Review: Dust: An Elysian Tail
Dust: An Elysian Tail reminds me of the situation where your son or daughter washes your car and uses steel wool instead of a sponge.
Are you going to be upset with them? No, their heart was in the right place. They were trying to do something for you and while their overall plan was great they had a few flaws in their execution.
The same thing is present in Dust: An Elysian Tail, he was trying to give us an updated version of the classic Metroid and Castlevania gameplay and that’s to be appreciated. A few design flaws here and there bring the experience down but again, his heart was in the right place.
In Dust: An Elysian Tail you play as Dust. You’re a humanized bunny/fox person that has amnesia. The first character you meet is a talking sword that seems to know a lot about your situation. Before that’s explored you’re suddenly interrupted by Fidget, a cat/rabbit like flying imp who wants the sword as well. After an agreement is hammered out your tale begins.
Well no, then you enter the introduction. The waking up part is the pre-introduction.
The introduction lasts about an hour and follows the usual introduction routine with story points and the various controls in the game. Here’s the thing though, when I was playing this part of the game I didn’t know that it was the introduction and I felt it was rather dry and boring. After I found out that it was the introduction and now I was starting the “real” game my thought process switched to “that was too long for a semi tutorial”.
Once I started the first chapter I got a better idea of what the game was all about.
The game is backed by two things, combat and exploration. The problem is that while there’s a lot of each one of those values neither one is particularly satisfying.
Let’s start with the combat first.
There are a lot of different combos to choose from and they cover all of the basics from the standard hack and slash attacks to juggle combos that allow you to stun some enemies for crowd control. Aside from that, Fidget also has a projectile attack that you can enhance with an attack of your own to be a multi-hit storm of attacks that hit everything on the screen.
As you play the game you’ll quickly find the best way to fight is to spam the attacks and then there goes the intricate combat. I’ve played Dust: An Elysian Tail twice on the easiest and hardest difficulty levels, on the easiest level you can just spam your basic attack for 99% of the game. For higher difficulty modes the enemies become more absorbent hit sponges and you’ll find a different attack to spam for the duration of the game.
There’s no block in the game, instead there’s a parry system. If you and the enemy attack each other at the same exact moment you’ll knock the enemy back and disorient them, you’ll then have a clear shot.
That sounds good on paper but here’s the rub. The majority of the game you’re going to be button mashing and the game won’t care, you’ll either mash right through a monster before it can attack or worst case scenario you’ll be mashing when he attacks and do an unplanned parry. There’s not much skill involved.
Here’s the second point about the parry system, the enemies gang up on you a half dozen at a time and visually they’re all on top of one another. That means even if you wanted to parry it’s useless. You can’t see the attack cue from a monster that’s three monsters deep so it’s better just to mash first and ask questions later.
If you feel guilty about spamming attacks, don’t. You’ll find numerous boss battles and they will spam the ever lovin’ crap out of you.
Know how boss battles in most games are built so the boss can be defeated by watching their attacks and hitting them when they’re most vulnerable? In Dust: An Elysian Tail each boss greets you, says their usual “you shall not pass” line, and then it’s attack,attack,attack,attack,attack,attack,attack.
The other main focus in the game is exploration and while there’s a large amount of world to explore it’s not the most rewarding experience.
That urgency never shows up because for the most part Dust never changes.
Know that feeling when playing Metroid, or more recently Shadow Complex, and finding a new ability or weapon? Know how exciting it was to rush back to every part of the map that needed that new ability or weapon and use it? Dust doesn’t have that feeling, there’s not a compelling need to hurry back to every area you’ve been to and explore, it just doesn’t have that urgency to it.
That urgency never shows up because for the most part Dust never changes.
You’ll level up your character and find new abilities but nothing will change how you play. Leveling up will make the game easier and allow you to go down new paths to explore but nothing that changes with your character, ever makes him feel like a new character. You always feel like the same guy with the same set of abilities and you’re just going through the game doing what you’ve been doing since the first chapter.
It’s best to talk about the graphics here because it ties into the exploration.
The graphics are great, the artwork is varied and everything in the world has it’s own personality. Not everyone is going to like the human-like animal design but no one can argue that they’re done poorly.
The problem in the game is that because it’s two dimensional a lot of the foreground and background images aren’t different enough. Dust: An Elysian Tail doesn’t make it very clear where you’re supposed to go. You don’t know if that part you’re trying to jump onto is part of the playable area or if it’s decoration in the background.
Repeating jumps because of this is annoying but a real problem comes in where there’s a hazard on the ground or ceiling, then you’re actually getting damage because the game didn’t do a good enough job to differentiate between playable areas and background images.
This is compounded by Dust flying backwards with most damage he takes. So imagine you’re in a cave full of spikes and you’re not sure where to jump. If you land on spikes you’re going to fly across the screen and probably land on more spikes. It’s a design oversight that goes from a mild annoyance to a really aggravating problem in some areas.
The map system is also a dud. As in Metroid or Castlevania game there’s a large map that keeps track of locations and where you are at any given time. The problem is that it’s not precise in the least and covers more of a zone then a specific point. The best way to explain it is if you’re using a GPS and it only tells you the state you’re in, it’s bad.
Exploration is made easier by Fidget being able to tell you if any sort of reward is nearby. If you see the visual cue from her it’s a sign that you have to scour that area on the map to see what treasure is around. This really helps the game because it’s a way to stop you from spending hours in the wrong area looking for things but doesn’t out and out spoil the searching for you.
There’s a lot to search for in this game.
You’re on a quest to find out who you are and stop the evil from roaming the land. It’s the standard scenario and in this sort of game we all know the routine.
In addition to the main story you’ll find people who have quests for you, a lot of quests. There’s a large amount of content in Dust: An Elysian Tail with some hits and some misses. There’s nothing broken it’s just that the execution isn’t all there in every case.
While the main story isn’t that revolutionary the side quests give a wide range of scenarios and personalities, it helps break up the monotony of the game’s main quest.
The only problem I have is that the story is done really poorly at times. Everyone’s quest outcome will be explained at the start of the quest. It’s a little bothersome at first but as you start to accept and complete your quests you’ll get into a rinse/repeat system. I don’t want to spoil any parts of the game so I’ll make one up using the game’s template.
Various quest giver: I would like you to find chocolate, it’s very hard to find but after all that work I’m sure I won’t hate it.
You go find the chocolate……..
Various quest giver: You got me chocolate (takes bite) oh this is disgusting, I hate it!
There’s also a rather elaborate crafting system that has a great hook. Any material you find can be turned in at the local shop where you buy weapons and supplies. From that point on you can get that material from a shop.
This is a great design choice because let’s say you find one piece of a very elusive item. Instead of looking over the map for hours trying to find four more pieces so you can craft an item you just need to turn in the first piece and then you can buy the other four.
This puts such a great twist on the genre because it rewards exploration in the game but doesn’t punish you for not finding enough.
The voice acting is not good. The delivery is off and some lines are just downright painful. Sometimes you’ll be listening to certain characters and they’ll deliver a few good lines and you’ll think the tide has changed but then they’ll dip back into the abyss.
The voice work is offset by great sound effects throughout the entire game, they do a good job of always fitting the situation and never standing out.
The music is a soft, lulling set of songs that fit the tranquil and peaceful set pieces, most of the exploring you do will be to this music. When story events come in with more pressing situations you’ll have the music change to meet the scenarios. Overall it’s done well and never detracts from the gameplay.
Why it may be helpful for people with anxiety
- Soothing music
- Combat is not difficult at all
- easygoing, no rush gameplay
- Lots to explore
Why it may be unhelpful for people with anxiety
- Long stretches of boring gameplay, will not take your mind off anything
- Map system will confuse more then help
Why you should be on the fence
Dust: An Elysian Tail is a lengthy game with a lot to do, the problem is not much of it is really that fun.
The combat is interesting and there’s a lot to it but it’s easier, and more importantly faster, to just mash the attack button. There’s no real reward for going out of your way to learn all the moves. They’re there if you want them but most users will never spend the extra time to fight a certain way which slows your pace through the entire game.
Exploration is offered but thanks to a broken map system and minimal rewards when you level up there’s not much reason to go all out and find every hidden reward.
I know it sounds like I dislike this game and that’s not true, outside of the map system and voice acting there’s nothing really bad in this game, it runs well and looks good and offers a sizable gameplay experience.
My problem with the game is that it’s just not polished enough to be a “must buy” game in my opinion. While others are sure to applaud Dust: An Elysian Tail because it’s mostly one person doing all of this I think back to the steel wool. Yes this is a great effort and their heart was in the right place. The knock is on it’s execution.
If the only criteria for rating games was the creator’s intent all games would do well, unfortunately good intentions don’t mean as much as the final product and that’s why I can’t wholeheartedly recommend Dust: An Elysian Tail.
Some will really enjoy it but it’s not for everyone.
This review was based on the Xbox 360 version that was provided by the publisher.
August 15, 2012
X BOX 360
Microsoft Game Studios
Plenty of content, good music
Tiresome combat, broken map system, poor story, awful voice work