The single-plane side-scrolling beat-'em-up is alive and well. There aren't exactly a plethora of them, but the ones that are available are quite good, with Dragon's Crown, Dust: An Elysian Tale and Shank being some of the best in the field. It's not a crowded genre, so there's always room for an upstart to surprise people, and that's what PD Design Studio did with Dusty Revenge, its first major title for the PC.
Dusty Revenge is set in a mix between the Old West and Steampunk/Electrical Age populated by anthropomorphic animals. You play the role of Dusty, a bunny that wants to leave behind his tumultuous past and settle down on the farm with his love, Daisy. Things don't go as planned. One night, Dusty returns to find his farmhouse burning and the love of his life dead. Three shadowy figures leave him with a scar as they flee the crime scene. After regaining consciousness, Dusty sets out for revenge.
The story is simple in its setup and maintains that simplicity throughout, even if it sometimes gets a little heavy-handed. There are some expected story turns, such as allies teaming up with the hero because of their own agendas against a mastermind named Kraven. There aren't any twists in the tale, and the characters are one-dimensional. Story was never a big thing in this genre, and the game doesn't try to buck that trend. The story can get surprisingly dark, though. Despite the use of anthropomorphic animals in the cast, the plot can get quite gruesome, with blood splatter and characters' heads getting ripped off. It isn't extremely graphic, but the game isn't meant for kids, despite the appearance of the cast.
Dusty has three types of attacks that use different weapons. His light attacks use his fists and feet. Strong attacks utilize his scythe, which has slower execution but increased attack power and range. Distance attacks let him cause some damage with dual pistols or a shotgun. Both the light and strong attacks transition well into combos, which expand rather nicely when you level up. If you need extra help, you can call on one of your two compatriots. The big bear Rondel launches rockets to hit large mobs of enemies and break down touch barriers. The hound McCoy uses a sniper rifle to hit switches, free boxes from their cables and shoot down enemies.
The combat makes the game enjoyable. The flashy combos add some spark to the combat, and the somewhat uncomplicated system makes it easy for players to execute great-looking combos without learning difficult button sequences. Combos are air- and ground-based, giving the game a Devil May Cry flavor without resorting to 3-D. The game also does a good job of balancing platforming and fighting, and it even throws in some light puzzle aspects for good measure. Coupled with a good checkpoint system, adequate difficulty and a decent amount of gameplay, and you have the recipe for a game that is fun and worthwhile for genre fans.
Unfortunately, the good, varied combat and interesting boss fights are dragged down by other elements. The combat shows some flaws when you use any of the assists. The automatic blocking doesn't always activate, resulting in some free hits for enemies. Foes also don't get hurt by their own ordnance, so you'll get shot out of your attacks. Some hitboxes are improperly aligned with the sprites to the point where attacks pass through an enemy without damaging him or her. The camera also has a tendency to not cooperate, since it's a bit dynamic instead of sticking you in the middle. This becomes problematic when platforming is introduced in the latter half of the game and the camera stays put instead of moving with you; you'll be forced to make blind leaps in order to progress.
Then there are the various bugs that creep in now and again. Scrolling through your moves list can sometimes result in blank lists where button prompts should be. Performing certain actions during a scene shift can get you stuck. Performing some assist moves during boss fights can cause the enemy's special attack to stay on-screen longer, unexpectedly ramping up the difficulty. There was even a crash that occurred after dying at a boss fight. The ending of the game simply cycled to the opening montage video instead of playing the credits. The lack of polish is evident, and the hope is that most of these issues will be patched soon.
Perhaps the worst part of Dusty Revenge is the execution of the controls. While the light and heavy attacks are fine, shooting your guns isn't as smooth because both firearms are handled with the same button. Tapping the button makes you use your pistols while holding it down makes you use your shotgun. Far too often in the heat of combat, you'll shoot your pistols when you wanted to fire a shotgun blast, and vice versa. Opening chests is also annoying because a button needs to be held down for the action, and the accompanying animation makes the whole thing feel slow. You can also accidentally cancel the action by not holding down the button until the animation is complete.
The biggest offender to the controls has to be the responsiveness. You'll often dash in one direction for no reason despite holding down the desired direction instead of double-tapping it. The game sometimes registers a jump press too early or doesn't realize the button is being held down, resulting you landing in a pit. Attacks, combo strings and projectile volleys can go on far too long due to extra button presses the game thinks you made. The same thing occurs with the assists from McCoy or Rondel: They can sometimes get cancelled without your input or give you control too early, resulting in you dashing away from an enemy when you wanted to go toward him. Even McCoy's aiming can be fidgety because the mouse, right analog stick and left analog stick all perform the same aim function and contradict each other, causing the crosshairs to move wildly. With some practice and anticipation, one can work around these issues, but that shouldn't have been necessary.
Graphically, Dusty Revenge is quite beautiful. The character sprites, while not exceptionally large, are very detailed. The scars on enemies, grimaces when someone gets hit, and the gritting of teeth when shooting a shotgun are all visible and look great. The animations are also quite smooth, with rarely a hitch during transitions. The backgrounds are also nicely detailed, and the use of a watercolor-style of cel-shading adds to the visual flair. There's a lack of any real particle effects, though. Smoke is rarely used, and even then, it looks simple when compared to the other visuals. Laser barriers simply fade instead of pulsate, making you think it's part of the background instead of something lethal, and downed barriers and platforms simply fall or fade away without any ceremony. When compared to the rest of the game, the lack of spectacular effects makes the title feel a little blander.
Unlike the graphics, the sound doesn't fare quite as well. There are only two voices in the game, both of which only play during cut scenes. While Dusty's father sounds fine in his brief segment, Dusty lacks the expected emotion, considering the recent events in his life. He doesn't sound forced, but his inflections never change. It also doesn't help that he sounds like a gruff version of Jean-Claude Van Damme. The sound effects also vary wildly in their quality. While anything coming from Dante and friends sounds fine, enemy effects fall under three categories: they'll play fine, they'll play but lack any power behind the effect, or they'll simply go silent on certain actions. You get the feeling that the money ran out when they were working on the audio because explosions don't have the same punch as a shotgun blast, and sword slashes and machine gun fire are completely silent. On the bright side, even though the music doesn't match what's expected from a Western theme, it's rather good and is a nice accompaniment to the action.
Dusty Revenge has lots of potential and looks very eye-catching. The combat system is satisfying enough despite some cheap enemy tactics, and the boss fights are quite good. However, the camera/HUD issues and the limited use of sound is disappointing, and collision issues and bugs pop up often. The varying quality on the controls can infuriate, especially during the platforming segments in the latter half of the game. For $10, the experience is still worth it but only if you've already played the better titles in the genre.
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