Dust: An Elysian Tail is a beautifully crafted game with all the polish that we have come to expect from an AAA title. The game is a fast and fantastical story-driven action platformer with a side helping of role-playing game mechanics thrown over the top of it. Originally released in 2012 on Microsoft’s XBLA platform by developer Humble Hearts it received mostly positive feedback and has since been ported to a number of formats over the past couple of years. In an ever-increasing trend, we now see it heading to the newest home of all things indie, the Nintendo Switch – it’s the perfect reason to revisit this great title.
Set in a fantasy world inhabited by anthropomorphic animals the game opens with an interactive cutscene telling the tale of a lone warrior who stood against an entire army. Slashing his way through all who opposed him, the sorry mob didn’t stand a chance and the soldier showed no mercy. Yet despite all his skills, his ruthlessness, the valiant soldier perished that day.
Enter our protagonist, Dust, a rabbit-like character who is awoken in the Glades by a magical sword known as the Blade of Ahrah and it’s guardian – a curious looking creature by the name of Fidget. The sword has somehow been drawn towards Dust, an outsider who is desperately trying to remember his past. After a little back and forth between the three they reluctantly decide to team up in a bid to seek out the past and rid the land of General Gaius and his evil minions. They set off in search of Aroura Village to get the lowdown on just what exactly has been going on. The three-way partnership has been scripted perfectly, showcasing impressive voice acting and providing a nice flow to the game. Dust is dark and mysterious with Ahrah being his guiding light, leaving sidekick Fidget to be our comedic outlet – who isn’t all that funny for the most part.
The world is split into different areas which can eventually be accessed via an overworld map and quick travel is even possible once teleportation is unlocked. These features make retracing steps that little bit easier, exploration is key with the games Metroidvaina like undertone running through at its core. This means many of the areas are unreachable on an initial pass due to the limitations of the original move set but this is quickly expanded upon by delving deeper into the game collecting new moves, power-ups and levelling up stats. This is managed by a simple and easy to use system, it never becomes overbearing or detracts from the epic story being told.
Visually Dust is a delight, pure unadulterated eye candy of the highest form. It reminds me of the last two entries in the Rayman series, which both have used the UbiArt Framework engine to give a hand-drawn look rivalling even the latest animated blockbuster. Each and every level has been excellently designed, early in the game scenery is filled with gorgeous flora and fauna with wildlife running through it but this slowly turns into a dark and twisted land filled with hostile creatures.
The combat is masterfully pieced together, providing onscreen prompts to showcase exactly how to perform each and every different move as and when you acquire them. Moves are easy to pick up and mastering combos become second nature, the game has a combo hit counter keeping track of chain attacks. If a combo is completed without being hit the score is banked as XP, one challenge is to achieve over a thousand hits in one attack – just to give an idea of what is possible. Besides being cute (and slightly annoying) sidekick Fidget comes battle-ready, acting as artillery support and once upgraded can combine with Dusts magical attacks providing devastating results.
As you traverse the land you encounter a whole cast of memorable characters who give details of the great war and the struggle of a group know as the Moonbloods. Some characters additionally offer up side quests which tend to come in the form of locating specified items, all adding to the longevity of the experience. Items collected by defeating enemies can be used for extra health, upgrading offensive and defensive stats or crafting new items. Shopkeepers offer the chance to earn money with the sale of unwanted goods, a nice touch is that if the item is something they do not currently hold in their inventory it becomes part of future offerings once restocked.
The main story of Dust: An Elysian Tail will roughly take around ten hours to complete, increasing by another five to six if you decide to head back and finish all of the extras. You can see how far through the game you are by checking the overall stats in the options but the overworld map also gives a percentage view for individual regions. There are a few twists and turns in the plot which I’m not going to divulge at this time but things all come to ahead in the volcanic region of Everdawn Basin.
Going back into the world of Dust was a great choice, the Nintendo Switch is a perfect platform for this stunning game. It looks better than ever and gameplay is top draw, I did have a couple of instances where the framerate suffered but it didn’t give any great cause for concern. The mix of genres included perfectly compliment the strong character-driven storyline and importantly it gets the combat spot on. If you haven’t previously had the opportunity to play Dust: An Elysian Tail I seriously cannot recommend it enough.
Beard Score: 9/10
Genre: Action, RPG, Adventure, Platformer
Publisher: Humble Hearts
Release: 10/09/2018 (Switch)
Format: Windows, Linux, Mac, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, iOS, Nintendo Switch