I can still remember the first time Dust: An Elysian Tail popped up on my radar when it was one of the finalists at Dream.Build.Play 2009 and eventually won the grand prize; I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the game, but, like many, I would have to wait, and wait, and wait. At times it felt like the game would never come out, but after three or so years of waiting the game has finally made its way to the wonderful world of Xbox LIVE Arcade.
So now Dust has finally released and there’s one question more important than all the others: “Was it worth the wait?” The quick and simple answer is yes; however, it would probably be a good idea to go into why.
Right from the first second I laid my eyes upon Dust three years ago I thought it was beautiful and that remains true to this day. The visuals are full of life and colorful with a style reminiscent of classic 2D Disney. And like a Disney film, the animations are smooth and I felt like I was playing an animated film the entire time. The lush and busy visuals do bring about a problem at times as it can be a bit hard to distinguish what’s purely visual and what is actually part of the game—such as missing a jump because the point of impact was just a wee bit off—but this is a minor problem that rarely came up and had no effect on how I enjoyed the game.
As the visuals reminded me of Disney, so did the story as I found myself immediately invested is that which I expected to be throwaway. I never expected to care about the story of Dust and I was a bit worried initially when a side character first showed her furry little face and started talking—I thought I’d have to deal with some annoying sidekick who would never shut up—but she quickly grew on me and I fell in love with not only her character, but all the characters that make up the world of Falana. As surprised as I was with the story’s quality, I was equally surprised by the quality of the voice acting across the board. Each character has his or her own voice and personality that gives life to the world and made me care about everyone. The story I expected not to care about left me enthralled throughout and even touched me a few times as it didn’t shy away from getting a little dark and dreary.
As important as visuals and story are, it doesn’t matter if the game is not fun to play. Thankfully, Dust is plenty fun with simple combat mechanics and a leveling/equipment system that allowed me to setup the character exactly how I wanted in order to suit my play style. It is possible to button-mash through the game on lower difficulties, but higher difficulties require more thought and the use of dodging, parrying and precise actions. Combat was always fun and unlike other games with somewhat elaborate combat systems, Dust’s combat was both easy to learn and relatively easy to master.
In addition to beating the snot out of countless monsters there is a fair bit of platforming and puzzle-solving as well. Dust is a metroidvania-esque game with the unlocking of new abilities throughout the entire story and a heavy focus on exploration and re-exploration once news abilities are obtained. I love these type of systems and Dust does a great job of delivering a solid experience of discovery while always feeling fresh; though, new abilities did seem to come about at a slower pace than other similar games and I was surprised by how late one specific ability was unlocked, but even so, I never felt like I was missing out before obtaining this or that ability.
I had enormous expectations for Dust: An Elysian Tail that I never thought would be met, but somehow all my expectations were not only met but exceeded in most cases. The gameplay is fast, fluid, fun and never left me furious (that’s all the “F” words I could think of to use), and the difficulty was challenging but never cheap. The game is an absolute joy to look at and the story left me both pleasantly surprised and wanting more immediately upon finishing—the game took me roughly a dozen hours to finish while completing a decent junk of side quests along the way. Dust: An Elysian Tail is not only a great game but the best game I’ve played all year and boy does it feel great to say that.
Dust: An Elysian Tail (1200 MS Points / $14.99)