Dust: An Elysian Tale from Humble Hearts is a video game that was released last week as an Xbox 360 exclusive on XBLA, and you can definitely see why Microsoft wanted it tied down to their system: Dust: An Elysian Tale is great. Following the adventures of a man named Dust (all of the characters in the game are anthropomorphic animals of one manner or the next) who has awakened with a magical, talking sword named Ahrah that was previously guarded by a small, winged-squirell-thing named Fidget. It isn’t long before Dust and company find themselves off on an adventure to discover who Dust really is as well as to, you know, save the world.
The central theme in Dust: An Elysian Tail is definitely identity. Dust does not remember who he is, and the question is often raised if who he was before he can remember matters or not, and the theme spreads to the other characters as well, many of whom are struggling with identity issues all their own. The story in Dust: An Elysian Tail is mostly told through cut-scenes with gorgeously-drawn portraits of the characters, whose poses change from time-to-time, talking to each other. The exposition in Dust: An Elysian Tail has a nice pace to it, with the game taking around 8 hours to complete.
Dust: An Elysian Tail itself is a great looking game, bringing to mind VanillaWare its finest (Odin Sphere and Muramasa: The Demon Blade come to mind). The art is crisp, the characters are large and well-drawn, with nice animations, the controls are sharp, and the designs of both the friendly and enemy characters are interesting. The combat in Dust: An Elysian Tail never gets tired, either, with a system that allows you to chain together ground and air attacks (along with throws) as well as a massive projectile attack from Fidget. The whole thing is wrapped in a roleplaying game package, with Dust leveling up, allowing you to allocate points to different stats (beginner’s tip: Level up Fidget or you will regret it badly). There is also crafting to be done, lots of secrets to find, and several side-quests to do. If you go straight through the game, you will likely still get your $15 worth (Dust: An Elysian Tail costs 1200 MS Points on XBLA), but you will also miss a good chunk of the content of the game. The only thing that even mildly irked me when I played through Dust: An Elysian Tail was a rather sudden difficulty spike when it came to the boss of the game, which was just grueling. Still, it is certainly a small quibble when compared to how amazing Dust is overall.
As a whole, Dust: An Elysian Tail is one of my favorite games of the year. It features interesting combat, a very good plot, great character designs, beautifully-drawn characters and environments, and provides a lot of bang for your money, with a lengthy campaign (again, play time/game length right around 8 hours, which is a really good length) and tons of secrets to find. There is no New Game Plus in Dust: an Elysian Tail, but that did not detract from my enjoyment of the game, nor do I expect it will in the future, although I have seen the question asked enough times that I wanted to address it. Dust: An Elysian Tail is available exclusively on Xbox 360 for 1200 MS points on XBLA. I can’t wait to see what Humble Hearts pulls out for the sequel.
Have you checked out Dust: An Elysian Tail? What are your favorite side-scrolling action video games? Sound off in the comments.