27 Aug 2012

Monday Media Fun - Dust: An Elysian Tail

I remember the summer between the sixth and seventh grade very well. The family had moved out of a good sized house to the large home. Old Bear had left the military after almost twenty two years. Mama Bear had opened up her own full time clinic rather then working for someone else.

I was closer to a school mate of mine and I was invited over and we played Castlevania 2: Simons Quest.

Oh my god, open free to explore world, villages to talk to people and random puzzles that required a Nintendo Power subscription. It was a golden age of video games. The game was hard, you had to write down codes in order to save. I have a feeling only the most hard of core game players from today would stick through that game.

Today we have Dust: An Elysian Tail and I’m sitting back in Nick’s basement, ignoring the in ground pool while I search for Dracula’s remains.

Dust is a similar Metroidvania game. Made popular by Castlevania and Metroid hence the name with highlights such as: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Super Metroid and Shadow Complex. Shadow Complex is probably the most recent and one of the best examples of the sub genre.

Your world map is huge, side view grid. At the start of the game the areas are only restricted by your characters limitations. Upon gaining new abilities you feel a need to go back to previously explored areas to use these new abilities to find previously inaccessible secrets.

Back to Dust...

Dust is unique with this action game genre. Instead of each screen being a block on the map, it’s a small area of varying size. Abilities such as slid, double jump, jump boost and wall hang are all abilities that make you return to previous areas in order to explore and find the secrets areas and items you've been unable to access. Coloured gems act like keys to open magical pillars, that bar your progress. They become available through the main quest line. The combination of these devices, new abilities and gems, allow the game to seem larger then it is. Backtracking takes the place of mindless padding.

I’ve soaked over a dozen hours into this game before finishing the main story, seeking out every area, treasure and secret. The backtracking never got annoying. Getting the ability to access that ledge or secret area does not mean immediate access. You’re challenged to use the new ability to get to those nuggets of awesome by learning how to use that new ability such as timing doubles jumps and flips to reach a higher ledge. I've still got the challange rooms to complete but due to limited time, I feel less inclinded to go through them to get the 4 start high scores. They were fun and earning the 3 star rank to get the treasure was enjoying. I can see hardcore fans of the game, fighting to get those 4 stars I'm not one of them.

Like many of the genre you also gain a currency to buy things from stores littered in the game and you collect experience points in order to advance the four attributes of your character. You are never allowed to have your highest attribute four levels beyond the lowest attribute keeping you to find a balance as your progress in the game while not feeling completely boxed in or conned with an illusion of free character development. Treasure keys are hidden through the levels used to open chests  filled with treasures and cages that contain characters of other successful Xbox Live Arcade games. 

If anything the game does the details well. The art is hand drawn and the animation is fluid. Enemies are varied enough in colour and shape that you never get bored or feel like a participant in a monotonous exercise. The voice work is on par and some of the dialogue is well done. Figget your magic expelling and info giving sidekick has some of the best lines. More then once I’ve not pressed A to move the dialogue as I'm too busy giving a chortle at the little bugger most recent comment.

I’d give Dust a 5. It’s beyond ‘above standard’ and the details in the work show. I’ve found no bugs, I was always readily waiting to jump back in when I had some time to kill. I never feel like I’m going to bite off too much each time I sat down with the game. It’s an arcade title that surpasses the quality and depth of most AAA games, which the standard is only pulling you for a six to eight hour ride. The perfect closing submission to Xbox Lives annual summer indie game launch event, “Summer of Arcade”. While some of the other titles were ok, Dust is the best thing to come out of this years selection.

If you love pretty art, great game play and some fun challenges get this game.