It’s the end of the year which means it’s time for reviewers to put on their pretentious hat and shower love on their favorite indie developer and the occasional mainstream juggernaut that is too hard to ignore. Major reviewing websites are filled with the best and brightest that will surely obliterate all you know about gaming until, well, next year. It can be a bit much. If you’d rather not have you mind blown and could stand to play a game with no greater desire than to be fun, look no further than Dust: The Elysian Tail (DTEL). This delightful action-exploration game is an excellent pallet cleanser for the award frenzy that surrounds this time of year.
DTEL patterns itself off of the Metroidvania mold. The player assumes the role of Dust as he explores a variety of levels fulfilling quests, explored worlds, and unlocking secrets. Dust fights waves of enemies with an unambitious, but solidly constructed, combat system of attacks, parries, and magic. Limited leveling and equipment management rounds out the package nicely as it provides a welcome sense of progression without major depth. Enemies aren’t particularly intelligent relying on sheer numbers to overwhelm the player. Unfortunately, the weak AI carries over to the boss fights which lack the large numbers of enemies required for a challenge. About the only difference between a regular goon and a boss is the boss’ tolerance for a savage beating. Special enemies are introduced to break up the hack and slash monotony, but their lack of fine tuning make them more annoying than fun. Fortunately, these enemies comprise a comparatively small number of encounters and can be skipped. Even with some of the weaknesses, combat remains button mashing fun throughout the 10 hour game.
The story is similarly unambitious, but has such strong supporting elements that you won’t care. DTEL begins with the amnesic titular character Dust awakening in a field with the talking sword Ahrah and the childish Fidget. The introduction harkens back to the archetypes of old RPGs, but the characters are wonderfully voiced and fun to hear. Solid dialogue and emotional delivery make the interactions between Dust and his companions a joy to watch. Developer Dean Dodrill nicely balances drama, humor, and character development in a way that seems organic and engaging. Even when the story overreaches and demands too much from its characters, the voice acting and writing carry it through.
Joining the quality character work is the water color visuals that help a fairly traditional fantasy world come alive. Every level feels vibrant with both broad, lush landscapes and tiny details such as rabbits playing at Dust’s feet. Character models move fluidly making combat surprisingly fun to watch until the screen is mobbed by enemies. The suitably cinematic music adds a feeling of epic adventure to most of the undertaking, though that diminishes as the same song is replayed for the tenth time. The lack of variety is disappointing, but understandable given the care evident in many of the other aspects of the game. Regardless of its shortcomings, DTEL is always entertaining to watch.
DTEL doesn’t change the genre and certainly won’t change the way you view the world, but it doesn’t need to. DTEL is just plain fun. Go play it.