Game Title: Dust An Elysian Tail
Company: Dean Dodrill, Humble Hearts
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Availability: Retail (LRG), Digital Download
Battery Life: 3.5 – 4.5 hours
Download: 996 MB

In today’s world, there are many games out there in the indie world that you hear about being made by a one, two, or three-person team. Among all of the one-person games, you do see a few gems here and there, but not many of those gems also have a high production value. As great as Stardew Valley is, it is still inspired and made like retro games from way back when.

One of those one-man games that did have a very high production value and amount of charm that I’ve wanted handheld for a long time is Dust from Dean Dodrill. I actually reached out to him years back about bringing it to the PS Vita, but it wasn’t on his to-do list.

Thankfully, once the Switch happened, he came to the handheld world (outside of the Mobile port, that is). Now that I’ve not only had the opportunity to play it on the go, but play it early thanks to a review code from the dev, himself, here is my review of Dust: An Elysian Tail for the Nintendo Switch!

Story

dust 2 - story

Dust is centered around a young warrior named Dust, who awakens in the middle of the forest with no memory of who he is or where he’s from. Upon meeting a magical sword and its guardian, Fidget, the three of them set out on a journey to discover who Dust is and where their destiny lies.

The story of this game is very charming and RPG-like, showcasing a journey as Dust and Fidget go around the world, discovering what’s going on in said world along with slowly discovering who Dust is and what his journey is leading him towards.

What I like the most about this game, outside of the fact that it has full voice-acting, is the amount of references and comedy in the dialogue. In almost every scene, you have lots of serious stuff going on, with Fidget always being able to put comedy and various media and video game references. Her dialogue always had me laughing in nearly every scene.

Gameplay

dust 3 - gameplay

Dust is a 2D Metroidvania with lots of combat and RPG elements thrown into the mix. As you play through the game, you’ll be navigating 2D areas, fighting enemies, and doing a bunch of exploration.

Progression is fairly linear, but the RPG elements help keep this more open. In each chapter, you have new dungeons and areas open up, but every hub town you find for that chapter contain a bunch of NPCs with side-quests both in the main dungeons and extra dungeons that are reserved for side quests and optional areas, giving you a bunch of different stuff to do each chapter in different locations, from side-quests to using keys to open special treasure chests.

When you’re trekking through the game’s areas, your task is labeled on your map. To get there, you’ll have to travel from room to room, platforming around to find paths to the surrounding rooms and fighting off monsters that attack you to open up those paths. There’s also a certain puzzle element with blocked paths and bombs you can lead around obstacles to clear up the blocked area.

dust 4 - combat

Considering nearly every room with enemies blocks exits, you’ll be doing a lot of combat as you travel through this world. The game is like a hack n slash game with sword attacks, but you have several different combo attacks you can do with Y and X for variety and with how you attack different enemies. You also have a parry system, where you can block enemy attacks to stun them and counterattack, which is needed for many larger characters, like bosses.

You also have options with an energy gauge and projectile attacks. There is a Dust Storm attack you can perform both on the ground and in the air to combine with projectiles from Fidget to create massive AoE Magic Attacks, like Fire Pillars or webs of Lightning Bolts. This uses an energy gauge, which does massive damage to enemies but has to be recharged by doing normal attack combos.

dust rpg

Upon defeating enemies, you gain experience, materials, and money. The RPG elements start to show up here, as you level up from gaining experience and have stats that you can increase with points gained from leveling. The materials are used later for synthesizing new equipment to increase your stats further and add effects, like health regen.

Although the game even mocks itself for being a button-masher, there’s a lot of strategy thrown into a lot of the enemies. Towards the end, you can’t just button-mash as many enemies have guard abilities and you have to be careful about what you’re doing and when to exploit their weaknesses without taking massive amounts of damage, yourself. It brings it out of just another button-masher to a game that’s got some thinking involved, even if you pop down to the Casual Diffficulty.

As far as time is concerned, Dust will eat up a fair chunk of your time. Depending on how many side-quests you do, the game should last you around 8-10 hours, at least. The game has in-game Achievements/Trophies, so you could probably add at least another 5 hours on top of that if you’re a completionist.

Controls

The way you control this game is pretty easy. First of all, the game does not use touch controls, having a basis closer to the console versions of Dust than the Mobile version of the game.

You move around with either the Left Analog Stick and the Arrow Buttons / D-Pad. The L and R triggers are used for using healing items and swapping between Fidget’s projectile attacks. ZL and ZR are used for dodging left and right, which can also be done with the Right Analog Stick.

The face buttons are more interaction-based. B is used for jumping and A is used the rest are used for attacks. X and Y are used for melee attacks and A is used for projectile attacks.

Presentation

dust 6 - pres

Graphically, the game’s hand-drawn art style looks beautiful and reminds me of games like Odin Sphere and Muramasa from Vanillaware. In docked and handheld, the characters, effects, and environments look beautiful, colorful, and flawlessly rendered.

The character renders during story scenes are a fair bit blurry and fuzzy, though. This has been known to happen in other versions of the game, but definitely gives a slight imperfection to an otherwise-beautiful graphical presentation.

In terms of audio, there is a bit of an audio imbalance in the game. The introduction doesn’t have voice-acting when it should and there are some areas where the voice volume levels are dramatically lower than they should be. However, there is already a patch in certification to fix this, so it should be fixed very soon.

I did have one issue in terms of performance, though. The fps is stable, but I encountered a crashing issue upon a specific story scene being played early in the game. When I encountered it, it crashed every time without fail until I reverted back to an earlier save and caught back up to that point of the game. Once I did that, everything went through fine, so it’s currently unknown if this is a widespread issue or a secluded one.

Battery Life

In terms of Battery, you get quite a bit of time per charge here. Here are my times, from 100% to 0%

Max Brightness + Wi-Fi – 3 hours, 24 minutes
Max Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 3 hours, 50 minutes

Low Brightness + Wi-Fi – 4 hours, 31 minutes
Low Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 4 hours, 42 minutes

I was pleasantly surprised with these readings.

In conclusion, Dust: An Elysian Tail is a beautiful platformer that’s hard to tell it wasn’t made by a large gaming company. Although there are some hiccups in the Switch version with the audio imbalancing and blurry cutscene renders, anyone who likes 2D platformers and comedy in their games can’t go wrong with Dust.

Final Score: 8/10