I don't know about you…
But Star Fox is about all the furry I can stand in my video games, and you don't even see those guys that much. They're all too busy in their spaceships, flying around, shooting stuff, and chasing after Ghost-Dad.
So you can imagine my reluctance to play through Dust: An Elysian Tail for the Xbox 360. Developed by Humble Hearts and scheduled last in this year's Summer of Arcade XBLA lineup, Dust never had a lot riding on it. Were our expectations sufficiently low or can Dust bat clean up?
Dust was originally planned for release on the 360's Indie Games Channel; however, following the Dream.Build.Play Challenge in 2009, Dust got a contract for full release on XBLA. Titular hero Dust is an amnesiac with a penchant for swinging a sword, and it just so happens that his sword is a talking weapon called Ahrah, complete with a little fairy-fox guardian named Fidget. *GROAN*
I decided it was in everyone's best interest that I skip through as much dialogue and story as possible, or else let Dust suffer a fate much worse than the amnesia he's already got: me bitching for 1000 words in this review.
While my interest in the title was all but killed within the first five minutes thanks to this intolerable premise, Dust's furious combat quickly did away with my apprehension. While you'll mostly mash the X button, the Y button can be thrown in for lifting enemies into the air, adding a little oomph to your combo or spinning your blade in a whirlwind.
Fidget can also be called upon for a projectile attack. Combining that magical ability with the whirlwind of your blade creates a tornado of damage, racking up the combo multiplier. Within an hour of gameplay I had achieved a 500-hit combo, just with these few early moves.
If you're having trouble visualizing, (check out the video above and) think back to Wii's Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Sticking to a 2D plane means enemies are easy to line up but difficult to maneuver around. It's easiest to slice and dice right through them.
While I might not find the story of Dust and his merry band of animal creatures very compelling, there's a lot to love here. Notably, the animations and environments are sharp, crisp, and fluid. I'm not in love with the character designs, but personal preference has gotten in between me and a lot of great things before too.
What's truly notable about Dust: An Elysian Tail is that the developer Humble Hearts is actually only one man. In this day and age, where a studio of dozens of individuals can fuck up a game that's already been made for them, it's unthinkable that Dean Dodrill created Dust from the ground up with his own two hands.
What's more, Dust is actually quite enjoyable, deep, and even pays homage to other XBLA greats in the form of easter eggs. Exploring every nook and cranny in the massive 2D world is its own reward.
Frankly, I wag my finger in Microsoft's direction for sitting on this title since 2009, for dumping it in the back corner of their horrid Summer of Arcade lineup this year, and for not offering Dean a contract as a lead on another game right away.
If you've got a penchant for 2D brawling, old-school side-scrolling, and an ability to overlook way too many furry characters, Dust: An Elysian Tail is well worth your time and your money. It's certainly the best game in this year's Summer of Arcade lineup.