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A tale of tails.

Posted by Staff on Nov 20, 2012 11:09 (Nov 20, 2012 11:09)

Written by: Alex
An Elysian Tail:
"Dust: An Elysian Tail" is a suppressing experience. As I began the cutesy anthropomorphised cast made me believe I would be embarking a saccharin platformer with a tale of love and affection, what I got was fluid combat and a story darker than most this year. Mix with this a gorgeous art style, Metroid like exploration and a health dose of RPG elements, and it is hard to not be impressed.
As I said, Dust: An Elysian Tail is dark. Set in a world ravaged by a war that has resulted in the near eradication of a reptilian race known as the Moonbloods and any of their allies. Armies lead by General Gaius have all but exterminated the last of the ancient race, and are in the process of hunting down their remaining settlement.
Enter Dust, young warrior with no memory of his past, but seemingly ties to both sides of the conflict. With his companions, the talking sword Ahrah and ‘nimbat’ (think a squirrel-bat) Fidget, the young hero sets out into the world with the attention of discovering his roots. Along the way however becomes entwined in the problems of the world, and discovers his past is more than a little complicated.
Dust: An Elysian Tail walks a fine line between 2D brawler and Metroid-vania. Though it only draws on select elements from each, never exploring either in too much detail, the mix offers enough depth to always hold interest. 
Dust An Elysian Tail screenshot #1
The combat revolves around three basic attacks that separate out to Ahrah’s, Dust’s and Fidget’s powers. Ahrah provides basic slashing attacks, Dust adds his own ‘Dust Storm’ move that turns Ahrah into a vicious tornado (but hurts him if maintained for too long) and Fidget can throw magic projectiles that can combine with the Dust Storm to fling death across the whole screen. While reactive and satisfying with a number of simple combos, nearly every move is learned within the first hour of play, leaving the only real challenge being to create massive combos.
In the same way the combat is not deep, nor is the platform discovery element especially expansive. Platforming never demands pixel perfect jumps (thankfully), which means that the only obstacles to progression are deliberate blocks that require new skills to pass. Powers are dolled out at irregular intervals that meant that moving through the world always felt fresh. It was only unfortunate that progression was quite linear, with little need to revisit old areas other than to satisfy side quests. This kept the pace of the main game fast, but never really forced full use of new abilities.
Dust An Elysian Tail screenshot #2
Finally Dust also incorporates RPG elements, with experience points and a crafting system used to add extra depth. With the ability to add points to vitality, defence, attack or fidget’s abilities, the upgrade path may sound fairly generic, but Dust adds a twist by limiting all abilities to within four points of each other. This limits the usual min-maxing, and forces a uniformed upgrade path. Similarly weapon crafting allows new items to be created faster and at a cheaper cost than the store, but is never necessary with the in game vendor offering all necessary items. 
What makes Dust: An Elysian Tail’s story work so well is its characters. The constant interplay between Fidget and Dust is beautiful, and helped in no small part by their distinctive cartoony look and brilliant voice work. Throughout their quest the two characters bicker at almost every juncture, but never for long enough to disrupt the flow of the action. Fidget even manages to be legitimately funny throwing in a number of self-aware quips about the game itself. It is a rarity at the best of times to see humour handled so well in a game, but especially when it is so understated. 
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