Monday, July 15, 2013

#16: Dust: An Elysian Tail - A Furry Case of the Metroidvanias

Dust: An Elysian Tail is an exercise in genre-blending. With its 2D platforming elements and slowly trickling supply of new tools to navigate hidden areas, it quickly prompts comparison to the famous Metroid and Castlevania games. Where it diverges noticeably, however, is in its approach to combat. Put simply, it's a brain-melting frenzy of projectiles, sparks and numbers, with combo counts in the hundreds for even basic enemies.

There's probably a Dragon Ball Z move to reference here,
but it's not one that I'm familiar with. Missed opportunity.
Within minutes, I was hitting X, Y and B in essentially random arrangements, with my Dust (the name of the protagonist) soaring into the sky, comboing baddies with my talking sword, and flooding my screen in a manner I would normally expect from a Japanese bullet-hell shooter. I was expecting the classic game design trick of "now that you know how powerful you can be, we'll take away all your powers!" But it never came. You start Dust: An Elysian Tail with most of your combat skills, and quickly gain those that remain. The rest of the game feels like that final hour of most RPGs when the player is a nigh-indestructible demigod. Once you gain a basic grasp of how to fight, the game actually expects you to achieve 300+ hit combos: you gain bonus experience for chaining hits! And you will. It's easy and satisfying to alternate between covering the screen in projectiles to stack up your combo meter and attacking foes directly to recharge your special gauge.

As you can see, the whirly-blur is using lightning to create
yellow numbers out of the purple smears.
The RPG elements spill over to the quest-driven nature of the game, with towns full of NPCs just chomping at the bit to send you off on a fetch quest. You equip Dust with various armor which enemies can drop or by crafting recipes using specialized materials (that enemies drop and are sold in stores). Level ups let you prioritize your favorite stats first, although for the most part it doesn't make a huge difference.

In fact, there were only two occasions I wasn't enjoying myself during Dust. The first was any time I was being forced to
backtrack because enemies respawn in rooms behind you.
Luckily, this did not happen too often.

Beware: for better or worse, this critter follows you all game.
The second issue, unfortunately, was more front and center: the characters and plot fell completely flat for
me. Within the first ten minutes, Dust is established as an incredibly talented warrior with amnesia who is mysteriously united with a sentient, talking sword. Without going further than that, I can assure you things don't get much better. If that weren't groan worthy enough, your flying orange squirrel companion has an appearance and irritating voice straight out of Digimon. In fact, all the main characters had melodramatic voice acting combined with hackneyed writing that made me want to play with subtitles only. Additionally, the decision to make every single character an anthropomorphic anime animal did not fit the attempted seriousness of the story. If you were wondering why the subtitle says "tail" instead of "tale", that's why.

It's my opinion that Dust: An Elysian Tail is an excellent expansion upon the 2D platformer explore-a-thon genre typified by games like Metroid, adding incredibly stylized combat to the mix and empowering the player with more RPG elements. The attempt to introduce a serious plot using essentially cartoon animal characters, though it fell flat, was at least an admirable risk. For $7.50, I'd certainly recommend giving it a shot. Go grab it while it's on sale.

4 out of 5