This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).
Dust is a super impressive game from one developer, who apparently did everything but the sound himself. I am continually amazed at how talented people like this can keep the bar so high – think Braid, Super Meat Boy, Knytt Underground, Gunpoint, to name a few. Dust certainly holds that standard very high, and frankly makes some games, from bigger teams and studios, look nearly amateurish in comparison.
The first thing that hits you about Dust is the visuals. This game is seriously beautiful. The animations are smooth, controls are pretty tight, and it just makes wandering around a visual treat. The sound is extremely well done, too, and kudos for choosing HyperDuck soundworks for this project. They nailed pretty much everything (except the accents).
Gameplay is standard platform-y combat, and there is nothing really outstanding here to be honest, it is just all solidly competent. There is an element of RPG advancement in the game, with shops, equipment, a little crafting, and level-ups that allow you to increase one of four stats. I’m still not sold on the necessity of it, though. It wasn’t annoying or anything, it didn’t interfere with the flow of the game or become an excuse for grinding, but I don’t think it really added much to the experience either.
I found the anthropomorphic animals thing a little weird at first, but I think that is mainly to do with the fact that the NPCs were given random accents and cultural backgrounds, including an atrocious Australian accent. It kind of jarred a bit. Also, the voice acting and dialogue can be a little forced, corny, cliché, overdone, and could get annoying for some people. The writing will win no awards for originality or spark. From reviews, most people seem to find Fidget (the flying catbat) really irritating, but I actually loved her.
I have only two major grumbles. One is the auto-respawn: when you leave a screen, all the monsters you destroyed respawn, and there are a few times where you have to traverse the same few screens back and forth for missions. It becomes annoying, even though you are usually capable of smashing through them easily, because the game won’t let you leave the screen until you are “out of combat”. It’s just a time sink, and the closest thing to a grind that Dust offers.
By far the biggest gripe I have, though, is special areas that require special abilities to access. DON’T put an inaccessible area in my path early on, make me complete another 10-20% of the game to unlock the requisite ability, and then expect me to go back and find that area again. Just, Don’t Do It. If you are introducing new mechanics, put everything that requires those mechanics AFTER the unlock, not before. This would be one of my Pet Peeves if I were to do a list (like Pam did).
But, let’s end on a high note. I’ve long thought skill-based mini-games were a good idea for MMO activities like professions, or co-op multiplayer stuff (a la Puzzle Pirates). A Tale In The Desert seems to experiment with this, too, if I read the brewing skill correctly. And, I notice that some smaller games can offer ideas for fun mini-games that would be cool to see in said MMOs. Dust has a “lockpick” system for opening treasure chests that, when you think about it, doesn’t really make sense, because you are using a key…but ANYWAY, there is a simple unlock game that I absolutely adore and would love to see done in an MMO sometime.
Do try it.