By: Matthew Maravilla
As with big budget games, the idea of “don’t fix what isn’t broken” is just as true for indies. Of course, when an independent team after 2004 decides not to fix the wheel, they’ll be sure to add some pretty paint and change the feel of the wheel to look unrecognizable. That being said, during the second renaissance of indie games in the year 2012, studio Humble Hearts put out Dust: An Elysian Tail during the 2012 Summer of Arcade.
Utilizing the ever-so-common Metroidvania style, Dust: An Elysian Tail is by far one of the most polished indie games since Bastion. It’s a crazy action adventure side-scroller with depth-defying combat and smooth animations. Unlike a lot of other indie games, Dust uses clean Vector-style sprites instead of the usual pixel-based sprites games such as Hotline Miami and FTL.
In Dust, each frame of movement is hand drawn. Environments are colorful and varied in each location. Each enemy type has a selection of at least 5 different kinds of sprites. Each combat move in Dust is fluid and smooth, with each frame of motion accounted for. The graphics are definitely a huge standout in the game.
After all I say about how great it looks, what is Dust: An Elysian Tail? Besides being a Metroidvania, Dust is about Dust, an anthropomorphic bunny guy, who with the help of his sword, Ahrah, and his nimbat aid, Fidget, is out to save the world from General Gaius. As simple as that plot sounds, the journey is wrought with ideas of racism, slavery, identity, and the loss of loved ones. I wouldn’t nominate it for any award for narration, but it does the trick of keeping me engrossed in its crème de la crème: the gameplay.
Dust: An Elysian Tail draws you in with its looks, but what keeps you playing is its gameplay. Dust is one of the flashiest and smoothest action platformers I’ve ever played. The combos are simple to pull off, and each landed hit is addictive. If Dust‘s enemies were far and few between, this simplistic destruction wouldn’t work but mobs come in huge groups of 10 at around 5 different points on each map, so the action never misses a beat. Watching the combo meter rising at huge amounts kept me glued to my seat with my hands on the controller as I tried to aim for the ever-so-hard 1000-hit combo, and the game’s addiction levels only kept getting better.
Dust also features the use of light role-playing mechanics. With the ability to get stronger through leveling up and crafting for better equipment, the later stretches of the game feel just as easy as the beginning, keeping a player sane while adding new elements with each enemy. You feel powerful from the beginning, but with the potential of becoming almost godly, beating up those mobs can’t help but feel satisfying.
But, as good as the game sounds, there are problems with the game’s overall design. You see, Dust is almost one of the easiest games I have ever played. While there are tough platforming sections throughout the game, the game is a cake walk if you’re used to platformers. The game tries to mitigate this by having multiple enemies on-screen to give the player some trouble, but then there are the boss fights. As epic as the story tries to play these bosses out to be, playing on a really hard difficulty my first time through the game still required me to take no more than 30 seconds to beat each boss. This would be attributed to the simplicity and destruction to be had from Dust’s abilities to slice things up.
Overall, should you play Dust: An Elysian Tail? If you like games for their story, the tale isn’t bad and expresses a lot of ideas through corny but endearing writing. If you were to factor in the immersion of the game’s story connection to its gameplay, however, I would give this a slight pass or, if you can, a demo because the lack of challenge in the game can break one’s experience. But if you want a lengthy indie game with over 10 hours of gameplay, fun combat, and a beautiful setting, even if anthropomorphic people aren’t your thing, I would give this game a hearty recommendation, so long as you play on the hardest difficulty setting.
image source: http://thecontrolleronline.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Dust-An-Elysian-Tail.jpg