Review by Jon Morcom
Anthropomorphic animals can be a divisive fictional device. But if we can accept cities floating in the sky and assassins who can blink themselves across high rooftops, it shouldn't be too big a stretch to invest some belief in the cat-like samurai and his talking sword in Dust: An Elysian Tail. This obvious labour of love was developed near single-handedly by Dean Dodrill, whose background as an accomplished illustrator is so enjoyably evident in this exquisite-looking action RPG.
Eponymous and amnesic hero, Dust is on a quest to discover his true identity and establish who is ethnically cleansing the mystical world of Falana. As Dust, you carry the sentient Blade of Ahrah, a swishy bringer-of-death given to dispensing pearls of wisdom at key points in the story. Fidget, a 'nimbat' (a flying cross between a fox and a ginger tabby) is the guardian of the sword and your diminutive companion. Disconcertingly curvaceous with an irritating voice, Fidget punctuates this otherwise solemnly-related tale with some knowing, flippant remarks that keep the cloying earnestness at bay.
This port has received a lot of love, and the keyboard commands work well. WASD and space are used to move and jump, while J and K let you chain light and heavy strikes into combo streaks. L orders Fidget to throw a cluster of tiny fireballs into melee which, when combined with Dust's blade-spinning Dust Storm attack, become a blazing swarm that can sweep the screen of enemies. Dust Storm can also be used to wrangle explosive fruits and break through fragile walls, revealing secret areas or opening up paths to quest objectives. Completing quest and creating huge combo chains generates XP that lets you level up and assign a booster gem to Dust's attack power, toughness, or Fidget's spark-flinging ability.
The multifarious enemy creatures infesting Falana queue-up to be dispatched through combat that feels smooth and intuitive but may be too easy for some on Normal difficulty. Bosses require a bit more finesse - parry and avoid combined with some health bar whittling from Fidget's ranged attack. Indigenous hordes of goblins and rock giants will scatter loot and crafting materials across the scenery when they die, and the drops are generous and varied enough to make crafting almost redundant. Dust can equip buff-giving items and regenerate his health with everything from apples to the fully cooked roast chickens that fall out of walls when you break them.
A host of varied side quests complement the main story objectives, all of which open up different parts of the world map and provide tantalising glimpses of hidden areas that present some tricky navigational challenges. However, the game does suffer from some overly-long cutscenes which aren't entirely skip-able and frequently disrupt the immersion and the tempo. Commendably, the save system has multiple slots but the in-game save monuments are spaced such that an unexpected death can occasionally lead to some laborious replay.
Although the dialogue could use some judicious excising and the combat a bit more variation, the game rewards bold exploration with some imaginative platforming and beautiful, widely-varied environments. Never mind that on first look, Falana and its doe-eyed denizens presents like the sort of mind-numbing fodder Channel 5 screens early on a Saturday morning, this is a game with abundant cross-generational appeal. Dust: An Elysian Tail - the acceptable and furry face of fantasy violence.