So, at first, I wasn't overly impressed with this game. Sure, it was clearly an achievement since it was developed almost entirely by one man. Sure, it was fun to play. But, I mean, I've played this type of game countless times over the years. "ARISE AND SAVE THE WORLD, PROTAGONIST". Yawn. Right?
Dust takes cues from countless other games that have come before, and presents them in a way that feels fresh, engrosses you, and just provides you with sheer enjoyment that is honestly kind of rare these days.
Ok. Review time.
Beautiful. I know, kind of a cop-out thing to say. But really, they just are. The locations, although familiar to metroidvania games (and really action games in general) are all lovingly crafted and extremely pleasing to the eye. The characters are expressive, and the excellent animation lends life to even the most minor NPCs. The enemies are varied, and again, even the most trivial is memorable and instantly recognizable.
The exception here is in the cut-scenes. There are only a few, but the frame rates in them are jarringly bad. I almost wish they weren't included at all, as although they are fine story-wise, they look out of place where everything usually runs so smooth and looks so beautiful.
Regardless, the graphics are impressive overall. In my opinion, this is one of the two main factors that set this game apart. What's the other, you ask? Well...
...the voice acting. What a breath of fresh air. I mean, seriously. The voice acting in this game trumps that of some of the biggest, most expensive releases of the last few years. It's that good. When the flying cat sidekick first appeared, and spoke her first line, I groaned. This character cliché has been done and done and done to death. I was not looking forward to listening to it for the entire game. My mind was changed within minutes. A great example of something that been done many times before, but really given heart and perfected here. Every single character (pretty much) is voiced surprisingly well. And the dialogue is extremely well-written, which doesn't hurt.
I should also mention the music. While it is overshadowed by the excellent voice work, the music is also very good. It's thematic, appropriately dramatic when it needs to be, and just fits the mood of the game very well. It's not all memorable, but there is a theme or two that will stick with me.
Well, here is where the game hits a few snags. I will not spoil anything, so feel free to read on if you haven't played the game.
The story, while well written, is pretty generic. There are exceptions in the details, but for the most part you've heard it all before. The strength is in the telling, not the subject matter. The strong writing and performances lend weight to an otherwise tired tale of heroics and redemption. I found myself caring despite knowing from past experiences how it was all going to play out in the end. So, while it's nothing groundbreaking, it's good enough to keep you intrigued.
Here it is, the most important factor. Is it fun to play? The answer is yes, but it is a little hit-and-miss unfortunately.
This is a metroidvania game through and through, with some light RPG elements. A simplified leveling system, a peripheral crafting system, and equipment which raise (or lower) your stats. This is all fine, and for the most part it all works, although I have a few complaints.
Combat is fun, fluid, easy to pick up and play. However, it is very repetitive. You have a few different combos to pull off between your main weapon and the game's combat gimmick, the DUST STORM, but you'll find yourself doing either one of two things exclusively after a while. Spamming the X button, or spamming projectiles combined with the aerial DUST STORM. There's really no reason to mix things up, and little strategy involved. Also, although combat is satisfying despite the repetitive nature, the boss battles are lackluster. To say the least. Considering the build-up through story to some of these battles, you would expect at least a minor challenge. Not so. Once you learn to use the DUST STORM combined with projectiles, every fight becomes trivial. It's not the end of the world, but it does make these moments much less memorable and rewarding.
If you haven't gathered yet, the game is also extremely easy on the NORMAL setting. I recommend playing on TOUGH or HARDCORE, which will also net you an extra achieve anyway, so you might as well.
Hey, this is what we really care about here, yeah? It depends on what you're after. All achievements are easily obtainable in one playthrough (as long as you choose TOUGH or HARDCORE and don't change your difficulty mid-game), and really nothing is missable. The game overtly warns you when you reach the 'point of no return' so that you can go back and mop up anything you've missed before the final boss, which is a nice touch. None of the achievements are difficult to obtain if you exhaust all of your dialogue options and explore thoroughly. So, basically, if you're looking to boost your TA Score as you go, this game works nicely. TA Ratio is another story though, I doubt anything here will be very rare after another few weeks.
Loved it. I can't lie. Despite it's flaws, it's one of the better games I've purchased from XBLA, and worth every penny. I recommend it to anyone looking for good writing with dialogue that is genuinely amusing and realistic, solid gameplay and a great sense of completion as you discover all the hidden items. Also, the little homages to it's peers and predecessors is a great touch that lends an air of nostalgia for us gamers from the NES era. Try it out. If you're still reading you know you're going to anyway.