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Dust: An Elysian Tail Review
"Ew, furries! I bet this game is all about, like, banging rodents and shit! Whoa, look! They stuck boobs on that fox and made it talk! Gross, man. No way I'm buying this weirdo crap! Let's go shotgun a PBR, chest bump, and do manly things."
If that sounds like you, do the civilized gaming community a favor and just be quiet for a second. Dust: An Elysian Tail is a wonderful little brawler that has been surrounded by negative hype because of its anthropomorphic cast ever since its release. But you don't have to be a fetishist to plumb Dust's depths and find the treasures waiting within. Er...
What we're trying to say here is that, if you find yourself a little turned off by the game's furry aesthetic, you'd be best served to look past the surface and inwards, towards the depth of the gameplay. At its core, Dust is a modernized 2D brawler in the vein of The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile. Combos fly fast and fierce, and within twenty minutes of booting up the game you'll be clearing 100+ hits in each string of attacks with ease. For fans of massive combo chains and simple-yet-nuanced combat, this is about as good as it gets.
You won't just be throwing out melee attacks, though. The titular protagonist Dust will be joined on his adventure by a flying bat/fox hybrid named Fidget. As it happens, her main talent is magic, which provides a great counterpart to your swordplay skills. Fidget's attacks begin as puny little spurts of magic designed to lightly damage enemies at a distance or stun them out of attack animations. When combined with Dust's magic sword, though, they become screen-clearing blasts of magical energy. As Fidget levels up, she will unlock new types of magic, each of which has a different effect when combined with your sword. It won't be long until you've graduated from puny wisps of energy to screen-shattering columns of flame.
But Dust's tricks don't end there. By holding down the Y button midair, you can make Dust fly about the screen in a corkscrew of death. This is a great way to damage airborne enemies, or juggle enemies indefinitely in the sky. It also serves to bolster your combo counter quickly, although maintaining this move for too long will result in Dust dealing damage to himself.
All of Dust's and Fidget's moves combined make for a mightly flexible arsenal, and one that's great fun to mess around with in the heat of combat. You'll want to have your stuff together when tackling the bosses, though; these big baddies can deal massive damage unless you've mastered the art of the game's combat. An integral part of that equation is the counter-attack, which has smartly been assigned to the same button as the regular attack. By attacking at the exact same time as the enemy and holding the button just a little longer than you usually would, you can deflect the enemy's blow and initiate one of your own.
Outside of combat, there's still plenty to do in Dust. An overworld map will grant you easy access to dozens of side missions and hidden "friend" characters, the likes of whom have been culled straight from the best and brightest of indie gaming. You'll stumble upon Meat Boy in a cage early on in the game; the rest of the cameos should remain a pleasant surprise.
As you wander the game's surprisingly large world, you will collect numerous items that can be used for crafting. You can also pick up some of the more rudimentary items from multiple in-game merchants. Crafting is the best way to get the strongest items, adding yet another layer to Dust's surprisingly in-depth gameplay. You don't even have to return to the blacksmith when you want to craft new items. Thanks to a nifty walkie-talkie item, you can have the blacksmiths radio you instructions for crafting, meaning that you can do it all yourself straight from the menus.
There's a solid story accompanying all of the action and complemented by some excellent amateur voiceovers. Things can get a little anime-angsty at times, but for the most part the plot is a pretty lighthearted one. Some of the puns can be a little groan-inducing, but at other times the dialogue and in particular the item descriptions can be genuinely funny. It's kind of hit or miss stuff, but we appreciate a game that attempts to add a little flavor to the dialogue, even if it's not always the greatest.
The art direction, on the other hand, is indisputably superb. Dean Dodrill, the one-man army behind Dust, comes from an animation background. This makes the positively luscious graphics make a lot more sense. Everything, even the little ancillary animations, looks ripped straight from a classic Disney film.
It's clear that years and years of thought and care were poured into Dust. With masterfully-animated visuals, a fully realized fantasy world, and great hack 'n' slash gameplay, this game serves as the perfect example of how to drag the classic brawler formula into modern times. Plus, Fidget is totally hot.
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