Dust: An Elysian Tail Hands-On – Don’t Let The Art Style Trick You

By Kris . June 8, 2012 . 3:33pm

Yes, the titular character in Dust: An Elysian Trail is a blue fox that walks like a person and is accompanied by a smaller flying fox, but if you can’t get over that, you’d be denying yourself one of the most responsive 2D action games I’ve ever played.


Outside of the hand-painted art (all done by one guy!), the first thing I noticed during my hands-on time with the game was how fast and fluid the combat feels. Action games often have a challenge balancing complex animation and responsive controls, and one is generally always sacrificed in favour of the other. That doesn’t apply to Dust, however. I don’t know what devil magic Dean Dodrill used to make this work, but the game is even faster than Metal Gear Rising.


For the most part, combos are kept simple. The game takes the Devil May Cry approach instead of the Bayonetta approach: it gives you a few combos and expects you to learn what they do. At first, the Y button doesn’t do a thing in the demo unless it’s comboed into with X. Dust’s attacks are limited, but they chain together very well, and the inputs comfortably familiar. Like Ninja Gaiden, XY is a launcher, and XXXY in the air will make Dust grab the enemy with the hook of his sword and smash it to the ground. Not quite an Izuna drop, but the same in action.


Every attack animation but one (the end of XXYY, in which Dust grabs an enemy and flips it over his head) can be cancelled out of with a dodge roll, performed in the left or right directions by the respective trigger buttons. Dodge rolls themselves can be cancelled out of with attacks or jumps. Jumping out of a dodge roll can even launch you in the direction you’ve rolled with more forward momentum than you’d have if you were just running. You have an immense amount of control you have over Dust, and it makes the combat extremely fluid.


Because of the level of control, and the sheer amount of enemies you’re fighting, combat involves constantly moving all around the screen. Attacks in the air will draw Dust closer to airborne enemies, expanding his range of motion to the sky. In addition to his dodge roll, Dust can also parry any enemy by timing his attack to collide with theirs, which was a requirement to expose the heavily armored boss of the demo to damage. Finally, while melee attacks alone fill the screen with particles and bend the air around you, combat really becomes a spectacle when you incorporate projectiles in the mix.


Projectiles (used with B) feel pretty underpowered on their own. In the E3 demo, Fidget, Dust’s flying companion, would shoot out a few balls of energy, but they didn’t do a whole lot of damage. However, you may recall I mentioned earlier that the Y button didn’t do anything at the start of the demo either. After beating a mid-boss, Dust gained the Dust Storm ability. Holding Y on the ground would cause Dust to spin his blade in front of him like a pinwheel, and firing a projectile into that would multiply it and spew energy in all directions, lighting up the screen like a bullet hell shooter.


Holding the button in the air would cause Dust to spin through the air in any direction(think Wolverine’s "drill claw" in Marvel vs. Capcom), and could still divide and amplify Fidget’s projectiles. There are two main limitations to this method: projectile use is limited by a regenerating meter, and Dust will hurt himself if he continues using Dust Storm for too long. 


At one point, I was faced with a spellcaster who bore more than a passing resemblance to the Grim Reaper. He spewed fireballs and would teleport whenever I tried to hit him with melee attacks. Considering how weak Fidget’s spells were on their own, the battle became a challenge of carefully using Dust Storm to amplify my magic while rolling around to dodge the explosions of fire.


Fighting without getting hit builds up chains. The higher your chain goes, the more experience you get. Dust starts off the game with all of his combos in place, and extra abilities are gained by finding fancy glowing orbs, so I was curious as to the benefits of leveling up. Leveling up allows you to allocate skill points into upgrades to health, attack, defense, and Fidget’s magic. Naturally, I put everything into attack.


Dust: An Elysian Tail will be released this on XBLA this summer as part of Microsoft’s "Summer of Arcade" promotion. A price has not yet been announced.


Food for Thought:


1. While the demo I played only hinted at the game’s more exploratory aspects, Dust is structured like and has a couple of nods to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Dust’s double jump has him sprouting wings like Alucard, numbers popped out of enemies every time I hit them, and I was able to equip recovery items (like a roasted turkey) to LB to use on the fly.


2. The game’s story is being kept under wraps, but the dialogue between Dust, Fidget, and his sentient sword was pretty funny, especially considering that it was being used as tutorial. One of my favorite lines was Fidget’s description of an enemy: "It has evil knife hands!"


3. The full game will have four difficulties: Casual, Normal, Hard, and Insane. If the demo looks this chaotic, I can’t wait to see what the game looks like on the hardest difficulty.

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  • Holy crap, this looks amazing! We definitely need more games like this. I will be keeping an eye on this.

    • superdry

      This is looking really good.  Definitely going to keep an eye on this one, too. 

  • FitzpatrickPhillips

    I may think lowly of the Xbox360 but damn those XBLA games are always so good…sigh.

    • theoriginaled

      I know how you feel. This game is GORGEOUS in motion. xbla gets such fantastic eclectic titles

      • Yeah. 
        First Shadow Complex and now this.

        Why the PS3 and the PC can’t have such good games?

        • Kevadu

          Hey, Journey was awesome!

          And don’t forget Shatter.

          • Kris

            Shatter is delicious. Stranger’s Wrath HD and Everyday Shooter are also pretty great. XD

          • lol, Everyday Shooter, Shatter and Stranger’s Wrath I can already play them on the superior Steam Marketplace, why would i buy them on PSn?
            Exclusives people, they are not. A game like Journey is fine and all that, but not worth it for the 3 hours of gameplay. reason I disregard PSn entirely.

  • scratchbach

    Looks gorgeous. And fun. And highly purchasable. 

  • I was wondering what happened to this title.  They were talking about it years ago on YT and I assumed it just fell off the map.  Good to hear it’s still in development.  It had a lot of shine that reminded me of Odin Sphere when I initially looked at it and I wouldn’t mind seeing it get finished up here soon.

  • Solomon_Kano

    I need this in my life. This is sounding incredible, so I’ll definitely give it a go when it releases.

    • Kris

      If you think it sounds incredible, just wait until you play it. I was literally struck speechless at a couple points, an I’m a pretty talky guy.

      • Solomon_Kano

        Really? I really can’t wait to play it then.

  • Curse you Microsoft! I swear everytime I hear about a cool Digital Game coming out on the 360 it makes me even more inclined to get at least an Arcade 360 when I have funds again.

    • revenent hell

      ive thought this more than once. Everyday I become more inclined to buy one….Some realy great games have been flowing onto the 360(well ones ive personally thought where realy good) as of late and ive been debating more and more with myself….

  • Mike Pureka

     I’m just glad this is FINALLY coming out (and is good).  I’ve been pleased with the look of it for YEARS, and it’s about time I got a chance to give them some money for it. ;)

  • Okay, I’m getting this when it is released. This game sounds like something I would hate myself for missing. From the gorgeous artwork to the SotN style gameplay (at least what it sounds like), I must get this game.

  • Göran Isacson

    Waiting for Steam and something on the PC to get this in my greedy little hands. PC, don’t fail me now because I need me some ninja-bunny action.

    • Phlo

      IIRC, the dev was very specific in an E3 interview that this would be an XBLA exlusive. It’s safe to say that Microsoft funded the development, I think.

      • malek86

        Doesn’t mean it won’t eventually come, though. They might have only asked for time exclusivity. I don’t know if they really funded the development – perhaps they just promised marketing assistance. That’s happened a few times before, and it certainly worked well for both MS and the developers (Castle Crashers, Braid, Limbo, etc. were all very successful).

  • Go2hell66

    Yet another awesome 360 exclusive which i must play, thumbs crossed for a psn release

  • So I HAVE to buy the Elite version instead of the Arcade one? Dooooooooooooo’h

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