Monday, August 27, 2012

Dust: An Elysian Tail Review - Way of the Samurai

Score : 8.5 / 10
Dust: An Elysian Tail
Xbox 360 Arcade
Developer: Humble Hearts
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release Date: August 15th, 2012

  • Captivating art style
  • Simple, fast hitting gameplay
  • Plethora of collectibles and sidequests
  • Boss encounters feel lacking
  • Enemy variety grows stale until the latter half of the game

You cannot judge a book by its cover, but it never hurts to have an eye-catching one. With the slew of downloadable titles on the market, having a unique art style can go a long way in grabbing a consumer's attention. Games like LIMBO and Journey did just that, complimenting their simple gameplay with captivating visual appeal. Dust: An Elysian Tail's unique aesthetic brought it to the forefront of the Summer of Arcade, and the fast-paced side scrolling combat instantly caught my eye. Dust lives up the expectancy, providing a memorable journey with a distinctive personality.

"I wonder if the armpit is just as pretty"

Dust follows the tale of an unknown warrior who awakens in the forest with no memory of who he is or how he arrived there. He is quickly intercepted by a talking sword (can not make this up) and the sword's energetic guardian, Fidget. Following blindly to uncover his past, Dust is led by the Blade of Ahrah to piece together his identity. Story is heavily emphasized, an unusual move for a 2-D side scroller. Numerous conversations between the characters act as the bulk source of information, with the occasional rendered cinematic. The cast proves intriguing, and the light hearted banter and self-referential remarks keep the dialogue lively. It may start off slow, but soon the plot gains ground to keep you invested in the turnout.

The visual and audible brilliance of Dust is what draws players in and keeps them captivated to the very last chapter. The anime influence is obvious in all aspects of the game; ranging from character design to the beautifully crafted original soundtrack. Vibrant background elements and animation give the game a certain allure, enticing you to continue forward to see what else it has in store. Voicework accompanies every line of dialogue, and the spot on delivery by your companion Fidget never fails to entertain. Pieced together, Dust is a game that can catch your attention and keep it on screen.

"Of course, I have no water magic"

Side scrolling progression should be no stranger to many these days, and Dust sticks close to a pattern than works. There is an overworld to choose different areas, and you gradually unlock new abilities and regions with the continuation of the story. Boss fights usually cue up this unlock, but they are unfortunately bland in design and feel like much healthier base enemies. It is a steady pattern that does not overstay its welcome too long in one environment.

Assuming the role of a mysterious, samurai warrior leaves the expectancy of becoming an unstoppable machine; and in this respect Dust delivers. Combat is fast and fluid, as you ascend from simple four button combinations to juggling dozens of enemies in the air at one time. Encouraging players to work for triple digit combos, Dust has a slew of abilities to rack up his meter. In addition to the basic air grabs and parry counters, Dust Storm is the key to maintaining a high number of hits. Fidget has the ability to send out a spark of magic, that can be boosted further with Dust's assistance. The result is a flurry of attacks taking up the whole of the screen, and sending most enemies airborne. New powers are gained as you progress, and changing on the fly is as simple as a press of a button.

Fans of pursuing elements off the beaten path are healthily rewarded with multiple collectibles and sidequests. Villagers in local towns can offer up numerous tasks, mostly evolving into gathering materials or fetch quests. Every area has a platform out of reach or locked door, giving the game a Metroid-esque feel of continuing the main path or revisiting previous areas for additional experience and treasure. In addition to merchants offering the expected buying and selling of equipment, the biggest appeal remains in the item crafting. Blueprints can be found in chests or dropped off of enemies to yield more powerful armor, and the materials to craft them are dropped off of the multitude of bodies you leave in your wake. The elements entice you to explore every nook and cranny of an area to further your arsenal.

"If your feet touch the're doing it wrong."

The unique look and visual brilliance of Dust is what you will remember most in the end. The conventional gameplay holds its own, but the stunning animation and vibrant environments you explore are the heart of what makes the game memorable.There is enough content offered to justify the price tag, or at the very least a trial download considering the number of sidequests and multiple difficulties. In the end, Dust is a powerful tail that has more going for it than just stunning good looks.

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