Book of Shadows got me thinking about digital-download games and the interesting avenues they open up. They give game publishers like XSEED a chance to deliver games like Corpse Party – games that might not have a market sitting on a Gamestop shelf. They also give game developers a chance to try and create something truly unique – both groups benefitting from the (seemingly) reduced overhead of a digital distribution outlet.
One digital download game first came to my attention about a year back, when I heard the story of an artist who had won Microsoft’s Dream.Build.Play with his prototype game that he made while teaching himself to program. From what I heard, this developer was almost single-handedly doing the art, programming, and writing on the full game. I looked up a video of the prototype and was blown away, both as a gamer and an aspiring developer. However, I didn’t hear anything on that game until it hit the XBLA store (complete with a Toonami review) at the tail end of last summer.
Excitement over a game’s “Making Of” story can only carry it so far. Dust: An Elysian Tail lives up to its creative roots. The game follows an amnesiac protagonist named Dust, his talking sword, and the sword’s chatty guardian Fidget. Dust uses his blade and his fierce skills to help people and fend off an evil general, all while searching for his memory. The game’s premise may not sound like it’s breaking any new ground, but a few interesting plot twists, endearing characters, and reasonable pacing keep the game fresh.
For those more concerned about challenging and engaging gameplay, you won’t be disappointed. Dust is a 2D beat-em-up/RPG hybrid with visual novel-style cutscenes for good measure. Each area is vast and full of places to explore. The enemies are challenging and plentiful, with the game’s level-up system allowing for ample opportunity to prepare your character for any challenge. Battling and leveling were enjoyable necessities. Dust and his flying accomplice Fidget will also gain special skills and combination attacks that can be used to deal with larger groups of enemies. And there will be large swarms of enemies, at times flooding the screen.
Though not getting distracted by the artwork will be equally challenging. Dust’s world is colorful and carefully illustrated. While the style is certainly much more cartoon-y than many games nowadays, it is not for lack of detail or skill. From the first moments of gameplay, players will be able to see Dean Dodrill’s strength as an artist. The aesthetic is matched throughout the game – characters and enemies do not look out of place against the 2D backdrops.
The audio is one area that Dodrill handed off to another company. HyperDuck SoundWorks provides a lively soundtrack that blends into the game well, whether you’re fending off swarms of zombies in the Sorrowing Meadows or watching Dust explore his past. The game also includes voice acting. The quality varies throughout the game (many of the actors appear to be new). Dust’s delivery is a little overdramatic at times and while many players will find Fidget amusing and endearing (I certainly did), the high-pitched mascot may grate on some players’ nerves. However, by the end of the game, many of the actors hit their stride and settle in to their characters. If you’re not taken by the voice-acting from the start, give it some time.
All-in-all, I found Dust to be a fantastic game. It was enjoyable to play, beautiful to look it, had a good soundtrack and a story that carried my interest through to the end. I would recommend this game to anyone who enjoys a challenging 2D game in the vein of Metroid or Castlevania, to JRPG/anime/visual novel fans who enjoy a light and interesting story, or to anyone looking for a brief nostalgia fix. My expectations were exceeded and I hope to see more in the future from Humble Hearts.
Dust is now available on XBOX Live for 1200 Microsoft Points.