Review

Dust: An Elysian Tail Review

  • First Released Aug 15, 2012
    released
  • X360

Dust: An Elysian Tail periodically stumbles, but impressive visuals and enticing exploration make for a successful journey.

Your sword is an indecipherable blur. A slashed wolf falls to the ground alongside a dying troll who dared to face your kinetic blade. High above the ground you soar, bringing the fight to the winged demons that patrol the skies. No one is safe in your presence. In the beautiful Dust: An Elysian Tail, the death count grows at an alarming rate; the entire monster population is no match for your keen instincts and merciless weapon. There's a smoothness to the execution that's mesmerizing, as powerful attacks are dished out at a dizzying rate. But that ease comes at a cost. With a flick of a stick and a tap of a button, dozens collapse at your feet, and the breezy repetition lacks the strategizing that could have given this eye-catching action platformer the depth it sorely lacks. Dust: An Elysian Tail enchants and entices, but never envelops you like the best action games do.

Amnesia is a tough circumstance to overcome. The memory-deficient hero calls himself Dust because his past is a mystery to even him. What's not a mystery is the condition of the world he awoke in. Monsters roam the countryside, terrorizing villagers and making a deadly nuisance of themselves. So Dust's quest is clear: Help the innocent while driving the evil beings back from where they came.

Initially, the setup draws you in, using the old trick of memory loss to explain what's happening to both the protagonist and player in one fell swoop. But things quickly take a turn for the worse. Grating voice acting turns even the most sympathetic character's sob story into an annoying ordeal that makes you search for a skip button. The cheeky guardian Fidget that follows your every step communicates in a high-pitched squeal that tempers the enthusiasm of even the most determined individuals. Overly dramatic writing laced with juvenile humor makes for a story that's as tiresome as it is groan-worthy, and it doesn't even stay kindly in the background for you to safely ignore. Long story sequences have poorly developed characters squawking at each other for minutes on end, dragging the happy-go-lucky pacing down to a crawl.

The verdant forest is about to explode in violence.
The verdant forest is about to explode in violence.

When you extricate yourself from the exhausting story, An Elysian Tail becomes a lot more enjoyable. This lightly structured 2D action adventure focuses on making you feel like a long-dormant warrior hungry for some vengeance killing. As soon as you pick up your sword, you're taught basic two-button combos to see how fantastic your blade can be. A strike across the chest of a scowling goblin leads to an upward strike that tosses it high into the air. Follow it with a sure-footed leap of your own to finish it off where the leaves meet sky, and then rush back to the ground in a powerful slam attack to eradicate the crowd of baddies at your feet.

Fidget hovers just out of danger's reach, but is happy to toss projectiles into the fray when the situation arises. Zooming blue lights drain smidgens of your enemies' health, and you can control these flecks of pain with handy propeller moves. Either stationed on the ground or whizzing through the sky, you twirl your sword like a helicopter blade, tearing meanies to smithereens while diffracting Fidget's energy balls so they mercilessly pelt enemies. Watch as your combo count soars, first registering dozens of hits, and then hundreds more once you learn to link these attacks together. Chimes and flashes of light clue you in when you're tabulating a particularly high tally, and those elements combined with the smooth grace of your master swordplay make for an enjoyable way to chop those who oppose you to shreds.

A face only a blind mother could love.
A face only a blind mother could love.

Within the first few minutes of procuring your blade, you learn these flashy attacks, and it seems as though your repertoire will grow ever stronger during the duration of this lengthy adventure. But sadly that's not the case. Aside from two different elemental projectiles for Fidget, you have the same combos for the entirety of An Elysian Tail. At first, this lack of growth isn't a problem. Slicing and dicing foes is eminently satisfying, and trying to string together a massive combo chain has you working to perfect your offensive swipes and time your defensive feints until you can tear through hordes of enemies without breaking a sweat. But it doesn't take long for you to master your attacks. And once you test every permutation of your modest moveset, it's clear that celestial attacks are more efficient and make for higher combos than ground-based sword swings. So you repeatedly zip across the screen until even your stylish death strikes become tiresome.

The goblins that populate early levels change to lumbering trolls, kamikaze bombers, slinking wolves, and other ill-tempered creatures as you plunge deeper into your quest. Diverse visual design ensures every beast you snare has a cartoonish charm that makes even the brain-hungry zombies endearing, but don't expect deeper strategies when tougher monsters appear. Aside from a gargantuan monster that requires a well-timed parry to daze, you can defeat every creature using the same tactics. Just have Fidget shoot some fireballs while you zoom around the screen like a crazed hummingbird. It's all fun because the sharp controls and increasing experience points tally make you feel as if you're gaining power, but the lack of evolution is impossible to ignore.

An Elysian Tail partially makes up for its shallow combat by giving you side jobs to complete. You can travel to previously visited areas whenever you wish, and backtracking is a large aspect of completing these optional tasks, but that dirty word isn't a problem here. By progressing deeper into the story, you unlock moves that add to your locomotion, so revisiting old locations means you encounter places that used to be just out of your reach. Treasure chests bursting with items are ready to lavish their gifts on any traveler who uncovers their hiding spots, and scouring the map for these goodies requires smart movement and clever puzzle solving.

Reaching a higher ledge isn't always as obvious as making an outlandish jump. Oftentimes, you have to put a bit of thought into how to progress, and that's where An Elysian Tail shines. Fidget tells you when a hidden object is nearby, but it's your job to track down where it's located in the labyrinthine caves and forests you venture into. You may need to steer a timed proximity bomb through a series of wind tunnels or uncover the clues in a carefully worded note, and figuring out where a secret lies makes you eager to rush to a new place on the map to see what other possibilities await.

The reckless killings you partake in during these exploratory moments are not without value. Dust earns experience points for every monster he slays, and once you earn a new level, you can power up one of your four attributes. Defense and health aren't terribly interesting considering the wealth of healing items available and the ease with which most enemies die, but strength is always handy, and making Fidget more powerful makes your life easier. There are also items to craft for those who like to tinker. Monsters drop pieces that can be forged into handy tools using blueprints, and though the items aren't usually as good as what you're equipped with, it's fun to see the different strengths and weaknesses on offer.

Electricity spells doom for living creatures.
Electricity spells doom for living creatures.

An Elysian Tail has so many crafting materials that tracking down ingredients could have been a tedious slog that distracted from the slicing and dicing escapades. But the game avoids this pitfall by making excellent use of its willing shopkeeper. Every time you trade in a new building material at the shop, the merchant updates his stock for you. Therefore, you don't have to worry about farming in the ice lands if you'd rather look for treasure in the caves. Either way, you have access to the precious materials you need to build that ring you've been eying. This smart design decision eliminates the pointless grinding that's present in so many item-rich games.

However, not every decision is a smart one. An Elysian Tail has a handful of challenges that test your reflexes and posts them on a leaderboard for all to see. These rooms force you down a dangerous obstacle course, requiring you to avoid traps while making precise jumps as quickly as possible. The higher difficulty and tracked scores make this an enticing shift from the campaign, but the challenges come with a couple of faults. First, there's no way to quickly restart, so if you mess up early on, you have to trudge through the whole thing to get another chance. Second, you have to leave the challenge room to save. You could go through a few times in a row, die from a flaming trap, and lose your hard work. Challenges are still a fun way to show off your skills, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

A few familiar faces wait to be discovered.
A few familiar faces wait to be discovered.

The artistic design is just as uneven. Hand-drawn environments suck you in from the opening scene. Serene vistas greet you around every turn, from lush forests to freezing snow-covered peaks. It's a wondrous world that's begging to be explored, and no matter where you travel in this expansive adventure, you're treated to captivating sights that push you onward to see what else you can take in. But the peaceful settings are contrasted by unsightly character design. Anthropomorphic animals bearing little personality stand out like a sore thumb against the inviting backdrop. These creatures range from inoffensive to downright ugly and serve only to make the already dull cutscenes that much worse.

There are many peaks and valleys in An Elysian Tail, and it's that uneven rhythm that keeps this adventure from greatness. When you're mesmerized by the gorgeous environments or you're about to uncover a stubborn secret, it's hard to pull away from this engrossing downloadable game. But then you're forced to partake in repetitive combat or listen to drab characters prattle on endlessly, and you yearn for something better. But An Elysian Tail usually overcomes its missteps to offer a pleasurable experience. And once you're sucked in, there is so much content that you can spend more than a dozen hours exploring this land. Dust: An Elysian Tail struggles at times, but there's an awful lot of charm buried within.

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The Good

  • Gorgeous, diverse backgrounds
  • Smooth combat with sharp controls
  • Tons of well-hidden secrets
  • Lots of content aside from story missions

The Bad

  • Shallow combat
  • Lousy voice acting and boring story

About the Author

148 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

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Astroliner

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Edited By Astroliner

Can somebody explain me "smooth combat with sharp controls" and "shallow combat"? What does the poet try to say?

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deactivated-598f861d6b082

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@Astroliner: man I'm probably way too late to do any good, but

the combat lacks depth. It's essentially a spamming of mouse clicks without much in the way of brainpower. The combos are cute, but I've found it's pretty easy to get past most things just by spamming the same button.

However, it still controls amazingly, being responsive and fluid. That's how it's smooth and shallow at the same time.

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ph1nn

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Edited By ph1nn

Checking out the review since it's free on PSN this month for PS4 (now in 1080p/60fps). Looks like it's worth grabbing.

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Gelugon_baat

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I have to say that I have to agree with Tom's point on shallow combat there.

I have played the game on Hardcore, and I find that the combos are just too risky to use because they put Dust into animations which I could not always cancel (at least not without spending precious energy to do a dash). (Sliding can cancel moves too, but again, Dust is put into another animation which I can't cancel out of.)

Aerial Dust Storm on the other hand, is always in the control of the player and Dust moves about a lot faster when using it. Why I should anything else when Aerial Dust Storm is a lot more reliable and has less risk than other moves?

Even in scenarios where Aerial Dust Storm is not viable (e.g. tight spaces), I ended up using the terrain against enemies - it's cheesy, but a lot less risky.
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CraZkid37

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I definitely disagree with a lot of this review as well and more so agree with a lot of the comments here. Also I think Fidget is great, personally. It's a very simple game yet deeper than it looks at the same time. It feels like it was very well thought out.

It's yet another awesome free game I'm glad I got the chance to play through Games with Gold.

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nate1222

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Edited By nate1222

GOG just got Dust in their catalog. Wishlisted. I'll have the DRM-free PC version in a few weeks.

3 • 
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iowastate

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mostly whiny whingers have commented .....most of them didn't notice that 7 is a very good score and 8 or 9 is reserved for the excellent games and this is not one of them, Tom said it was fun to play and was good which is just what anyone who likes the game was claiming but I can't believe anyone expects Dust to be considered a AA, A+, or even an A list game. it is an enjoyable Indie 2D action game that has been given due credit.

Some fans of are always trying to claim more than deserved for their favourite games

2 • 
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Drkr_Zen

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Edited By Drkr_Zen

The combat is actually quite deep, and VERY impressive, if you explore its options... Tom probably button mashed through. I absolutely loved this game for its depth, pretty visuals and stunning combat.

3 • 
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NineLord

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@Drkr_Zen I do agree that the combat is very very good, but i have played until now 10hours of this game, and its feels like i don't have enough type of combos.

x+x+x = normal att

x+y (bring the enemy to the air) >> x+x+y to bring him to the ground

x+x+y = take the enemy and though him on the ground


and that about it, aside from the dust storm..


I love the game and its story line but i don't think the combat will keep me inside for too much longer

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GunEye

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This game should be crowned as The Gem of 2012-2013. Definitely one of the best games I have ever played.

With characters unique and memorable from the tiniest npc kid bopo to general Gaius. I can't remember a single game in which every character in the world came to life like that, and left such a positive mark on my memory. Couple that with some of the best voice acting job I have ever heard, and great story-line and artistic design of ever level and the tons of secrets within it. Every place you go looks different, every "room" you enter looks unique, and yet the map design keeps a seemless, flawless and interconnected design, making this 2d game much more engrossing and atmospheric than most AAA 3d 60$ games. For instance you enter a bleak and dark cave, when all you see is underground scenery, you can climb up 10 mini maps and find a secret room, at the top of the cave, where on the background a whole in the cave wall reveales mountains and skyline. This was really incredible for me.

Visuals and sound in this game are top notch. Animation superb. Style unlike any other. Dialogues are deep and entertaining.

You are a true artist Dean. Give us some sequels!

2 • 
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TirOrah

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Edited By TirOrah

Wow...I disagree with ~almost~ everything in this review. The stuff I don't disagree with? The fact that, yes, I would have liked to unlock a few more combos in the game and that blueprints can't be sold if they're worse than what you already have. But other than that, I really think that we'll have to agree to disagree, good sir.

5 • 
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Hyperion1771

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This review seems skewed by opinion. Voiceovers should first and foremost receive positive mention for even existing, something the majority of games like these can't be bothered with even attempting. Same with an interesting and fairly original story and good OST. If these weren't ignored maybe there wouldn't be that >10% margin of error from the other scores.

2 • 
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Toysoldier34

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@Hyperion1771 I have been playing the game and enjoying it a lot, though the writing isn't great and the voices detract from the game overall.

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anfunny

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Edited By anfunny

Looks like a solid review. The voice acting IS horrendous, and the combat does look a little shallow, albeit fun.

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Ripper_TV

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@tommcshea , I'm officially done with you.

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Forgetfulhearer

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The voice acting is one of my favorite things about this game.

5 • 
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sawworm

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>Smooth Combat

>Shallow Combat

>7.0

Worst troll review I've ever seen.

9 • 
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Toysoldier34

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@sawworm The combat is very smooth and free flowing and feels great, but it doesn't have much in the ways of combos or alternatives. It mostly boils down to button mashing X and it looks good doing it.

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anfunny

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@sawworm Lol, you're the troll. Smooth and shallow aren't the same thing... He explicitly states that it's smooth and fast, but you only have a few combos, and they don't increase as the game progress. A puddle is shallow and smooth. An ocean can be deep and smooth.

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RSVSilver

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Awesome game! i'm playing it on pc and it's wonderful! I'd give it 8.5

2 • 
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Phazevariance

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This game was awesome! The boss battles were underpowered but pretty much everything else was spot on and fun. I'd have given it a 9.0-9.5

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mischiefmeerkat

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How the hell does this game get a 7? CoD games get 9+ and they're half as long, half as good and several times the price.


The art style in this game is spectacular, the soundtrack awesome, the voice acting witty and memorable and the story unforgettable (dat finale!)

at least a 9.5 for me

2 • 
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Ripper_TV

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@mischiefmeerkat ? CoD is HALF as good? Lemme see... CoD is PURE and unadulterated SHIT and this is a JEWEL.

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chaos_power

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The story in this game is great. And I love the voice acting. Yes it is a bit juvenile but this isn't a 17+ game. The only part of the story that I feel is weak is Gaius, he had absolutely no reason to start a genocide nor reason to change the world, if he did, it wasn't explained. The ending is really cliche and juvenile I feel, trying to be Disney like or something...

Other than that... The game is just beautiful and fun as hell. This is the way games should be made, and I would give it at least 9.5. Too bad I'm not a game critic and I don't get paid to write certain high numbers for certain big game companies and only for those...

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Pukshd

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Edited By Pukshd

Disagree, this game has a nice story, and the voice acting is proposital, to give more character to it, yea maybe is easy at times, but c´mon raise the difficult, the guy did the programing, art and story all by himself. Give a little credit.

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Zevvion

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Edited By Zevvion

Can't disagree with this review any more. The story is one of the highlights of the game. The tale it tells of genocide is just awesome, especially how it conflicts with Dust. The combat is also challenging on the harder difficulties and you can make sufficient combo's to keep things interesting.

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion of course, but seeing how this game gets honorable mentions and runner up wins for it's storyline from respectable sources (like GiantBomb) makes me believe this review was 'too much' an opinion of someone for whom this game isn't suited (like letting me write down my opinion on Call of Duty and calling it a review) and should be disregarded by everyone interested in this game. Allot of the criticisms in this review, are actually held in high regard from other sources.

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iowastate

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Edited By iowastate

@Zevvion you seem to be the one obsessed with the opinionation

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Wensea10

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I would rate this game higher but I like the points mentioned in the review.

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Rockslide

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@IceJester45 @whalesex Well maybe not directly "money", but rather "favor" and "influence" to show some respect to the right guys. You know, like "don't bite the hand that feeds you" type of influence. At least it seems they show a little more respect to the big guys sometimes.

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Rockslide

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@Gelugon_baat There is an option of turning the voice and sound effects all the way down, but not separately. The music has it's own volume control. So if you turned the voices "off", the sound effects would be off too.

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deactivated-5a5f623fa2551

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@Rockslide @whalesex "My whole *professional* life," I mean.

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deactivated-5a5f623fa2551

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@Rockslide @whalesex I don't think that's enough to say that Metacritic has an anti-indie agenda. I know that they exclude reviews from lesser-known review sites (and, really, Joe's Super Awesome Videogame Blog probably shouldn't be included in Metacritic reviews), but Metacritic probably doesn't do this to manipulate the score.

I've worked in media my whole life and am generally skeptical of claims that money is involved. I would need to see some proof before I accept that kind of claim.

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Rockslide

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The sword is an "indecipherable blur"??? Only when using the Dust Storm, and it is designed to be exactly that way, and is called a "storm". All of the other MULTIPLE MOVES with the sword are clearly and precisely visible. Watch a slo-mo of the animation if you want to see how incredible Dust's animation really is. Maybe the moves are too precise or fast for normal eyes.

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Mihael-Keehl

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Lousy voice acting? The fantastic voice acting is one of the strong points of the game.

12 • 
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xaviermf

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@Mihael-Keehl I totally agree with you, the voice acting is great. Makes me wonder if Mr. Mc Shea played the whole game, or just the demo (not really, it's just an expression). My only point against the game, is that the bosses were a tad on the "easy" side on Normal difficulty, so if someone wants a challenge, then he/she should try the Tough or Hardcore setting.

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Belvanie

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This was very informative. I've read a few reviews of this game that seemed heavily skewed by the fact that only one person made it. I don't see Toms review as a negative one, just a bit more rooted in reality. Because all I care about is having a fun time with the game, if it's cheap or indie don't affect that at all.

Though I have to disagree with one thing. The art looks like it's taken from a random DeviantArt page. The coloring, the shadows, the character designs, it's all decent at best.

That said, I might try it out some time in the future.

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Rockslide

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@Belvanie Dean was drawing his art before the internet even existed, in the 80's. Most people on these comments are too young to know very much about the history. That so-called negative art connotation you refer to didn't even exist back then, and Dean certainly didn't take any of his cues from them.

2 • 
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Belvanie

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@Rockslide I didn't imply he took any cues from DeviantArt, just that the're is a recemblance. I could also say it looks amateurish. A fact that doesn't change even if he had been practicing since the 40's.

Knowing about the developer, who or how many they are, is just trivia. It doesn't automatically give games (or art) quality.

But I'm sure Dust is a good game, otherwise. Don't get me wrong.

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Rockslide

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@Belvanie @Rockslide I didn't mean any offense either, and of course art quality is in the eye of the beholder, as it should be. Dean won an art contest in high school and had his character art hanging in the hall of the US congress for a year in 1997. Deviant art didn't exist until later, after the year 2000.

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capthavic

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@xDeadMarchx Eh her voice didn't really bother me but I can certainly understand how it could rub people the wrong way. Maybe as someone who has heard a fair amount of anime/jrpg dubs I've just heard waaaay worse voice acting :P

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sicboy041

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Edited By sicboy041

Honestly, when you consider what you're paying for in terms of a game of this quality, I find it hard to give it a 7 out of 10. I think it's somewhere north of 8.5 IMO. This is one of the best 2D platformers to come along in a long time. I've been playing it for several days now, and I'd have to put it right up there with games like Shadow Complex and Castlevania: SOTN. The only negative I would have would be the bosses. They could be bigger and a bit tougher. But other than that, the game is a a marvel. It looks fantastic, plays well, and has a nice assortment of action RPG elements. A must have for any Xbox 360 owners who loved playing games like Castlevania or Metroid. And to think, it was developed pretty much by one man. Incredible.

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DustoDust

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Overall a decent review, maybe people see it as being more on the negative side, simply since you spent a bit more time talking about the negatives, over the positives. I am a little curious about what sort of improvements to the combat system would have made it less shallow though. When you think of all the major classic side scrolling platformers out there (Ex. Metroid, castlevania.) they had very simple combat systems as well. Mainly, and this is my opinion, is that the focus of a platformer, is to explore, and in some cases get yourself into area's you're not quite supposed to be getting to earlier on because you master the moves. I believe this game did that masterfully. The enemies and combat are just an extra splash of spice that help you get to those area's sometimes, and to provide an obstacle. (Even if that obstacle over time becomes trivial or obnoxious, as is what happens in almost all side scrolling platformers.)

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whalesex

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I finished the game tonight and I feel that Tom is pretty spot on with his review. I personally would have rated it an 8 or so, but I can see why he graded it the way he did. The whole story kind of feels like a bad American attempt at anime. Moreover, with a few exceptions, the whole game puts off a furry vibe with the characters. The gameplay, however, is quite fun and it sucked me in just like all the other great metroidvania games out there. Combat is really fun for the first half but adding a few abilities to your sidekick is not enough to even out the experience. I'm not really a stickler like Tom is in this department, but I do not disagree that it becomes repetitive and can see why it is a point for contention.I'd also argue that the crafting system is pretty bad considering the lack of customization.

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capthavic

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The voice acting isn't THAT bad, in fact they do a pretty damn good job. And while the basic story isn't very original its done well and doesn't get in the way. But even if you can't get past those two things the artwork is (for the most part) very beautiful and well done, the combat is fun and flashy, and there is tons of exploration.

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Leboyo56

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@capthavic Plus, all the voice-acting is courtesy of Newgrounds users, who aren't even professionals (so obviously it's not perfect). Dean needed voice-talent, and knowing Newgrounds is a great way to get a large group of people together on one site who all openly love to volunteer on projects in their spare time, he simply left a community shout-out and bam, more than 30 people signed up to lend their talent presumably for free (since that's what NG is all about). Considering Dust has become one of the best-selling games on XBLA, the fact that all these volunteers are able to actually be paid now seems too good to be true. If Newgrounds' completely unnecessary adult-content side could be toned down, I'd say it's in the top ten best websites ever.

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awoody17

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@capthavic I agree. I thought the voice acting was rather good and I enjoy the combat. This is one review I have to disagree with.

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xDeadMarchx

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@awoody17 I bet the reviewer is refering to that little orange fox thing's voice. I find her voice to be as hilarious as her jokes.

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rip-a-stitch

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I have to admit that I love how active Tom is in the comments section. Usually when reviewers get bashed for pointless reasons they don't say anything but I am glad Tom gets on here and defends himself. From the endless horde of haters that have inhabited gamespot these past months.

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digi-demon

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Looks good - although its seems pretty much like a rip off of Vanillawares excellent Wii title 'Muramasa : The Demon Blade'

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Dust: An Elysian Tail

First Released Aug 15, 2012
released
  • iOS (iPhone/iPad)
  • Linux
  • Macintosh
  • Nintendo Switch
  • PC
  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox 360

Dust: An Elysian Tail is a side-scrolling action role-playing game with an emphasis on crazy combo-based action.

7
Good

Average Rating

294 Rating(s)

8.2
Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
Everyone 10+
Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Use of Tobacco