The final title in this year’s ‘Summer of Arcade’ campaign on the Xbox 360’s Xbox LIVE Arcade service, Dust: An Elysian Tail has a lot to live-up to. The bulk of this year’s Summer of Arcade titles have presented engaging, innovative gameplay experiences that push the boundaries of their genre, and as the second platform title in the programme Dust: An Elysian Tail has to prove that it can present a truly modern take in the same breath as Deadlight’s remarkably atmospheric adventure. Thankfully, it does make a concerted effort to do so.
While Deadlight presented a platform foundation for a series of logic puzzles, Dust: An Elysian Tail uses the genre label as a front to it’s adventure style gameplay. Dust: An Elysian Tail is essentially a modern, refreshed take on the traditional 2D Metroid design template with the addition of a levelling system and more immediate combat action that puts Press Start Studios’ Twin Blades to shame. A thinking gamer’s videogame which also demands significant dexterity (on the harder difficulty settings, at least) Dust: An Elysian Tail is certainly a welcome addition to the Xbox LIVE Arcade’s summer line-up.
The beginning of the videogame sees players earn the role of Dust and a small amount of background detail before launching into the cleverly disguised tutorial. While the Metroid titles have always blessed the player with a truckload of abilities before stripping them back to basics, Dust: An Elysian Tail starts you off with nothing more than a basic combo and jump. Slowly drip-feeding new manoeuvres and items to the player over the course of the next fifteen minutes, the player is tooled-up with a series of bottom-line abilities before beginning the first chapter true. It’s a simple yet elegant design that throws plot, character and mechanic progression into the mix before the player even has time to realise they’re fighting a boss and rescuing helpless civilians.
The gameplay of Dust: An Elysian Tail takes place on three front: the quests given to you to progress the story, the quests given to you to progress your character and the exploration which you decide is your own objective. From the world map it can be seen that each location has a number of treasures to find, and it’s up to the player whether or not they wish to attempt to find these treasure. Also optional are the sidequests given by non-player characters that often result in little more than an experience and cash injection, but help progress your abilities nonetheless. The core questline is of course the primary concern, and even here you will need to revisit previous areas once new abilities have been gained to access routes that were previously unavailable to you.
As stated above, the combat system at first flows similarly to most modern single-tier 2D scrolling beat-‘em-ups, with a series of combos activated through two attack buttons. However, once the player reaches even just the first chapter of Dust: An Elysian Tail, they can command some impressive feats of agility. Zooming high into the sky with half-a-dozen stunned enemies before initiating a few mid-air strikes and grabbing the largest, plummeting back down to earth and landing upon another four creatures to drastically wound them also; this is a thrill that doesn’t become tiresome any time soon. And given that Dust: An Elysian Tail is often keen to reward the player for their actions with increased speed or strength, there are nuances to the combat that even experienced players will be finding hours later.
One of the most striking aspects of Dust: An Elysian Tail is how utterly gorgeous it is. From the densely populated backdrops with sumptuous incidental detail running thickly throughout, to the stunning effects on the silky smooth combat animations, Dust: An Elysian Tail is arguably one of the finest looking 2D videogames ever to grace a videogame console. The brightly coloured characters and imaginative visual design create an effect that calls upon Disney sentimentalities for an anime storyline, and yet never once tries to conform to the rules of either. The voice acting unfortunate doesn’t quite meet the same standard, falling perhaps a little too close to the well worn paths of everyone fitting within their generational stereotype, but the accompanying score remains worthy of praise.
Dust: An Elysian Tail is a compelling, if somewhat short lived videogame experience. Like many videogames that base their attraction on the teasing of what lays ahead, Dust: An Elysian Tail benefits from being a timesink, commanding hours of the player’s input while other titles may only take minutes. Entire nights can be spent absorbed in Dust’s world, but by the same token doing so will make Dust: An Elysian Tail a rather brief experience. It’s a shame that the additional tasks offered are actually required to pad out the videogame as, in every other respect imaginable, Dust: An Elysian Tail is of the highest standard of design and delivery. Few videogames come so close to replicating the majesty of Nintendo’s genre-defining works, but proving that the Xbox LIVE Arcade is just as fertile a breeding ground for such potential as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was during its heyday, Dust: An Elysian Tail is a captivating platform adventure videogame.