– Scott Ellison
Our Score: 5 / 5 – Incredible
The last and best entry in the Summer of Arcade for 2012 is Dust: An Elysian Tail. Not to be confused with From Dust from last year or the upcoming DUST 514 which is currently in Beta. This a colorful, hack ‘n’ slash RPG with dialogue trees and loot, wrapped up in a metroidvania style of play with an art style reminiscent of Bastion.
Starting your game allows you make it as easy or challenging as you like. If you want to enjoy the story at minimal frustration from enemies or want to have the game be brutally difficult with little remorse, those options are available to you. There are up to 10 save slots to create and play your game, allowing you to experiment.
Awakening in a forest you learn you are Dust, who seemingly has amnesia. He meets the Keeper of an Ancient Sword, Fidget. She’s a spry young lady who reminds me of Tails. She informs you that your request to take the Ancient Sword, Ahrah cannot be fulfilled as she is to protect it. Dust insists and Ahrah starts to speak on his behalf. Fidget decides to let you go, if only you take her with you so she can keep an eye on it. From there you’re off to solve the mystery that is you.
Unlike other Metroidvanias, there is no “abilitease” that starts you off with everything and then promptly removes them. You start out with nothing and learn abilities over time. Combat is basic at first, you can jump and attack. Soon enough, your companion can shoot projectiles and you earn a windstorm ability to lift and damage foes. Combine them and you can do some serious damage and reach some ridiculous hit counts. There’s an achievement for a 1000-hit combo, my current hit-count is at 968 – how frustrating. Eventually, Fidget will earn new abilities that aren’t more or less powerful, but can do specific types of damage and different areas of effects to them.
The gameplay is smooth as butter, running at a crisp 60fps. When there are no enemies, the camera zooms in on Dust and Fidget showing off their great detail and allowing you to see the animation at work. When enemies are near, the camera zooms out to give you a better view. And every piece of land you visit is unique and intriguing as the last. Dynamic weather comes and goes as you traverse the lands from intense thunderstorms and rain to snow and avalanches covering the landscape.
The interactions between Dust, Fidget, and even Ahrah are believable and the voice actors do a great job. There is some really funny dialogue throughout the game that does a lot give the game character. This wouldn’t be an RPG if it didn’t have questing. The main quest is ever present and the only thing on your map selected as a goal. There are some passive sidequests that you can choose to do, but cannot create a waypoint to go to. The sidequests can even have branching paths for decisions that you can make. There aren’t many, but when you do have the option, provide a very entertaining outcome one way or the other.
You collect loot from dead enemies and from chests assuming you have the keys to unlock them. You’ll collect armor, food, and materials used to craft items from blueprints. A pseudo-ability comes into play later in the game where you can order items to be crafted from your blacksmith friend remotely. How that happens, I do not know – it’s magic for all intents and purposes. You’ll even come across some indie friends if you can unlock the special 4-key treasures, like Super Meat Boy.
As you navigate to uncover every piece of the map to work towards your 100%+ completion, you’ll find Challenge Arenas that test your skills in one cohesive combat puzzle that aren’t only dexterity, but your ability to do it in a timely fashion to earn a time bonus to get all 4 stars for a perfect ranking. Your times and scores are also submitted to the leaderboards for comparison and competition against friends and the world.
Humble Hearts’ first outing with this Summer of Arcade release is nothing short of delightful. It’s engaging combat and plenty of secrets will keep you going for more than the 9 hours I’ve already played. It is hard to believe this was created by one man. It is a unique Xbox Live Arcade experience you cannot do without. Go buy and play Dust: An Elysian Tail.
A download code was provided by PR for review purposes