Within the Nintendo Switch’s lifespan, I have found myself playing many ports of titles that I would otherwise not play due to the convenience and portability of playing on the console. Dust: An Elysian Tail, from developer Humble Hearts, is a beautiful 2D action platformer that I never gave the time of day to play due to hoping it would come to the PS Vita or another handheld. Thankfully, it is out now on the Switch and this may just be the definitive way to play it.
The story of Dust: An Elysian Tail is centered around a young warrior named Dust, someone who awakens in the middle of a forest with no memory of who he is or how he got there. Only that he wakes up to find a magical sword flying towards him, along with its guardian named Fidget. Together, the three of them set out on a journey to discover who Dust is and find out where his destiny lies in the world.
I found the story aspect very RPG-like with the protagonist suffering from amnesia and trying to figure out who he is, but there is a lot of other charm as well. Amongst all the seriousness of many of the world’s problems that you discover on your journey, Fidget provides clever entertainment and comedy as an important character, but also comic relief. Whenever she chimes in with a main quest or side quest scene, she throws in a lot of humorous dialogue, sarcasm, and even references to other video games.
When it comes to gameplay, Dust plays like a 2D Metroidvania title with lots of combat and some RPG elements added. As you play through the story you’re going to be navigating 2D areas fighting enemies and doing a good amount of exploration as you gain new abilities to explore more of the map. The elements that make Dust different from other Metroidvania titles are how you go through the levels and the RPG mechanics.
Many Metroidvanias involve lots of backtracking when you gain new abilities, but thankfully Dust makes it easier to navigate through areas. Each individual dungeon, town, or area is its own level that you can access on a point-to point map. Although it feels like you’re going through one giant world, you have the option of exiting an area through a save point’s teleport option and picking the area from your map you need to get to. This eliminated much of the backtracking associated with these types of games and it’s appreciated.
Progression in Dust is relatively linear in regards to where you’re going through each area, but the RPG elements keep the environments more open in most chapters of the story. You always unlock a new hub town full of NPC’s you can talk to for receiving side missions and some of these side missions have their own dungeons that they take place in. This gives you a few exclusive areas that you can go and explore if you don’t want to just go through the main quest.
Gameplay centers around these 2D areas with lots of platforms, enemies to fight, and a few light puzzles to solve in the form of leading bombs through areas in order to open up new paths. The main thing you’ll be doing in all these areas though is combat, due to there being a great number of varied enemy types to dispose of.
Combat is very hack-and-slash in nature with Dust using a huge sword that can perform various combos with each button having its own attack motion. Despite the fact that Dust: An Elysian Tail mocks itself for being a button masher, there’s much more to the combat than that. You’ve got some extensive and strategic combos that you have to perform in order to parry certain enemies and bosses. In projectile team-based attacks, Dust and Fidget can use a storm ability along with Fidget’s projectiles to create giant AOE (area of effect) magic based attacks, not only for solving some puzzles, but also clearing out the screen of enemies very quickly when you get overwhelmed.
You gain experience, material, and money each time you defeat enemies or accept and complete quests. Much like many other RPG’s, experience allows you to level up and allocate points to various skills and stats. Stats can be enhanced further by using all of the materials to synthesize new equipment from blueprints that are dropped from enemies and found in hidden chests when you gain new abilities to access new areas.
Graphically, Dust looks absolutely beautiful and every time I look at the visuals I completely forget that this game was designed by one person. The art is hand-drawn and looks beautiful almost like another a breathtaking game from developer Vanillaware’s catalogue. Environments look clear and pristine, whether you’re playing in docked or handheld mode and the performance stayed pretty much perfect throughout my play through, with only a few framerate drops hindering my experience.
Overall, Dust: An Elysian Tail is a lovingly crafted action platformer that doesn’t seem like it was created by only just one man. This is a quality title with the visuals and talented voice-acting really providing an engaging and wonderful story. It doesn’t take that long to complete and a few framerate drops are unfortunate, but anyone who likes 2D platformers with a hint of comedy will enjoy Dust.