2D games are rare these days. Having grown up in the golden age of the NES, I have a love for these games that isn’t as universal now as it was then. Castlevania, Metroid, Master Blaster…games like that aren’t made as much anymore. I loved Shadow Complex when it was released years ago(and recommend it heavily if you haven’t picked it up), but haven’t seen anything like it since. As this Summer of Arcade comes to a close, it marked my first year that I didn’t make any purchases. Nothing caught my attention, that is, until I saw Dust, a game that was made almost entirely by one man: Dean Dodrill. The odd thing is, Dean is an illustrator, but he wanted to take his “Elysian Tail” into an 8-Bit inspired Action RPG world, which was originally supposed to take three months. Instead, after winning 2009′s Dream.Build.Play competition, it turned into a three and a half-year labor of love, which is now available to us. How did it go for this one man team?
Dust is what is now known as a “Metroidvania’ type game, set in Dodrill’s Elysian Tail world. You control Dust, an amnesia stricken swordsman. I will go over more of this great looking world later in the review. The game itself is one world consisting of many areas, where access is of course limited based on the abilities you possess. The familiar feeling of seeing something out of reach, but putting it in the back of your mind for later is still there. That is a joy that is truly never taken away. The main difference between this game and others like Symphony of the Night, is that there is an overworld map with several areas, and once you exit one, you go back to the overworld map. The whole thing isn’t connected. This makes it easier to revisit other areas, since you don’t have to worry about backtracking through everything you’ve been through.
Carrying the elements of games that inspired it, combat is fairly fast paced, with different moves and combos. The higher the number of hits in your combo, the more experience you get. It feels fresh and fluid at the start, and the game tells you what combos you have at your disposal. Unfortunately, there are none more to discover. Besides timing things differently and using your assistant Fidget’s magic, Dust really only has four actual combos. This leads to the combat getting a bit repetitive, especially in the later half of the game. The main goal at that point is getting combos to be as long as you can get them, especially since there is an achievement for a 1,000 hit combo. It’s not too bad, but it could have been done better.
Dust tries to take a little from many other games. You have simple item creation, a shop system that only stocks ingredients you sell it, a combat system reminiscent of 2D fighters, and a level-up system that gives you the choice on what stats to increase. This pretty much eliminates the need to go back to town except to finish quests, and eliminates down time so you can keep up the exploration and fighting. The world map even tells you how much you’ve explored and how much you’ve collected in each area, a nice touch for completionists. In the end though, you have to care about the world you’re in, and this is where Dust shines.
In case you haven’t noticed from the images posted here, Dust is beautiful. This is the best looking 2D game I’ve played since Odin Sphere. The HD graphics are truly magnificent, and the animation is very detailed. Little things stand out, and every little thing that you think should be there, is there. The wind on the tree leaves, Dust’s movement, the environment moving with Dust’s attacks, it’s all a marvel to behold. You feel the urge to explore, and thus, you care about what’s going on, and it is a pretty good tale. The journey to finding out the truth about Dust’s lost memories presents you with lots of mature issues represented in this fantasy world. Issues like racism, poverty, the “superior race”, the “greater good”, and how not all heroics end in victory are presented here. It is a great story that compelled me to keep on playing. I completed the game in about 12 hours, and got 73% completion.
Dust: An Elysian Tail proves once again that you can have a quality 2D title if you put in the time. While the combat can be a bit repetitive, and the boss battles leave a little to be desired, everything else about Dust just oozes quality, and love for the genre. Mr. Dodrill did a fantastic job here, and I really hope we see more from him in the future. I encourage anyone who likes RPGs, action games, or a unique tale in a beautiful world, to give Dust a shot. At $15, it is a great value that you won’t regret. Overall, I give Dust: An Elysian Tale, a solid 8/10.