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Dust: An Elysian Tail Review

“Now that is how you make a game… by yourself.” was the first thing that I said, aloud, after the ending credits rolled for Dust: An Elysian Tail. If you’ve been following this game, you’d know that it’s (basically) a one man project.

Dean Dodrill designed the game, came up with the concept, did all the art, managed all the code and even wrote the story. The man, as far as I’m concerned, is a genius. Throughout the entire game, I was constantly impressed by how good the gameplay, the writing and the art were.

To have one person be so talented at so many vital aspects of a game, is impressive beyond words. Had he made a mediocre game, I still would have been impressed. The fact that he, almost alone, is responsible for this masterpiece, is astonishing.

Although every aspect of Dust is amazing, the artwork truly stands out. Indeed, this game is living proof that we moved on from 2-D games far too quickly. Especially the Metroidvania genre in which Dust resides. The landscapes are particularly breathtaking and the HD sprites are just too gorgeous for words.

The seamless transitions between animations is so fluid and natural, that I found myself looking forward to each enemy encounter. Each new fight, was a chance for me to create art, by chaining together combos that looked more like choreography found in a movie, than a video game.

While I was expecting breath taking animations and gorgeous character models, I wasn’t expecting beautiful particle effects. I would often find myself cycling through all of my spells, casting each one, to create unbelievably awesome effects on screen.

Engulfing the screen in pillars of fire, while rising enemies into the air with volts of electricity, paralyzing them in preparation for the onslaught of spirit bombs, never stopped being satisfying. Ever. Oh, and did I mention that, while doing all of that, I was soaring through the air, cutting not only scores of minions with my blade, but the very air itself?

Each slash creating a subtle visual indention against the wind, that was almost hidden amongst the chaos that I created during every conflict.  And yet, as subtle as it was, I noticed it and it’s those subtle efforts that really makes all the difference in this game.

While most 2-D games will stick to static character portraits during dialogue scenes between characters, Dust: An Elysian Tail has fully animated portraits that have much more than just two or three alternating portraits.

As a result, the characters were really open to expressing emotions. Though, the art is not solely responsible for this. Combined with the stellar voice acting and the solid writing, the characters were really able to flourish.

Indeed, it was the combination of all these aspects that really came together to create these believable characters that the audience can connect with. Fidget in particular was a real treat.

I can’t remember the last time I’ve encountered a side kick that was this well written, let alone acted. The voice actresses’ delivery of her lines was simply sublime. The rest of the cast wasn’t too far off, with everyone clearly giving it their all.

The dialogue wasn’t the only strong suit of the writing. I was constantly surprised by how good the storyline was. Especially considering the fact that it’s a story about amnesia and I absolutely abhor such story lines. However, this game is the first to make amnesia actually work in any medium of storytelling, let alone taking it to such emotional depths.

Honestly, I can’t give a higher compliment to a writer, than to say that their work has left me completely satisfied, for the first time, on a subject that I loathe.

One would think that Dean Dodrill’s talent would have started to wane by now, after pouring so much energy into creating such a magnificent world with colorful characters and gorgeous art. Well, you’d be wrong, because the gameplay is absolutely addictive.

It always amazes me when it’s the simplest of  mechanics that prove to be the most enjoyable. In minutes, without looking at a single combo list, you’ll have discovered all of your combo strings. Yet, despite this, the combat is endlessly entertaining due to a mixture of seemingly endless ways to string together your small set of skills.

I won’t lie, the art, animations and particle effects go a long way in keeping the combat refreshing. Swirling through the air, slicing up an endless ocean of monsters, while a school of spirit bombs darted around the screen, kept the combat reinvigorating.

Precisely because it was so beautiful and satisfying. This simple formula kept me enticed all game, where as many other games, with much more complex combat mechanics, bored me, eventually.

Though, that may also have something to do with Dust’s moderate gamespan, clocking in at 10 hours. Which is absolutely fine, considering that the game costs 1/4th the price of a console game.

In fact, I would say that there is a lot more to be had out of Dust, simply because the game is so addictive to experience. While the game doesn’t have any artificial ways of increasing its lifespan, the sheer enjoyability of the game, will keep me coming back for years to come.

Dust: An Elysian Tail is a triumph in gaming. This game is a beautiful tale of what happens when you give sole creative control to the developer(s) of a game. Buy this game because it’s amazing.

Buy this game because it will send a strong message about trusting developers with complete creative control. Buy this game because Dean Dodrill really, really deserves it. Just, for whatever reason, buy this game.

Gameplay: 10
The simplistic nature of the combat system, makes this side scrolling action platformer accessible. Yet, despite that, there is a lot of depth with parrying, chaining combos and cycling through the different spells mid combat.

Graphics: 10
Artistry has never looked so good in motion. Playing this game, is like interacting with a masterpiece in a museum. Just, you know, with swords and stuff.

Sound: 10
Everything from the chimes of the UI,  the slashing of a sword, to the cryptic conversations with said sword, sounded superb.

Presentation: 10
The writing in general for this game, was top notch all the way through. The story, the dialogue and the delivery all come through and deliver a memorable experience. The UI is also crisp, clean, charming and easy to use.

Value: 10
I can’t think of a better way to spend twenty US dollars. For being almost entirely developed by just one man, this game is unbelievable. Not only is this game completely worth purchasing just by itself, it’s also an investment. If this game makes enough money, then we may just see more HD 2-D games coming our way. And if this game does anything at all, it proves how much we need them.

Final Verdict: 10/10