Although I don’t harbour any desires to don a bear suit anytime soon, I do seem to be in a bit of a furry mood lately. After completing the excellent Freedom Planet my gaming attention turned towards another indie title featuring anthropomorphic characters – Dust: An Elysian Tail. Originally an Xbox Live release, which has since been ported over to the PC and PS4, this 2D action adventure stars an amnesiac rōnin named Dust who is on a quest to save the Moonblood race from genocide. Aiding the woolly fencer on his travels are a sentient blade named Ahrah and Fidget the Nimbat (basically what you would get if you crossed a fairy with a fox girl.)
Dust: An Elysian Tail is essentially a Metroidvania game, which plays a lot like the superb Muramasa Rebirth. Much of your time will be spent hacking and slashing your way through legions of enemies with the occasional platform section making an appearance to test your leaping skills. As Dust journeys across the land he will acquire new abilities, such as the double jump and wall climb, which will permit him to reach previously inaccessible areas. Likewise, as the story advances, Fidget will learn a gamut of offensive spells that she can cast to assist her companion in combat. The sorcery at her disposal includes lightning to zap monsters, fireballs to toast hostiles and magic missiles to um… attack the darkness.
Role-playing fans will be pleased to learn that Elysian Tail’s gameplay includes some light RPG character customization. After slaying sufficient enemies Dust will level up allowing players to upgrade the hero’s attack power, defence, spell damage or health pool. Vanquishing opponents also earns you coinage that can be used for trading with local merchants and crafting materials, which can be used to assemble mightier gear. In terms of exploration the game can be as linear or expansive as you like. A convenient purple banner on the map points to the next location you need to visit in order to continue the plot, but you can ignore it in favour of completing optional side quests. Good Samaritans can help the troubled citizens of Falana with tasks that range from scouring subterranean caverns for missing ewes to retrieving a villager’s laundry. It’s a dirty job, but someone needs to do it.
I am pleased to report that Dust: An Elysian Tail is another fine example of an indie game that surpasses many a triple A release in terms of pure fun. The combat system is immensely satisfying thanks to its tactical parrying and the array of thrusts you can perform. In terms of stand out features the fluid animation, of the hand drawn graphics, is what struck me the most when the game first loaded up. It’s hard to believe that a lone guy is responsible for putting the whole game together. As someone who cannot draw a convincing stick man I can only marvel in awe at designer Dean Dodrill’s artistic talent. I couldn’t create something this beautiful in three lifetimes let alone the three years it took Dodrill to code the game.
There aren’t many things I disliked about Dust: An Elysian Tail aside from the final boss fight, which is reminiscent of the Star Wars III clash between Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker (complete with a lava rich backdrop.) It should have been an epic encounter but I found it tedious, as I loathe battles were you are obliged to whittle down an opponent’s life bar several times in row. Getting past the prolonged duel was however worth it for the tender finale that followed. Despite the adorable visuals Dust’s story is rather emotional in parts so I really appreciated the levity injected by Fidget’s comedic commentary. Thank goodness for diminutive sidekicks who are charming. I didn’t think such a thing was possible after putting up with Navi’s annoying antics in Ocarina of Time.
FINAL RATING: FOUR STARS