Dustier Than Ever
As the final game of Microsoft’s 2012 promotion, Summer of Arcade, Dust: An Elysian Tail found itself in good company. Motocross racer Trials Evolution and brain-bendy dimension-skewering platformer Fez were among the other standout arcade titles that year. These three games make something of a triumvirate that I myself, as well as family coming over to visit, love to go back to on a regular basis. A year and a half isn’t an immeasurable amount of time that’s went by, but many other games have come and gone in the intervening months, and still Dust slips on comfortably and refuses to be shaken off, like a favorite sweater on a cold day, or a dog humping after your leg…actually, just the sweater.
Dust hasn’t missed a beat since I reviewed it last August. The action flows off the cuff so smoothly, it’s hard not to feel my chest swelling the tiniest bit with pride at how skillfully I can dispatch a room full of goons. Not to mention I make that shit look easy! Jumping in right where I left off, there were a few treasure left to find, a few loose ends of the story to tie up. As it turns out, the difficult sections I’d previously encountered just needed some serious grinding to happen, enabling me to power up Fidget’s projectile attacks, which is the only way to kill the damned Necromancers in the Sorrowing Meadow. Taking a few hours off to grind some secrets in other areas was just what the doctor ordered. Suddenly I’m cutting through the undead hordes like hot butter, and ooh revenge is a sweet, sweet mistress!
From there, it was go time until the final moments of the game. I even managed to end with over 100% completion (it somehow progressed me up to the neighborhood of 105%). As I had company over for a few days, the game got a brand new audience. When Dust was on, people sat down and paid attention. So it is that, while I made my way to the endgame and scratched it off my backlog, my brother and son both began brand new campaigns of Dust on their respective profiles. Thus, Dust will continue to be a gaming mainstay at my house for another year or more.
It seems silly, but the thing that really set Dust apart for me were and continue to be its visuals. In a graphical age where video games do their best to bridge the Uncanny Valley, it’s interesting that I’m much more wowed by the smooth cartoon animations and pastel watercolor backdrops of Dust. I think what really continues to impress me about this is the scope of the art, as there are a lot of fore- and backgrounds; screen after screen of caverns, meadows, towns, blasted battlefields, snowy mountaincaps, and lava-filled trenches. Most astounding of all, and the phrase that kept flashing through my head as I made my way through all of this beauty, is that it was all created by one guy! So kudos, Dean Dodrill – I’m no graphics whore, but the one thing that will stick with me longer than anything else about your game are its visuals. Well done, indeed!
I don’t want to downplay other aspects, though, like the above-mentioned combat system or the voice acting, which I find completely appropriate for this game and its intended audience. The story even winds up having a bit more depth to it than I at first suspected, though it will never be mistaken for the game’s defining characteristic. And I felt rewarded when seeking out all the hidden secrets I’d missed, by uncovering complimenting nods to several other indie games and their designers hidden within Dust. Entrapped within cages and awaiting release by Dust are familiar characters from games like Super Meat Boy, The Dishwasher, Spelunky, Fez, Bastion, Audio Crew, Braid, and The Maw. Most of these are hidden in areas that are themselves designed to emulate the look and feel of their respective source games. For example, to rescue Bastion‘s Kid, you’ll have to run into open space in a certain location, while pieces of the ground shoot up out of the deep as you move forward to form a floor you can walk on. When nearing Spelunky‘s location, you’ll see roped grappling hooks scattered about. The best one, by far, was the pixellated, 2D world you enter and have to puzzle your way through to release Gomez from his Fez prison.
It’s these loving tips of the hat, as well as the game’s overall polish and high quality, that really make this one my favorites in recent memory – even the second time around!