Dust: An Elysian Tail Review

How many men does it take to make a good game? Well, lately the answer has often been dozens, or just one. Dean Dodrill has just released his game Dust: An Elysian Tail, and I have to say that I, for one, am impressed.

The first thing I noticed when starting Dust: An Elysian Tail is how beautiful and detailed the world looks. Everything you’ll find here has been hand drawn; character sprites/ animations, enemies, environments and even cut-scenes (both of them). This might just be one of the best looking games I’ve ever played. The environments you travel through include forests, underground caves and snow covered mountains, each with their own look and feel, and each as stunning as the last. Character animations are inspired as well, and even if there aren’t many, I never grew tired of looking at them.

These visuals help portray one of the best stories I have ever witnessed in a video game. You play as Dust, a rabbit-like creature who has been woken by a talking sword, called Ahrah, and its guardian, a nimbat called Fidget. Dust doesn’t know who he is, where he came from, or what he is supposed to do with the sword. Ahrah explains that he was summoned by Dust and the trio set off to figure out who Dust is and why he summoned Ahrah. Throughout your journey you will experience happy moments, to incredibly sad moments, to funny moments, to sad moments and then of course happy once again, in a story that will be one to remember (and experience again on one of the game’s four difficulties). Dust’s story will bring out all your emotions and continually expresses that it’s not what you are that define you, it’s your actions that define you (and yes, there is a chance you will shed a tear).

The chemistry between the three main characters is wonderful to listen to. This is thanks to great writing and exceptional voice acting. The world of Dust: An Elysian Tail is populated by some very unique characters, all based off of some form of animal. These characters range from a Koala with an Australian accent to a strange creature with a hill-billy accent. Most characters are either part of the main story or offer side quests. The side quests all feel relevant and all have their own short stories that further add to the believability of the world.

Accompanying the voice acting is a phenomenal musical score that does an excellent job of setting the mood of the environments. Guitar riffs are often heard during combat, soothing orchestral pieces are used during exploration, to complement the amazing visuals, and the game even featured some eerie music while in a haunted mansion. Although music pieces will be heard more than once, I never thought, “Aww, man! That amazing guitar riff is playing again while I’m shredding (maybe pun intended) through enemies!”

OK, so with incredible visuals and a heartfelt story, does the gameplay complete the trifold of greatness for this game? Simply put, yes, yes it does. Although simple to learn, once you fully master Dust’s moves you will feel like a powerhouse! Sure it’s possible to button mash your way through most of the fights, but once you get towards the end of the game, it’s time to start using different strategies to take out some of the enemies. Combat pretty much involves killing enemies by using your sword or by using Fidgets projectiles that you can make extra powerful by combining them with one of your own skills. You will have to be on alert during fights though because, believe it or not, enemies attack back! You can either parry or dodge their attack, which ends up being a necessity later in the game. Something interesting to mention is the fact that characters in the game sort of acknowledge that you are playing a game. The first time you meet a monster, Ahrah tells you to practice everything you have learned, while Fidget yells, “Mash the buttons! Mash the buttons!”

There are a few boss battles in Dust: An Elysian Tail, but some of them don’t really feel like boss battles. Most of them only have one attack and it can be really repetitive to kill them. If you knew what I knew, though, the easiness of the boss battles can be justified. I do offer much praise for the final boss battle but, once again, talking about anything to do with it would probably spoil the plot.

Exploration in Dust can go both ways. Firstly, there are so many hidden secrets and treasures that usually require small puzzle solving skills to unlock. It’s also worthy to add that a lot of the hidden treasures are located in inaccessible areas that you will have to go back to once you have unlocked the required abilities. These abilities are unlocked by progressing through the main story. Dust’s pacing is great too because you spend just the right amount of time in each area before a new area is opened up. Dodrill got Dust’s movements just right, they don’t feel stiff but they don’t feel floaty either. This makes platforming and combat fun to do.

There happen to be a couple of things that annoyed me when it came to exploration. The first one was the save points. If you die while venturing through the areas, unless you have a revival stone, you will have to load your last save. I did not die that often, playing on normal, but when I did, I had to go back about three squares. I’ve worked out that this was roughly five to ten minutes of travelling to get back to where I was (where I nearly died a second time). Another problem I have with the save points is that sometimes they were in places that were out of the way. I suppose the moral of that story is to not die or make sure you have revival stones. I have to note that you will probably be doing a fair bit of back tracking through environments if you want to find the hidden treasures (luckily, they are marked out for you on the map).

My final, tiny, problem with the game involved one of Fidget’s projectiles. You start with an air projectile, unlock a lightning projectile by beating a boss and find a fire projectile during your exploration. This fire projectile is needed for a late game puzzle but I never found it on my first run through the area. After running around for ages, I went back to one of the earlier areas and finally found it. I just think I should have been prevented from going any further earlier in the game until I found it..

There are some light RPG elements in Dust: An Elysian Tail. You earn experience by killing monsters and building combos. The higher the combo, the more bonus experience you get (one of the most rewarding achievements I’ve ever received came from this game. The achievement is to get a combo of 1000+, and it’s no easy feat). With this experience, you can choose to upgrade your health, attack, defence or the power of fidget’s projectiles. Along with levelling up, there is a small crafting system, and shops that sell food and armour.

Final Comments:

Words cannot be used to describe Dust: An Elysian Tail. I urge you all to go and find some gameplay videos, or just go and buy the game to see how amazing Dust looks, sounds and plays. There is no definitive thing that makes Dust: An Elysian Tail a standout, they all contribute to create one of the best experiences I’ve ever had! With four difficulty levels, the last of which is actually quite challenging, and some challenge arenas hidden around the world, Dust: An Elysian Tail is a great buy that you won’t be able to put down. The pacing is brilliant and the story is one of the best I’ve ever played in a game. It took me roughly 12 hours to finish the game on normal difficulty. I hope we can see more from Dean Dodrill in the future!

Rating: 9.5/10

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How Sport Games Draw Fans Closer to Their Heroes

There are ten seconds left in Super Bowl 46. The crowd is roaring, and much louder than your usual exhibition game. The Patriots are about 35 yards out from the Giants’ end zone and trail by 6. Tom Brady calls for the snap and the final play of the game commences. Brady stays in the pocket while his wide receivers dart towards the end zone. A, B, X, Y and RB icons come up on the screen, Brady throws the ball and it goes soaring towards one of the receivers. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a defender plucks the ball out of the air and goes to ground. You sit, starring; trying to figure out what went wrong. Your man was open, victory was a few seconds away but, as you speak, Eli Manning is getting ready to kneel and take the victory. This is the glory of sports-based video games.

Every year, new and  (sometimes) improved versions of our favourite sports games come out. FIFA, Madden, NHL, etc. all promise to be the best in the series and are continually trying to be as realistic as possible when it comes to physics and gameplay. Sure, the gameplay is great and the graphics are looking really good these days, but that’s not what I play sports games for. The real reason I play sports games is for the atmosphere and the great moments and experiences I get from them.

This is partly thanks to the career mode developers usually include. Career mode lets you gain control of a team, or player, and take them to the championship of said team’s competition. Be it the Super Bowl, FA Cup final, or the NBA Championship, career mode is more than just another way to play the game; it is a journey, a story even. You experience so many things in career mode that help you grasp how your favourite players and teams feel in certain situations. Maybe you are on a winning streak, only a few weeks out from the finals and trying to keep that form going, maybe even trying to stop a losing streak from going out of hand and keeping your hopes alive. Real players and teams go through these moments and career mode helps us to experience this.

In NBA2k12, I was playing the My Player mode and was in my rookie season. That rookie season had many ups and downs for me as a player and as a member of the New York Knicks. I got promoted to starting point guard and was on fire for a good third of the season. Then, about half way through the season, the whole team started losing momentum. I was the point guard, the guy who makes most of the plays, and I couldn’t seem to get anything going. I was making turnovers, missing shots and playing poor defence. This wasn’t just me though; my whole team was the same way. Carmelo wasn’t making shots, the big men weren’t getting stops or making big baskets, nothing was going right for us. We finally got our act together with about a quarter of the season to go and had to really claw and fight to get back to that 8th spot in the conference. After a long, gruelling season, we managed to clinch the 8th place in the Eastern Conference. It was then revealed that our first round, playoffs match-up would be against the 1st placed, Chicago Bulls. The Bulls were in great form but I was optimistic. We had beaten the Bulls this season, all it would take was a win on the road then we would be able to win our 3 home games and take the series. I think my optimism got the better of me. We put in a great effort in the first game but just could not get the win. I was still confident, “One win, I just need one win, one win and I’ve got a chance.” The second game was all a blur, nothing went right and the game was pretty much a blowout.

The next two games came back to my home ground but the Bulls had momentum on their side and took them both. It was only after the final buzzer rang in the fourth game that the series loss hit me. The series score wasn’t even respectable, a whole season wasted in just four games. All that training, those 82 games, countless press conferences, and the support of all my fans were worth nothing. That’s honestly how I felt after that loss. I know you are thinking, “Gee, all that over a video game.” But it wasn’t just a video game to me; it was hours (82 games x 16 minutes a game, plus drills and press conferences) of finger pressing, concentrating and experience.

That’s the effect sports games can have on people. They help us feel what Lebron, Ronaldo and many others go through. We feel the anxiety of a tight game, trying to keep a lead or trying to stay composed and make that winning play, we feel the highs of winning a championship and the lows of missing out. We even get to experience the atmosphere of important games. Notice the volume of the crowd rise significantly during a playoff game and the commentary can hardly be heard thanks to the roaring crowd. The farther you get into a career mode, the more attached you become to it. Sure, most of us will never truly know what it feels like to hold up that trophy or be under pressure in a tight game, but sports games, with their great gameplay and ability to capture the atmosphere of an occasion, manage to help us experience that feeling.

5 Android Games for Real Gamers

So, you like games, and you want to play them on your phone, but you want to do more than sling irritated birds at sickly looking pork. You want to play a real game, one with a story and bullets and cars and voice acting and maybe even multiplayer. The problem with this is you’ve let the list of top games fool you, let it trick you into believing that you wish for something that isn’t there, but actually, it’s been there all along. The following list is composed of games available for Android OS, though they may be available for iOS as well. Please remember that not all Android phones are created equal, and many of these games require or recommend a phone with a lot of RAM and a good processor.

1. Grand Theft Auto III (10 year anniversary edition): $4.99

I wasn’t surprised when I learned that Grand Theft Auto was available for Android. However, my bottom lip hit the floor when I scrolled down and read the big “III” underneath. Grand Theft Auto III was released on the PS2 and Xbox. This means that a game that was incredibly huge for last generation consoles can now be played on a phone that only weighs a few ounces.

This isn’t some watered-down GTA, this is the real thing. Everything is here. The voice acting, guns, radio stations, cars, pedestrians, missions, everything. And honestly, what better game can there be to entertain yourself while on the move than Grand Theft Auto. If you don’t have time to dive into the missions, you certainly can spare a moment to gun down civilians as well as the paramedics who arrive on scene to treat your victims.

2. Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation: $6.99

When I saw the Modern Combat series on the list of top Android games, I assumed that it simply capitalized on the name because it is very similar to the Modern Warfare trilogy as well as Battlefield 2: Modern Combat. My assumption was right, as it seems Gameloft happened to release the newest addition to the IP around the same time as Modern Warfare 3 was released. However, despite this less than classy marketing scheme, Fallen Nation really impressed me. It’s fully voice acted, includes several set pieces reminiscent of current-gen Call of Duty games, and has the best graphics I’ve witnessed on an Android game.

Along with these great graphics, Gameloft has managed to include surprisingly balanced and swift gameplay. Expect to go from manning a mounted gun on a helicopter to fighting indoors, and finally on street level in a short period of time. Enemies aren’t smart, but seem more realistic than I expected.

One thing hard to accomplish on a mobile FPS is good controls, and while you won’t feel like your holding an AK in your hands, you’ll at least be able to shoot it where you want (usually). Modern Combat 3’s controls are far from perfect, but if I wasn’t spoiled from constant use of a dual analog controller, I’d say the game controls well.

Now, if all of that wasn’t quite enough, Modern Combat 3 includes online multiplayer with up to a dozen players. So, if for some reason you feel the need to shoot people from around the world while riding the bus, by all means do it. Overall, this is a great game. Modern Combat 3 feels like a current-gen console game more than once, and it’s certainly worth the purchase for any FPS fan.

3. Real Racing 2: $4.99

EA is no stranger to mobile games. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit was used to show the capabilities of gaming phones for quite a while, and games such as Mass Effect: Infiltrator, SimCity Deluxe, and NBA Jam show that Electronic Arts know what they’re doing when crafting a game for the mobile market (as long as you don’t count compatibility issues and customer support, but what else could you expect from EA). At some point someone at EA said, “Hey, we should make a racing game where cars actually feel like cars!”.So they got some sponsors and licensed some vehicles, spent a lot of money (not on a creative name, though) and made Real Racing.

Real Racing is a good game, but of course, as is the way with mobile games, the sequel is much better. The game features a handful of licensed cars that are all rendered beautifully, including fully rendered interiors that can be seen from the cockpit view (one of the many views available). The best part of the game is that it actually feels like I’m racing. It’s no Gran Turismo or Forza, but Real Racing 2 at least does it’s job, and is a relatively pain-free racer that can easily entertain racing fans when they’re not in front of a television.

4. FIFA 12

I hate to put EA on a list twice, but this time I had no choice. FIFA 12 is a great example of what can be done on an Android device. It has features that rival those of last-gen sports games, fluid animations, and a very natural feeling control system. Even though in most ways it is, FIFA 12 never really feels like a watered-down game. It feels like a sports game that has figured out how things should be done.

Features included in FIFA 12 include all the stats you could want, a season mode, shootout mode, decent commentary (not too repetitive surprisingly), and replay saves among others. Usually handheld versions of sports games feel like a game that came out a long time ago, but FIFA just doesn’t. When the goalie stops a shot, his hand actually hits the ball (as opposed to being in the same area of the ball as seen in the past).

Basically, if you need a sports fix while on the go, look no further. FIFA 12 is the best you’ll find.

XPLANE 9: $2.99

You might have heard of XPLANE before. It’s a flight simulator usually used on computers, at NASA, etc., and somehow, it made it’s way to phones. Who would’ve thought of taking a professional flight simulator and putting it on their phone? No idea, but whoever it was, thank you.

XPLANE 9 on Android isn’t quite the same simulator you’ll find at NASA, but you’ll be surprised at just how realistic it can be. This game features several different locations, weather types, planes (though you’ll have to pay more for the bigger jets); There is wind, and even simulated system failures.

It’d be nice to have a more realistic cockpit view, and you can’t see most of the plane’s instruments while looking at where you’re going.  Gyroscope control is a nice touch, and works pretty well.

Hope you enjoyed this top 5! If you believe something else should have been included, or if something shouldn’t have been on the list in the first place, comment below!

How Bad Scores Hurt Great Games

It’s August, the time of year when the most contact gamers have with their favorite triple-A games is via trailers, screenshots, and gameplay previews. It’s also the time of year in which many smaller budget and indie games are released, while gamers still have money in there wallets.

If you take a look through most websites and publications, you’ll notice that the best downloadable titles often receive much lower ratings than titles released by big budget developers and publishers. This leads readers to believe that these games are less enjoyable than triple-A series, an assumption which is often wrong.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is a great example of a high budget game afraid to change its formula

Minecraft, however, is a great example of the type of innovation possible by just one man.

The problem here is that most reviewers use what I like to call a “perfection scale”, in which games are rated by how close to perfect they are. This idea works sometimes, and rewards developers who stick with the same old formula until they get it perfect. The problem here is that this means that revolutionary and innovative games are being scored on a scale of perfection, which is impossible to achieve on something that has never been done before.

Imagine someone creates a new type of vehicle. This new and innovative piece of technology is unlike anything seen before, and can only remotely be compared to something as ordinary as an everyday automobile. Now, would it be fair for this new vehicle, this prototype of sorts, to be compared to the automobile, a type of transportation that has had over a century to perfect itself? No, no it shouldn’t.

This is exactly the problem that modern video games are facing. Gamers check reviews before buying games, and often rely on a numbered score more than the reviewers opinion. This means that an incredible game may be passed over several times simply because it’s not perfect. How can reviewers score games that do things that have never been done before on the same system as the newest CoD game? A series which has hardly changed in years. More importantly, how can this flawed system be fixed?

Several websites and magazines now use a system in which the overall score for a game  is calculated from several other scores, each one taking up the same percentage of the final score. This system is simple, seems more comprehensive, and gives gamers a sense of reassurance that the review they just read was accurate. The problem, however, is that most of these scores are still based on a strive for perfection, and also weighs things that aren’t equally significant, such as gameplay and sound, as if they were.

My proposal for a better rating system is this:  A weighted overall rating that takes into account several rating for things such as graphics, gameplay, story, sound, replay value, multiplayer (if there is any), and of course, innovation (a category that most high budget games would score low in). Each rating will take up a different percentage of the overall score, and the percentages will change per genre. For example, in an RPG, story will take up a good part of the overall score, along with graphics and gameplay, but in a side-scrolling platformer,  gameplay will be king while ratings such as story will take up a much smaller amount of the overall score, as it usually does little more than set the pace.

Maybe one day a system like this will used, and creative new games will be given the handicap necessary to level the playing field. Creativity is what keeps the gears in video game evolution spinning. Innovation needs to be rewarded, not punished.