Back in 2009, a man by the name of Dead Dodrill submitted a game to Microsoft's Dream.Build.Play competition. The game won, and was awarded a contract for an Xbox Live Arcade release. Three years later, we finally get our paws on that game; Dust: An Elysian Tail. After spending a good amount of time with the game, I can without a doubt say it was worth the wait. Dust is not only dripping with anthropomorphic influence, it is a charming and enthralling action game that is sure to entertain, furry or not.
Beauty in motion
Dust is an Elysian who wakes up in a forest with no memory of his past or who he is. He is quickly found by a legendary talking sword and its out-of-breath guardian, Fidget the Nimbat. These three then venture out on a quest to figure out who Dust is, and why the sword has come to him. The cast of characters, most notably Fidget, have wonderful chemistry and dialogue that is filled with humor and heart. Even side quest NPCs have unique attitudes, accents, and quirks that are never boring or cliché. Dust's narrative is driven with fluid expertise as you complete quests and explore levels, with a story that is fresh and rewarding in the end. Even a couple hand-drawn cut-scenes are thrown in for good measure. Pacing of story is not a problem here, and you always know where your next objective is, though you are free to roam and complete side quests to make your journey forward less difficult by leveling up.
For those of you who are fans of Metroid/Castlevania style games, you can basically just stop reading right here and go buy the game. Dust lives by its combo-building combat scheme, which is frantic and smooth all at the same time. You fight by using a combination of ground and air attacks, which usually send you flying around the level, striking and grabbing enemies to try to build up a combo meter with each successive hit. The higher you go, the more experience you get. If you get hit your combo is broken, though. What makes Dust unique is the special attacks your flying nimbat friend “Fidget” enables. Fidget has a selection of projectiles which you acquire at various points in the game which add a much more powerful string of pain to inflict on your enemies while you perform your dust storm ability. You would think keeping up with all of these options would be a bit messy, but it is surprisingly intuitive. The game teaches you new moves and techniques at the perfect pace, letting you fight a bit with certain skills, then teaches you another one, then throws you a few more enemies, allowing you to seamlessly integrate it into your play style.
Speaking of skills, during your travels around the game, you'll see areas you can't access or paths seemingly unreachable. Well, as you progress through the story, Dust will learn new abilities that allow him to reach some of the areas in levels past. This gives a depth of exploration that will have you returning to all the passed areas from earlier in your 'prospecting' adventure. Returning to past levels (or even the area you just left) is still rewarding because of the respawning enemies that fill back up the level as soon as you re-enter it. Which each level up, you earn a new skill point which you can assign to Health, Attack, Defense, or Fidget. You can have the game auto-assign these skills, but no matter what, no one skill can be four points above or below the next closest skill. This prevents any situation in which you prevent yourself from completing the game or screw up your progress because you are a softy who has pumped up Fidget to an insane degree and a mosquito flying by kills you. You can also pick up materials enemies drop, which allow you to create & outfit yourself with better armor, gear, and enhancements.
Fluid combat in an artful style.
And to think...this entire game was hand-crafted by one person: Dean Dodrill, or Noogy, as he refers to himself as. That's right. Just him. Well, except for the sounds, voice work, and music. Art, coding, and story were his creation. For a game with this much depth and complexity, that is incredibly impressive. The worlds Dust visits are simply gorgeous; environments are constantly moving, trees, lamps, and enemies affect by every swing of Dust's sword. In dialogue sequences, you get to see the characters drawn with genuine expressions paired with their voices. It is almost like a mini cartoon every time you start talking with someone. From a furry perspective, which is what most of our readers are, you couldn't ask for more. Almost all characters are anthropomorphic animals. There are a large amount of bunnies, some canine-like creatures, a bear lady, a feline or two, Fidget the adorable nimbat, and Dust, the Elysian. He's some kind of...wolf, cat, fox hybrid being. Some characters just seem animalistic in appearance, not really confining to one species. Basically, if you consider yourself a fan of anthro art like Noogy does, you will not be disappointed.
Gameplay: 4.5 -Frenzied combat paired with rewarding exploration make for some stellar gameplay. Only drawback is some underwhelming boss battles.
Graphics: 5 - Hand-drawn and animated by one person? Every pixel of this game will leave you in awe. Also, since this is a furry site, there are anthros everywhere. That is + 0.5 in and of itself, though it would have already been at a 5 either way.
Sound: 5 - Orchestral backings and situational tunes make this game a treat to your ears as well. Top-notch voice acting is a treat.
Value: 4.5 - The ability to go back and play levels in search of chests or more blueprints is addicting, and I found myself trying to visit every corner of every level with my newly acquired abilities as I progressed through the game.
5 / 5