Imagine if Disney joined forces with Rankin/Bass
(producers of 1977's The Hobbit
, 1982's The Last Unicorn
and various cartoons like ThunderCats
) and made a beat 'em up RPG. Now imagine that instead of all that, one guy
made a game that pretty much equals what you'd get otherwise. He didn't have the relentless marketing or the massive capital of Disney, etc., yet he still sold 1 mil plus copies of Dust
, and why? 'Cause it ain't bad, ain't bad at all.
The star of this game is the combat, which needs only one word to describe it: fun. Right there, Dust
nails the cardinal rule of gamemaking: make it fun
. And it is. Early on, you obtain the bulk of your magical-talking-sword-fighting mechanics with a whirling dervish sword attack called the Dust Storm and magical projectiles from your cheerfully snarky companion, Fidget, which combined make it possible to let loose ridiculous combos on your opponents, by combining a few staple sword moves with the two aforementioned special moves and the fact that Dust Storm will launch you into the air so you can endlessly slash at monsters all the way across the screen, high up into the air and back down again with nary a pause in the combat 'til they're all dead. Again: fun. Simple, uncomplicated fun. There's a lot of combat across 10+ areas, and if you backtrack (which you will if you want to track down the secrets/collectibles which include a lot of fun little nods to other indie darlings) it does unfortunately get a little tiny bit old because the earlier enemies do not level with you, but it's such a small gripe because it's still just plain fun
to tear the crap out of them with the incredibly responsive swordplay. If I had any caveat
about the combat it would be to advise you to play the game on a harder difficulty than normal; I more or less suck at twitch combat and I found myself breezing through the majority of it on normal. So, just a thought.
My enjoyment of the combat in Dust
far outshined anything else during my time with the game, which is great because -- and here's where I have to be a little bit of a jerk -- my first impressions were less than sparkling. I picked up Dust
in a Humble Bundle, and probably would not have bought it by itself because it is marketed exactly as how I described it in the beginning of this review: it heavily features anthropomorphized animals in the Disney tradition and the story and voiceacting has a distinctly "anime" feel to it, and to be completely honest, neither of those are what I look for in games. Or anywhere else for that matter. I'll leave it at that; suffice to say, I was not expecting to be wowed by Dust
from the first few minutes of the game. Having played through it, I would have to say that Dust
hits the sweet spot of having great appeal to its core audience and at the same time having enough artistic chops to satisfy the rest of us who aren't perhaps into the same thing. There's a lot of comic relief in the banter between the main character and his companion, and a few touching moments in the story, an otherwise plain "who the hell am I" plot. It's not as bad as it could be, though some of the voiceacting really borders on laughable and/or unlistenable at times. This is all just my opinion, of course, so don't hit me or anything; fact of the matter is that this will appeal to some people and not others. If you can get past the trappings of the story, there is an awesome game waiting underneath, it's just a question of how much eye-rolling you're willing to put up with.
And here's another reason you should just suck it up: the art in this game is freaking gorgeous. Every new level is hand-painted and lovingly animated, with special mention for the waterfalls in the underground levels. Just pure eye-candy, and it looks even better while you're kicking tail all over the place. It is clear that the development of Dust
was very much a labor of love, because I repeat, the art is beautiful!
It's a very fun game, it's an amazing achievement for such a small studio, and it serves as a good reminder not to judge a book by its cover.