Steam on Shuffle: Dust: An Elysian Tail
Awaking in a meadow with no memory, our hero is approached by a mystic sentient sword and it’s wisecracking, slightly neurotic guardian. The titular Dust, seeking answers, begins his adventure with his new found companions.
Dust: An Elysian Tail is a visually stunning throw back to the platform adventure games of old. Your journey will take you through distinct and beautifully painted environments furiously mashing buttons to string together elegant chains of death. The animations are fluid and the controls are smooth. Dust does not really fight enemies, more so gracefully dances through them. The story focuses on morality and redemption. Pretty heavy shit for a game about a cartoon fox with a talking sword.
While the controls are simple starting off, new attacks and combos are introduced as you move further into game. After a bit of time you will have Dust dashing across the screen, juggling enemies, and spinning his sword while flying through the air. The comic relief sidekick Fidget adds in her own weak projectiles at command which Dust can augment with his own powers for some devastating AOE attacks. The mechanics of it fit so well, allowing you to bring in more complex attacks without breaking the flow of Dust’s dance of death. Fidget’s magic drains energy while Dust’s melee attacks refill the meter creating a perfect symbiotic relationship between the two characters. That just about sums up the game as a whole, complex systems and themes that are laid out in such an approachable way the result is almost graceful. Not that Fidget needs a justification to be there, since she’s fucking hilarious on her own. She’s sort of like a smart ass Navi except actually useful. Her off the wall comments being met with unexpected snark from the otherwise very serious Dust, in a way serves to drive further his inner conflict trying to reconcile what he is doing with the few memories of what he has done.
Of course no game is all roses and anthropomorphic bunnies, Dust: AET has it’s own minor issues. The hand crafted sets are beautiful, as are the characters, but they don’t quite fit together. I don’t know if it is the difference in style or colors that make the characters feel like they are on the world instead of in it. There is a sort of RPG progression with levels and side quests, along with a simple crafting system. As is the case with the majority of games it just feels unnecessary. The old games didn’t need extra character progression because you naturally got stronger as you progressed through the game. Tacking on crafting creates a grind that kills the linear flow. Gear upgrades could have instead been rewards from quests, boss kills, or chests at the end of levels. Boss battles are a bit underwhelming as well. Attack patterns are repetitive and easy to avoid so fighting a boss isn’t really that different then all the other bad guys through out the area. For the most part you can just dash around the screen and whittle them down.
It’s obvious the developer is a fan of the genre, you can see influences from the titles that defined what an adventure platfromer should be. From the Metroid style minimap to the Mysterious Wall Chicken you find by busting down barriers, an obvious nod to Castlevania. Shout outs to other indie developers are scattered through out in the form of hidden “friends” you can free from cages. All showing Dust: AET was a labor of love more than anything else.
Dust’s creator, Dean Dodrill, wrote, animated and developed the game almost entirely on his own with help brought in for the soundtrack, voice overs and script rewrites. On top of that, dude had no programming experience what so ever before diving in. Fuck that guy! Do you have any idea how hard it is to live in your own self important bubble when there are people with actual talent pouring their heart into making art like this? Thanks a lot Mr. Dodrill. You couldn’t just be awesome in private, you had to rub it in my face that I am in fact not “The Shit”. Selfish bastard.