indies werenít oversaturated with poor asset flips or retro throwbacks, and when earning Best Xbox Live Summer Arcade meant something of honor, Dust: An Elysian Tale was one of those classics that set a new standard from its humble origins. From the creator who made the classic Jazz Jackrabbit series, Dust was another beloved name such as Tim from Braid, the Super Meat Boy, and the Kid from Bastion, all of whom have their minor cameos here to celebrate these indie icons. Whereas many of these games are remembered by their gameplay, Dust is perhaps best remembered for its high presentation from Dean Dodrill as he was the main writer, the only illustrator/animator and the sole programmer. These aspects forgive what is an admittedly flawed game that is still an exceptionally fun, yet simple, Metroidvania because there was so much passion in the finer details.

You Can Appreciate the Flaws and the Ambitions in Every Detail

If there is ever a game that proves that art-style is more important than graphical fidelity, Dust would be a top contender because it manages to remain one of the most vivid, colorful titles available whether in combat or while watching the scenery. Similar to Don Bleuth animated films, the refined spectacle of Dustís visual fidelity makes this game timeless for all ages and the family friendly tone makes this a classic worth sharing no matter your feelings on its aesthetic. This spectacle extends to the small touches that make the gameplay more impactful than it truly is such as the thunderous sound effects accompanying its earthshattering particle effects or the slow-motion screen effect when you engage a successful parry. These tricks of eye-candy are not superfluous touches but rather the reason why this title continues to have a legacy worth remembering outside its other qualities as a game.

If Iím being honest, as much as Iíve played Dust on the 360, PC (on Steam and DRM free from the collectorís edition IndieBox), the gameís other aspects have only become more basic with time. Combat is especially rudimentary as you have one button for melee attacks, one for a projectile, and then a spinning motion to combine those other attacks. Directional inputs, ground and air attacks, and the timing requirements for combos can only improve a limited system. It can also be ridiculously easy to score up to 1000+ combos from the get-go given how Fidgetís projectiles can score hundreds of hits without killing a single enemy. Dust was also in a time when Metroidvanias werenít in fashion as they are nowadays, so its mechanics can seem disheartening if youíre an avid fan of the genre. Secrets remain as elusive and there are a few interesting ones to unlock some unique rewards, but you really cannot deviate from the predetermined path of upgrades as the overall emphasis of the game focuses on its storytelling.

Given the standards at the time and how one man was mostly responsible for not only the writing but also fully responsible behind the coding and the artistry for three years, its simplistic storytelling and trope-heavy characterization are qualities Iím willing to forgive. If you have ever seen an anime with a mysterious stranger who suffers from amnesia yet brings a caring personality despite his hardships, then you know what to expect. This description also extends to the other characters such as the mentorlike sword; the companion character, Fidget, who is the comic/light-hearted reminder in contrast to Dustís angst; the one-dimensional townsfolks and the dutybound soldiers; and the characterization of General Gaius as an unsympathetic realist who would stoop to genocide to restore order. These characters, as well as the theme about defining who you are not from your past but from your present actions, would be compelling if they were given more time to develop. Unfortunately, the monologues can sometimes become a parody given how often they repeat the same lessons as well as how often they are crammed together rather than properly paced and spread out. These narrative shortcomings are the only aspects behind this impressive project that feels constrained by the limited manpower from Dodrillís original dreams for this world.

Youíre Always Up in the Skies with that Look in Your Eyes, Silly Dreamer

In spite of these issues that keeps the game from being timeless, what remains impressive is how successful Dust lives up to its ambitions, especially its worldbuilding. The world of Dust conveys something living from the locales you visit, even briefly, as well as the larger mythology behind its lore from its monsters, characters and the general sources of conflict. Again, itís not the greatest world or the best storytelling out there but its ambitions are tangible. You could perhaps credit this success from Dodrillís initial dream to create an animated film titled Elysian Tail. These past experiences also included short-stories and characters like Bonnie for his animation tests since the 1990s. While the original film seems to remain a dream, all those ideas can be believed by how much detail is put into the artistry behind this game. Itís one I wish to become realized someday when Dodrill makes his return.


Brian's avatar
Community review by Brian (June 24, 2019)

Current interests: Strategy/Turn-Based Games, CRPGs, Immersive Sims, Survival Solo Games, etc.

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