That's half of my 4 in February quest complete, coincidentally done so at almost the exact halfway point of the month. I finished Dust: An Elysian Tail on February 15th, but reviews take awhile to write. So sue me.
Personal history time: zero. Dust: An Elysian Tail (henceforth called Dust) is an action-adventure-platformer of sorts that came out on XBLA two years ago and Steam last year. I won a Steam copy in an RPG trivia contest (really) last summer and finally got around to it in the second week of February. So yeah, it's a new game that I was interested in and I'm playing it for the first time. I used a 360 controller to play it, which was probably a good call.
I need to say it straight out: Dust is very, very pretty. It took animator Dean Dodrill roughly 3.5 years to make Dust, and the quality of the character and environment art and animations is STELLAR. And when I say one guy made Dust, I'm not kidding. Mr. Dodrill did all of the planning, coding, art assets, animation, and most of the writing. He hired HyperDuck SoundWorks (Rain-Slick 4!) to do the soundtrack and game audio and a casting studio to provide the voice acting. That's insane. It is ludicrous to me that a game this gorgeous and detailed was essentially made by one person.
Seriously, one guy made this. What the fuck.
So yeah, back to the review. HyperDuck's musical score is great and the Dust looks gorgeous. Most of Dust's core gameplay is combo-driven combat that can get pretty intense and stylish. Lots of sword combos, and a few simple projectiles that transform if you hit them with your sword before they land (Those are the most fun; especially the lightning one). Your opponents are anthropomorphic animals (mostly reptiles) and traditional monsters like goblins and ogres. Eventually you fight some giant spiders, rock monsters, and other video game mobs. Dust has four nifty little boss battles, but all of them are against human-sized enemies. Not quite as Metro-Vania in that respect.
Speaking of Metro-Vania, the environments are mostly linear stages, but there are some parts of the various zones that reward re-visitation with late-game skills. It's not as elaborate or navigation-heavy as a good Metroid or Castlevania game (or even Guacamelee!, really), but pretty nice to explore. Still gorgeous to behold. There are five large zones to explore (one principle one for each chapter) plus four or five smaller stages. My favorites were the third and fourth chapters, which have the most non-linear exploration and the most platforming, respectively.
Dust starts out a little slow, with the stages and enemies in the second half of the game WAY more interesting than those in the first half. Once you have a wall-jump and double-jump the game feels less linear and more freewheeling. Dust has a few neat story ideas (very cartoony and melodramatic), but the writing is... okay I guess. It's clear that Dodrill is an animator and not an author. Ironically, the animated sequences don't look as good as the in-game animations, but that could be a resolution issue more than anything else. Still, I enjoyed the story and the ending somewhat leaves an open window for a sequel. I'd play that.
Dust has a huge amount of extra content to find, and I'm honestly not sure how much I got. I found MOST of the best equipment in the game (the crafting and loot systems are quite well done in Dust), but not the best sword augment, much to my chagrin. I don't think I got 100% in any of the large area maps. There are something like 8 to 12 secret "friends" to find (they're characters from other XBLA games, like Meat Boy and The Kid from Bastion) and I only located three. So there's plenty of stuff to explore if you're thorough and don't mind re-running a few stages. I beat the game in about 9 hours, but a more prepared gamer could easily do it faster and someone with Video Game Map OCD could easily break a dozen hours combing through everything.
So yeah, Dust is a beautiful little action game, with decent combat and gorgeous (but sorta simple) environments. I'm not even sure if it's a platformer or a hack-and-slash action game. But Dust is a hell of a package, and I'm still reeling from the fact that it was made by One. Fucking. Dude.
Games Beaten: 2014 Edition
1. Ys Seven
2. Rayman Origins
3. Assassin's Creed II
4. Dust: An Elysian Tail
I'm past the halfway point on Telltale's The Walking Dead and probably a little short of halfway done in Mark of the Ninja. Finishing this 4 in February thing is well within reach. Time to get back on that.