Friday, 21 September 2012

Dust: A truly beautiful game

It took 3 and a half years to produce,  utilizing the patience and programming skills of just one man named Dean Dodrill! Apart from the music and voice acting, it was created entirely by Dean originally for the Xbox indie marketplace. After scoffing ALL the awards for the Dream.Build.Play competition it was clear that Humble Hearts's 'Dust: An Elysian Tail' (this years answer to 'Bastion') was a clear absolute winner and rightly deserved to be turned into a fully fledged  XBLA title. It combines amazing hand drawn art, masterful animation and a huge slice of silky 2D side-scrolling Metroidvania style gameplay. Oh and it's got loot!! On paper it's almost too perfect... and then you play it, and it IS perfect. 
Dust takes place in the world of Falana, inhabited by anthropomorphic animals. The beginning of the story sees Dust wake up with no memory of who he is.  Your only real weapon in the game you receive during the intro , a sentient sword, the Blade of Ahrah, powers up as you travel along. Fidget, the sword's guardian, acts as a companion for Dust and can shoot projectiles.  As Dust travels the world, you acquire power-ups that permanently alter gameplay, such as the ability to double jump or climb to previously unreachable areas. This is were the Metroidvania style gameplay comes in. Incorporating elements of base RPG's, Dust can gain experience points by mashing up enemies and levelling up. These can be used to raise various attributes, such as health, strength or magic. NPC's can be interacted with throughout the game's world to sell items or receive quests. "Watcha' buyin stranger?"
I've just finished the game and quite frankly got into it that much it was cleared in 3 sessions - totalling 16 hours! Now that's some sweet dedication.  I simply couldn't put it down, the characters are appealing with some real heart, the storyline is (for a game) fairly gripping, the loot, the combo system and that animation... sweet Jesus, its like playing an old Disney cartoon. Talk about fluid movement.  So lets talk a little about the combat shall we - fast and fluid, powerful combo and juggling heavy deliciousness. Throughout the playtime of Dust you will unlock different moves that add to your fighting prowess.  It stays fast and frantic till the very end, quick example of the crazyness - achievements are unlocked for your first 1000 and 2000 hit combo.  Keep those baddies up in the air! After playing through Darksiders 2 and Sleeping Dogs (both AAA titles, keep in mind) the last boss in both those titles were, for want of a better word -shit; so it's nice to experience a game that has a real bastard of a boss.  After keeping all or most of my health potions and revival stones during the 16 hour run through I ended up using them ALL during the last scrap with the Dust's chief arsehole General Gaius. Great boss, with a standard 3 stage attack pattern, ah .... reliving those 8-bit memories. 
Just one last word on the music, beautiful music to match beautiful visuals.  Created by Hyperduck Soundstudios the soundtrack features a sweeping score reminiscent of some top tier titles.  If you do play this game (and you should) listen out for the Map screen track, very nice!  
My only real criticism of Dust, and it was a pain when it happened; it crashed 3 times during some of the more chaotic fight sequences - no staggering or slowdown just shut off and booted me back to the dashboard. I hope this is an isolated incident otherwise a patch will be needed me thinks.  All in all I've really nothing negative to say about Dust, its nice and lengthy for its price and holds its value after completing it.  There is no New Game + but you are able to go back into the game and tidy up the loose ends.

As always, please enjoi, comment and share,
much love Dr Sanchez

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