Dust is an amnesiac with a surprising expertise for using the sword… oh, did I scare you off already? Don’t run yet because as tired as the premise may seem, there’s more to it than just that. You see, Dust: An Elysian Tail is an action-packed sidescrolling adventure game with metroidvania elements. It’s a bit of a mishmash of the best elements of everything… and they somehow make them all work together as we follow Dust on his quest to rediscover his past and unlock his memories.
I really think the biggest asset are the characters. Dust is a great blank slate for them to paint a character onto, but would really fall flat if not for the support of one of the best supporting characters I’ve ever seen: Fidget. Fidget is a small flying creature (called a Nimbat) who has a great sense of humour and a sarcastic attitude. The other side character, Dust’s sentient sword Ahrah, offers a mysterious counterpoint to the other two. Both Dust and Fidget are largely ignorant in what is going on… while Ahrah always seems to know more than he’s telling. The three make for a very dynamic trio, and one that keeps the story moving.
The game tells two stories… one personal, one grand. The personal story, Dust’s search for his history, grounds the tale in a way that makes it relatable. This is important, since the larger story, a power-mad King’s genocidal quest to rid the world of a peaceful race known as the Moonbloods, is both tragic and on almost too grand a scale. The two stories tie together intricately as we approach the game’s ending, but work independently to push matters ever-forward, spiraling towards a seemingly inevitable conclusion.
Dust’s combat is surprisingly simple yet addictive. It has a very basic combo system… one that is not really worth noting simply because you rarely use it. Most of the fighting is accomplished through use of Fidget’s spells and Dust’s signature ability: the Dust Storm.
The Dust Storm is a fantastic special ability that – when used while stationary – causes Dust to spin his sword in a whirling flurry of death, sucking everything inward to its demise. That is fun enough on its own, but when used while jumping the Dust Storm causes him to fly through the sky at a high pace while creating that same flurry of death. It’s immensely satisfying, and made even more so by its interaction with Fidget’s spells.
If you use any of Fidget’s three abilities while the Dust Storm is active, the ability is altered and amplified. Combine the Dust Storm with Fidget’s normal shot, and instead of firing a few projectiles, you get hundreds of the blue magic shots swarming around enemies. Combine it with the fireballs, and you get giant pillars of fiery doom. Or my personal favourite, combine it with the lightning spell and you get a mess of chain-lightning bouncing between enemies causing havoc.
Probably the biggest downside is the game’s crafting system… which is very dry and uninteresting. There are a ton of items you can craft, and recipes can be found all over… but Dust has one of those incredibly specific systems that requires large numbers of very particular materials to make anything. Fortunately, once you’ve sold an item to the game’s travelling merchant, he’ll begin to stock that item and you can buy it from him for crafting. This lightens the burden a bit, but doesn’t make the system more satisfying – just less frustrating.
Dust isn’t the longest game, and the ending left a bit to be desired, but I had a ton of fun with it. It’s a great game to just have some fun with, although the combat does get a bit repetitive over time since you really never need to use anything but the Dust Storm. But it is a good enough mechanic that it never stops being fun.