The lone developer at Humble Hearts, yes that isn’t a typo, is responsible for creating one of the most beautiful 2D animated “metroidvania” title that has everything from RPG elements to furry animals that give off a Don Bluth vibe.
Waking up in a forest with no memory, it isn’t long before Ahrah, a mystical talking blade appears before you followed closely by Fidget – a flying Wimbat. The environments get progressively more complex and more stunning as you progress through the game. The main character Dust was traditionally drawn and animated, which helped produce some of the smoothest animation for a 2D action platformer. The illustrated backdrops pop off the screen and help create a world where a never-ending conflict between a military force and an ancient race, the Moonblood, serve as the basis for the game. The cliché amnesia story arc is thankfully only a portion of the presented story, but the underlying nature of it can be described as the battle between good and evil, the effect of war on society and the nature of ones soul.
While controlling Dust you will fall in love with how smooth he is able to leap from platform to platform as well as dish out tons of damage and combos. Dodging and slashing your way through countless hordes of monsters,the move list may be short, but the ability to chain moves together makes the combat feel more like a controlled dance of chaos.
From the air or the ground, parrying and slashing with your talking sword and using different magic spells by the help of Fidget allows you to create devastating combos that can reach as high as hundreds and even thousands in number. This comes in handle with the hordes of enemies that are thrown on screen at the same time. Sadly the boss battles don’t feel that dissimilar to the standard fights. I was expecting massive bosses that require specific new tactics and have destructive attacks and one-hit kills. As they are, the bosses are quite subdued and a constant stream of spamming magic attacks can defeat just about all of them.
Side-quests are given to you by the townsfolk and there are plenty of them to complete. In true “Metroidvania” fashion the different areas have specific spots that you won’t be able to get to or through until you obtain a new ability or resonance stone. Small passages will require you to learn to slide, brightly colored vines are only climbable once you learn how as well as teaching yourself to double jump. The abilities are all pretty standard for the genre. There is no way to mark a map with these unreachable areas, so unless you remember where they are; you may be searching through the levels a few times.
As you level up you are able to allocate a stat point in one of the four main stats in the game: health, attack, defense and magic. It’s not a deep system but the inclusion of a crafting system helps to bring in more traditional RPG elements. Collecting blueprints and materials from killing thousands of enemies, these can be brought to the forge areas to produce new equipment. If you don’t want to be constantly traveling back to the forge, the game does allow you to use a mail system to get new items if you can figure out how to use it consistently. If crafting doesn’t interest you after finding the blueprints the pieces usually start appearing in the shops in the game, so there is more than a single way to collect the item.
It isn’t required to revisit each area once you gain a new ability to complete the game, but in doing so you will uncover secret areas as well as challenge maps that will put even the most hardened gamers to test. Hidden throughout the game are locked up characters from previous XBLA titles. Finding these will have a positive effect on your stats, plus it is neat throwback to previous Indie titles.
Being the last Summer of Arcade of the year, Dust showcases that even a single person can have a huge impact in the gaming industry while pushing the boundaries of the quality that developers can achieve on a $15 price tag. Strangely enough there is no New Game + mode to play through the game a second time making the constant upgrading of gear and stats a little less important.Note: Dust: An Elysian Tail was reviewed on Xbox 360. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.