Of all the upcoming indie games created with Microsoft's XNA tools, Dean Dodoril's Dust: An Elysian Tail is perhaps the best known. This is because a.) it's beautiful and b.) Dodoril's lupine protagonist (the eponymous Dust) provides easy fodder for furry jokes.
Let's be honest, here -- there's a reason that Dust won the Dream.Build.Play competition. Dean Dodoril's solo (!) project might not be as innovative as, say, Cadenza's Sol Survivor, but it's a highly-polished, intuitive side-scrolling brawler-cum-action RPG that will suck you in with its oil-slick combat and Muramasa-pretty visuals. The real news here, however, is that Dust represents the efforts of one dad and "roughly 6 months" of hard work.
I'm going to tackle the most obvious and eye-catching part of Dust -- its visuals -- first, so that I can move onto something more interesting. Dead Dodoril's hand-drawn animation is graceful and smooth (Dust's walking animation aside) and the colors are bright and vibrant. This attention to visual detail seems to stem from the fact that Dodoril is also working on a traditional animated film called -- wait for it -- Elysian Tail.
With that in mind, I'm a little concerned that Dust might just be a vehicle for Dodoril's multi-medium fantasy epic. In the half-hour segment that I played, most of the plot was delivered through some text-only interactions between Dust, his Miles Prower-inspired sidekick Fidget, and his talking sword Ahrah as they traipse through the world of Falana. What I've seen of the story seems to be a basic fantasy affair delivered rather blandly.
Dust's main draw, however, is the 2D platforming and brawling. The controls will be familiar to anyone who's ever played a modern action game: there's a light attack, a heavy attack, and a projectile, courtesy of Fidget. Holding the heavy attack creates an overly-useful spin attack that can be combined with Fidget's projectiles to create a missile swarm that easily dispatched everything I found in the first section.
Dust: An Elysian Tail won the Dream.Build.Play and Xbox Live Indie Games People's Choice competitions and will be up for consideration for Xbox Live Arcade . In the meantime, no platform has been officially announced, but an Xbox Indie Games release seems probable.
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