Dust: An Elysian Tail (X360)
When Walt Disney meets LSD.
Fantastic artwork, Solid combat, Long and interesting story, Memorable characters
Controls are occasionally glitchy, especially parrying
When someone tells me a story about a world with talking swords and cuddly cat-like creatures with bat-wings, my first impulse is to ask what they've been smoking. I don't think Dean Dodrill of Humble Hearts would be too keen on answering emails with such questions, but I'd like to believe that the story and artwork for Dust: An Elysian Tail didn't come about through sobriety. On the surface, with its cutesy Disney-like art style and ludicrous setting, Dust may seem a simplistic, almost childish side-scrolling hack-and-slash title. But gamers who persist beyond a couple of hours will find an intense and rewarding experience that more than holds its own on the current XBLA roster.
The Dust Settles
Dust: An Elysian Tail is not your average side-scroller. It's essentially a full-blown RPG stripped down to two dimensions, complete with an open world, scores of interesting NPCs and loads and loads of loot. The inventory system is deep, but there isn't much in terms of a character development tree. But then again, Dust isn't exactly competing with the Elder Scrolls franchise.
You control a character called Dust, who, in stereotypical RPG-hero fashion, has no idea who or where he is. All the information you get comes from a talking sword called Ahrah. Yep. As if that weren't crazy enough, you are also introduced to a friendly sidekick called Fidget, who is a cross between a bat and Tails from Sonic the Hedgehog. While annoying at first, Fidget starts to grow on you with her stupidly cute, high-pitched dialogues. She's also a major part of the combat system, but more on that later.
Where's Mickey Mouse?
When I first saw Dust's art design, I felt a bit of a throwback to a game I played 15 years ago on my SEGA Mega Drive — Mickey Mouse and the Castle of Illusion. The two-dimensional world feels like a crazy, Walt Disney fever dream, with a cast of cute characters that would easily find their way into a Hamley's stuffed toys collection. However, childish as it may be, the game looks gorgeous, with vibrant colours and strange-looking enemies that are only too much fun to dispose of.
Dust does not disappoint on the audio front either. The dialogue may be juvenile at times, but it's more than bearable — and since the plot gets interesting after a point, it's worth paying attention to. The background score is simple and well-composed, appropriately oscillating between soothing and menacing.
The heart of Dust — as with most arcade side-scrollers — is the combat, which works rather well. Although there are a number of parry techniques and combos, I found myself happy to just mash buttons and build my own style. The crux of Dust's gameplay is a special ability called "Dust Storm", where Fidget launches a little fiery ball that the sword of Ahrah can transform into a massive, windy inferno that takes down large numbers of enemies. However, it can only be used in short bursts before you start taking damage yourself. There's also a variation of Dust Storm, which turns your character into a flying corkscrew of sorts — which is mighty effective and looks totally badass. Enemies start off being simplistic and easy to tackle, but get a lot bigger and more complex over time. Certain bigger enemies can only be taken down by parrying, so it's worth practising the technique: It doesn't always work as well as it should. As you explore the world, you'll find dungeons with many enemies and some light platforming for added variety. The reward, as always, is a massive pile of loot at the end of it.
A ''Tail' Worth Telling
On the whole, Dust: An Elysian Tail is a fun, addictive game that far exceeds the current expectations of an arcade side-scroller. The entire campaign lasts approximately 9 hours, telling a colourful, heart-warming story, with lovable characters and great action. Apart from occasional control glitches, I couldn't really find much to nitpick about. It's fantastic value for the money, especially when compared to the likes of EA's mindless Shank titles. If you're a fan of old-school side-scrollers and RPGs, Dust: An Elysian Tail should be on your XBLA shopping list.
Gameplay And Design: 4/5
Overall Rating: 4/5