To dub Dust: An Elysian's Tail a "furry" version of the Wii action beat-'em-up Muramasa: The Demon Blade may not do the XBLA title justice. While similar to the Wii title in terms of a unique heavily animated art style and battle-heavy concept, the game implements the nonlinear map-focused core from titles like Super Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It may seem like a melting pot of concepts, but Dust definitely feels like its own beast based on what we've played recently.
Players control a warrior named Dust on a 2D fantasy world; this sword-slinger can definitely take care of himself with his repertoire of moves. Pressing a combination of X and Y will make Dust perform quick sword slashes, air launchers, and even a series of stabs topped with a ground and air throw. After acquiring a power-up on the E3 2012 demo of the game early on, Dust gets the ability to perform a sword-spinning technique called Dust Storm.
Pressing and holding Y by itself will make Dust spin his sword in a wide radius to damage any foes within its path. While it looks great and is practical, you can't actually do it for too long. Dust will gradually turn red as he keeps doing the move; perform it for too long, and he'll knock himself out and get hurt.
Our hero also has a flying furry pixie who can shoot out pixie bullets. On its own, it isn't impressive, but if players combine it with the Dust Storm, they can unleash a conflagration of pixie bullets that can really do serious damage. We hope that more of these combinations will surprise us in the final game, because they look really spectacular and practical.
The demo itself let us explore a bit of the combat. We were faced with hordes of ghouls and mutants that fell prey to our main character's attacks and Dust Storm move. It wasn't all button-mashing the X and Y buttons though. There was a section where we had to use the Dust Storm and pixie bullet magic combo to hit a summoner that's impervious to conventional melee attacks.
At the tail end of the demo, we had to deal with a shield-bearing rock golem who we could only disarm and stun by doing a parry. Holding X while in accordance to an enemy's attack animation will push back its attack and leave it momentarily stunned. Even with the swarm of mini-dragons protecting the golem, it wasn't enough from our counterattack. Combat may seem like a huge focus for Dust, but there were bits where we had to use the sword wielder's slide to get past thorny barriers and navigate through chasms with updrafts while not getting hurt by spikes on the ceiling.
Complete with a gem upgrade system, and RPG-esque items-equipping and numbers-flying damage indicators, Dust seems to be doing a spectacular job being a map-based action-RPG platformer with eye-popping Disney-esque aesthetics. Gamers who dig that sort of mix will be glad to know that it will be out later this year under the Xbox Live Summer of Arcade release schedule.