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[Review] - Dust: An Elysian Tail

  • Developed by: Humble Hearts

    Published by: Microsoft Studios

    Platform: Xbox Live Arcade

    Players: 1

    Dust: An Elysian Tail. Just the name brings great joy to the members of Gamercide and a lot of the gaming community. We've been looking forward to the game for a very long time now. Back in 2009 we hooked up for an interview with the awesome and amazingly talented guys of Hyperduck Soundworks and our excitement for Dust only grew stronger after talking with the guys. You can check out our follow-up interview with Chris and Dan from 2010 here.

    Dust: An Elysian Tail is an action RPG that was set for the Xbox Indie Games Channel, but after winning the 2009 Dream.Build.Play Challenge, it was given a full XBLA release. The game was basically designed by one man, Dean Dodrill, from the ground up. It was originally set for a 2011 release, but was later added as the anchor game for the Summer of Arcade of 2012. With its release, it will take its rightful place in the upper echelon of not only Xbox Live Arcade games, but of all the latest Xbox 360 games in general. Let's dive deeper in to the world of Dust and see if it can live up to my super high expectations. Sneak preview guys . . . It totally does.



The story centers on Dust, a somewhat cloaked figure that is woken up in the forest by a mystical talking sword called Ahrah and a flying sidekick named Fidget. As Dust awakens, he steps in to a world that is being overrun by monsters and runs across a village that needs to be saved from an impending monster horde. From there, the story of Dust's past and a war between races unfolds. With Fidget and Ahrah in tow, Dust sets out on his quest to regain his memories and determine what is going on in the world. I don’t want to go too much in to the story and ruin it, but suffice to say, it is an amazing ride and one of the better stories I’ve played through in a long while in gaming.


One of The first thing you're going to notice about the game is how absolutely beautiful everything is. The game evokes a Studio Ghibli or old-school Disney feel with animations and overall art style. Everything is so amazingly well done and detailed; it is almost hard to put in to words. Dean's influences seem to stem from various different places within the game. You can see Eyvind Earle and many other great animators in his art style. The character animations of Dust, Fidget, all the enemies and NPCs are fluid and detailed. The environments almost become a character of their own, as well. Each new area is different enough to feel new, but cohesive enough to feel like one fantastical world. The new enemy designs fit right in with the new areas as well. It really is the most beautiful game on Xbox Live Arcade to date. Also, in the menus, you have the ability to customize the size of your HUD. A small touch, but not unwelcomed by this reviewer.


Controls for Dust are just as good as the animation. A fairly deep combo system is in place for you to switch between your various sword attacks and add in Fidget's attacks for screen spanning supers. Aerial combos are also added in to the mix. The combat feels a lot like a fighting game, more akin to a Marvel Vs. Capcom game and Dust's combos are just as deep as any of the characters in one of those games. Being a Metroidvania style game, you gain new abilities as you play through the game as well. Wall jumps, dodges, and more abilities are given as you progress. The RPG elements of the game are implemented extremely well. You upgrade your abilities with gems after each level. Abilities include the standard Health, Defense, and Luck. You can also upgrade Fidget’s abilities in the same manner, making her attacks stronger. Item upgrades that modify your different abilities are also implemented quite well. You get different armors for defense. Rings and necklaces are used for luck and attack. There is also a special abilities section of items that is good for a multitude of upgrades. The items can be found in the world, but they can also be crafted in Dust's crafting aspect. Throughout the game, you will find different blueprints and materials that can be used to create a good number of the different items in the game. This was really unexpected for me and is an addition layer in an already deep game. I really enjoyed seeking out the materials and deciding which items would do the most good to upgrade my abilities. I generally dislike the tedium of RPGs but somehow Dean has infused so much in the game that I quickly changed my mind. Along with all this, there are numerous main quests to be completed throughout the game to progress the story. Also, as you meet NPCs in the game and talk with them, they will give you various side missions to complete. One particular mission had you helping a character that you saved at the very beginning of the game find his lost pocket watch he lost during his scuffle with the monsters towards the beginning of the game. Coincidentally enough, the characters name is ‘Geehan’. One can only assume this character (Chris Geehan of Hyperduck-Love you Chris) and quite a few others are based on real life counterparts. There are also special appearances by other indie game characters that will give you permanent stat upgrades. These types of things only add to the charm of Dust.


The sound is another stellar aspect of the game. The sound effects are spot on for everything, right down to the sound of the wind blowing through the trees. Voice acting was something I didn’t expect in the game. Every main character and NPC is very well voice acted and fit right in to the beautiful graphics. Fidget is funny and has a sheepish sensibility that works well with Dust’s brash attitude. Ahrah is the mentor like voice or reason throughout and the various other characters are just as well done. The soundtrack is one of the strongest I’ve heard in gaming to date. Now I may be partial to their work, but Hyperduck Soundworks really hits a homerun with this one. Nothing is ever overbearing and everything meshes together so well, it’s truly amazing. I can’t say enough good things about the guy’s work and we look forward to being able to say ‘We knew these guys when…”. Don’t forget about us guys.


Overall the game is very, very good. The story will hold your interest at every turn and even surprise you in how good it is at points. The graphics are better than almost any game I’ve played in recent memory. Just knowing the game was animated by one man really makes things all the more impressive. Controls are spot on and give a good Symphony of the Night feel as you play through the game. The Castlevania nods can’t be overlooked and shouldn’t be. As I said above, the deep combo system and crafting of items is a very welcome and unexpected addition in the game. Sound effects and voiceovers go a long way in immersing you further in to the world of Dust. Hyperducks score is sweeping and engaging. I found myself wanting to just stand around and listen to the soundtrack. I can’t wait for it to release for purchase. In summation, if you enjoy beautiful and well crafted gaming on a Metroidvania level, go spend your 1200 Microsoft points on this game right now. It won’t disappoint you in the least and is my new favorite game of the year hands down.


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