Dust: An Elysian Tail – Sorta Review – PC Version
Dust: An Elysian Tail is a rather special case. You could argue it’s one of the best cases for games as art. Its development is the product of one man: Dean Dodrill. He drew the art, did the animation, coded the engine, implemented the physics and created the world and the characters. Sure, he had a co-writer, and hired someone to do the soundtrack, and of course arranged for voice-actors, but even that was driven by his vision and intent. And it took him four years.
It first came out on XBLA in August 2012, and was favourably received as far as I was able to tell. Though it also became known as “the furry game” among certain people, because that’s what the internet is like now. Conveniently forgetting that half of the games in the 90s starred anthropomorphic animals, and I’d say Dust proves that this is still a valid choice. It’s a shame this design choice has been so maligned, but if I were to search for the game on DeviantArt; which I have not done; I’m sure I might feel some sympathy for those who disagree with the furries.
Warning: Some mild spoilers ahead.
And now the game has reached PC. You can get it on Steam right now, and it’s pretty cheap as well. And let me tell you, this is one of the very best PC ports I have seen of any game: small-scale, medium or AAA. The options screen puts most ports to shame, the controls are tight and responsive, mouse and keyboard work flawlessly, the menus can all be mouse-driven, the visuals are not just upscaled from the XBox version, but done in proper high-def (probably because the original art was of higher fidelity than what the 360 could handle), and even though I got 100% completion I didn’t notice any glitches or bugs. I would recommend going into the options and setting portrait quality to High before starting.
The start of the game.
As I have friends who hadn’t really heard about the game at all, I imagine there’s more of you out there pondering just what kind of a game this is. I’ve come to a kinda clunky description based on established terminology, since it doesn’t really fit into any one category. It’s like an action-RPG with the combat system of a brawler, and distinct Metroidvania elements. You fight stuff, talk to people and do quests to get experience, and when you level up you can upgrade one of four stats. You get equipment to upgrade your stats, though you only have one weapon. Racking up hit combos gives you bonus experience. The map is very Metroid, complete with circles in rooms that have treasure, that turn into dots once all the treasure there is collected. You gain new abilities at set points in the game that allow you to reach new areas, so you can backtrack for loot and goodies. There’s even a crafting system.
And you fight stuff. A lot of stuff. Some very big stuff. With three attack buttons. The normal attack, which can be used to parry if timed right; the special attack, which is used in combos, and activates the Dust Storm if not preceded by a normal attack; companion projectile, which makes your companion fire a burst of projectiles, that can be combined with the Dust Storm for explosive effect. These are mapped to Mouse 1, Mouse 2 and Mouse 3 respectively by default.
The game is delightfully self-aware.
This is our hero, Dust, standing a room that’s a tribute to Bastion. Dust: An Elysian Tail is filled with easter eggs like this, references and tributes to other games, and somehow it never felt over-done.
Dust himself starts out as an amnesiac. He remembers nothing of who he is, how he ended up in that forest meadow, or what he’s supposed to do from there. He doesn’t even remember his own name, but a talking sword shows up and tells him that he’s Dust, and the sword wants to travel with him now. Shortly after the sword guardian shows up and says she needs to have that sword back before anyone notices it’s gone.
It glows when it talks.
The is the Blade of Ahrah, or just Ahrah for short. It can talk (in a nice, soothing voice), it can fly, and it can do wicked damage to monsters.
She is adorable.
This is Fidget. She is a Nimbat Sword Guardian, and while she might not be the best at paying attention, she at least sticks to her duty. Also, she is great. I like to call her a kittybat. Like Ahrah, she can fly, and in addition to that she can also fire projectiles. While they start out pretty weak, by the end of the game she could chain-lightning entire areas to death in a single burst. Also she’s really cute. And has the best disapproving look. I want her to be my friend.
So much pink and pretty colours!
I don’t really want to say much about the story, because spoiling it would be a shame, but I will say that I was surprised at the occasional dark turn it would take. While there is a lot of humour in here, it also handles maturity better than most games I’ve played. And there’s that wonderful self-awareness, like when Fidget screams for you to ‘mash the buttons!’.
There’s not really much more to say, because this is another game where a lot of the joy is in the discovery. I heartily recommend it. It’s a great game. And playing it to 111% completion apparently took 22 and a half hours. Though it’s possible it counted the hours I left it on paused because I had to run and didn’t have time to find a savepoint. So it could be closer to 15-16 hours of actual gameplay if you’re a completionist.
You can get it on Steam, and it’s really a bargain at this price.