When it comes to game development, the tale of one person toiling away to create the game of his or her dreams is something of a modern-day myth. Or at least it has been with modern-day consoles. Conventional wisdom tells us that modern games are too complex and require too much work to be created by one man. In the case of Dust: An Elysian Tail, conventional wisdom is wrong.
The winner of Microsoft's Dream.Build.Play contest in 2009, Dust is an upcoming Xbox Live Arcade title that has more or less been created by one man. A producer at Microsoft offered some gameplay feedback, and a second person was brought in to assist with some audio work, but the bulk of the development work, including all of the graphics and gameplay programming, was done by a single programmer. We point this out because Dust looks (and plays) like a game that had a medium-sized team working on it. Knowing it was developed by a single guy is just all that more impressive.
Microsoft had the first level of Dust (the same thing that you'll play this summer if you download the trial version) available for demo at its E3 booth. We eagerly grabbed the controller and took it for a spin.
After playing for a few minutes, the best way to describe Dust is by way of comparison. At its heart, Dust feels like a 16-bit platformer with 32-bit design sensibilities and the polish of current-generation hardware. It's the best elements of old school and new school all wrapped up in one shiny package.
Stepping into the shoes of the title character, you'll lead the mysterious warrior on a search for his true identity. Accompanying you on the journey is your sword, the mythical Blade of Ahrah and your smart-ass companion Fidget. Small in stature and big on attitude, Fidget servers as both comic relief and a built-in hint system for the preview build of the game. It's worth noting that Fidget's humor is expertly written, with the demo version being more than willing to break the fourth wall if necessary. Assuming this keeps throughout the full game, Humble Hearts may just have itself a breakout star. Fidget really is that cool.
When in motion, Dust looks like an anime cartoon come to life. Characters are detailed, and movement is fluid. There is a strong anime influence in both the character and level design. Strong contrast and high saturation make the visuals pop, and special effects are used to make special attacks pop. You'll find yourself wanting to use specials simply because the attacks look cool.
Dust maneuvers well, with combat feeling reactive. Using the Blade of Ahrah, you'll quickly bounce between opponents, landing a blow on one before switching to the next. Time it right, and it's easy enough to put together an impressive combo chain. Enemy difficultly appears to be tied to their size, with the larger beasts being more difficult to take down.
Tying it all together is a nifty loot system, obviously designed to appeal to players who like to upgrade items and tweak with their inventory. Quests, which are doled out by local villagers, add in a light RPG flair.
Microsoft has five titles lined up for this year's Summer of Arcade, but in terms of anticipation, Dust is easily at the top of our "most wanted" list. Keep an eye out for this one. If it lives up to the demo, it may just be one of this summer's must-have titles.
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