Thursday, August 16, 2012

Dust: A Blahblahblah, revisited

at 9:51 PM

Remember that trailer I was complaining about the other day? The "epic" one with the furries and the dramatic violin music and the running with deer? That game, Dust, came out yesterday on XBLA. I grabbed the demo because I wasn't going to let a preposterous tone keep me away from a 2D action game. Sadly, there's little to take away from what I've played.

It plays just like it looks: a weak emulation of Vanillaware's classics. At first glance an uninformed viewer may not even recognize the difference between Dust and Muramasa. Admittedly the game does nothing to hide this parallel, but it's certainly gone over the head of most reviewers. Why? Because reviewers know jack shit about games. We know that already. They play about four games a year and define the state of the art form by the state of the industry - everything MUST be described in terms of God of War, Gears of War, Greg of War, and Gee, this is getting tedious of War. Perhaps it's assumed that the only frame of reference common to every gamer will comprise these blockbusters, but you don't see music reviewers rating albums on a scale of Justin Peebers to Baby Gaga. Anyway, in this particular instance Dust is being called a Metroidvania. Why use such a dumbed down vagary instead of evaluating the game as a new member of the vast compendium of video game history? You don't even have to write a review - just leave it at "Dust is Muramasa".

That being said, my very highly-paid job is not to not write reviews, so let me expand a bit on the differences here, in the quickest, laziest way possible. That's why they [...] big bucks.

1.) Dust has two attack buttons. This makes the combat feel more like Dishwasher. It's totally unnecessary. I thought everyone knew these days that the way to make a good combo system is with rhythm and directional input.

2.) The enemies in Dust do nothing. The game is such a blur of flashy effects that you'll never have a clue what's going on, and the veritable rainbow of enemies appearing as early as the first screen all seem to have the same purpose: flop around pending death. It took me a good five minutes before I even noticed they have health bars, and 90% of the time I took damage I had no clue where it came from. Nothing enemies can work if you have position-oriented combat (see Lollipop Chainsaw), but with as rudimentary and familiar a combo system as this, they'll bore you to death.

OMG WHICH GAME IS WHICH?! Only time can tell.
3.) Hey did you ever notice that in games like this you can guess what the combos are going to be before you even see the inputs? It's kinda like in fighting games where you know quarter-circle-forward is always going to be a fireball projectile. Some familiarity is nice, it eases transition between games. But in a post-combo-string world, you're gonna have to try pretty hard to keep these pre-defined inputs interesting.

4.) What was I listing again? Feel like I got off topic. Well, Dust has dial-a-combos while Muramasa doesn't, but I guess I covered that in 3. Let's see... Dust's artwork isn't very cohesive. Neither stylistically nor mechanically. I'm not sure I have any better description of the visuals than "colored". The overall style seems to be "whatever the artist felt like"; the protagonist clashes with the grim backdrops, the gaunt, demonic baddies clash with their very own Fruit Loop color scheme, and the overbearing attack effects obscure it all anyway.

5.) It's impossible to tell the difference between background and interactive objects. I can't count the number of times I tried to jump onto a coffin or tree, only to fall straight through.

That was an awful post, I'm surprised I even bothered to publish it. I suppose Dust doesn't deserve much more. I'd only bother with the game if I was terminally sick of Vanillaware and Treasure.

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