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Summer of Arcade is here again on Xbox Live. Last year brought us great hits like God-game From Dust. Can Summer of Arcade empty our wallets like it did this year? If Dust: An Elysian Tail is anything to go by, prepare to go broke.

Dust: An Elysian Tail is a success story of one man. Dean Dodrill designed most of this game on his own, and it exudes quality and attention to detail that rivals that of much larger companies. Dust won the 2009 Microsoft Dream.Build.Play Challenge and it was awarded a contract for an Xbox Live Arcade release. But can it hold its own against games from companies with more resources?

Dust is an action RPG set in a wonderfully hand-drawn 2D world, with amazing animation. You play as Dust, a warrior with no recollection of who he is, or even his real name. Urged onwards by a thirst for answers, a Nimbat named Fidget and a sentient sword, the Blade of Ahrah, that he somehow summoned to his side, Dust presses towards the nearest village.

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If you enjoyed the Metroid games, you will find the interface and navigation very familiar. Each ‘screen’ is represented by a square on your minimap, which shows exits, shops, save points and if there is any treasure. You run around, leaping over obstacles and vanquishing foes with your mighty sword. Dodging, launches, air juggles and magic all mesh together seamlessly, with the game rewarding you bonus XP for pulling off insane combo attacks.

Fighting monsters and completing quests nets you experience, which gives you a point to spend in upgrading one of your stats. The jumps between each upgrade are rather impressive, meaning you will feel the improvement immediately. An area that feels impossible could become passable in two or so levels. The caveat here is that your highest stat can’t exceed your lowest by more than four points, which makes for balanced levelling of your character. You can further improve your stats with armour and weapon enhancements, which you can either buy, loot or build at a forge. Make sure you open every chest you find, because the rewards are often really worth having.

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For the crafting of items, the game makes use of clever merchants to save you from grinding for materials. Once you have a material, sell it to a merchant. They will then add it to their catalogue of wares, and will restock those reagents periodically. This is especially useful for those quests that require 10 squid toenail clippings or those powerful armours that require several of the rarer materials.

There are multiple quests and exploratory abilities, which allow you to reach areas that were impossible earlier in the game. The use of a world map also means that you spend less time travelling through previous areas and more time looking for secrets and solving quests.

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Fidget is the cutest cowardly companion you could ever have on your journey. She is brimming with emotion and sometimes slightly on the crazy side. I couldn’t help but fall in love with her and her off-beat humour. The game also pokes fun at the meta, making reference to the screen and menus at comical intervals, adding humour and preventing the tone from getting too serious. The story is intriguing and immersive, with a myriad of interesting characters and concepts to be found in this world of anthropomorphic animals.

Oh and keep an eye out for the cameo appearances!

Overall: 9/10.

Taking about 9 hours to complete and close to 15 to master, this is a weighty title, offering more meat than some AAA games. The story is intriguing and the combat is quick, polished and easy to master. Personally, when it comes to XBLA games, Dust and Fez are currently tied for must-have game of the year. Dust proves that in an industry that demands hundreds of millions of dollars for a game, a single man, fuelled by passion, can capture the hearts and minds of players.

Dust: An Elysian Tale is available on XBLA for 1200 MSP, and it is definitely worth the points.

[Completed on normal.]

Last Updated: August 20, 2012

Dust: An Elysian Tail
Summary
9.0

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