Your sword is an indecipherable blur. A slashed wolf falls to the ground alongside a dying troll who dared to face your kinetic blade. High above the ground you soar, bringing the fight to the winged demons that patrol the skies. No one is safe in your presence. In the beautiful Dust: An Elysian Tail, the death count grows at an alarming rate; the entire monster population is no match for your keen instincts and merciless weapon. There's a smoothness to the execution that's mesmerizing, as powerful attacks are dished out at a dizzying rate. But that ease comes at a cost. With a flick of a stick and a tap of a button, dozens collapse at your feet, and the breezy repetition lacks the strategizing that could have given this eye-catching action platformer the depth it sorely lacks. Dust: An Elysian Tail enchants and entices, but never envelops you like the best action games do.
Amnesia is a tough circumstance to overcome. The memory-deficient hero calls himself Dust because his past is a mystery to even him. What's not a mystery is the condition of the world he awoke in. Monsters roam the countryside, terrorizing villagers and making a deadly nuisance of themselves. So Dust's quest is clear: Help the innocent while driving the evil beings back from where they came.
Initially, the setup draws you in, using the old trick of memory loss to explain what's happening to both the protagonist and player in one fell swoop. But things quickly take a turn for the worse. Grating voice acting turns even the most sympathetic character's sob story into an annoying ordeal that makes you search for a skip button. The cheeky guardian Fidget that follows your every step communicates in a high-pitched squeal that tempers the enthusiasm of even the most determined individuals. Overly dramatic writing laced with juvenile humor makes for a story that's as tiresome as it is groan-worthy, and it doesn't even stay kindly in the background for you to safely ignore. Long story sequences have poorly developed characters squawking at each other for minutes on end, dragging the happy-go-lucky pacing down to a crawl.
When you extricate yourself from the exhausting story, An Elysian Tail becomes a lot more enjoyable. This lightly structured 2D action adventure focuses on making you feel like a long-dormant warrior hungry for some vengeance killing. As soon as you pick up your sword, you're taught basic two-button combos to see how fantastic your blade can be. A strike across the chest of a scowling goblin leads to an upward strike that tosses it high into the air. Follow it with a sure-footed leap of your own to finish it off where the leaves meet sky, and then rush back to the ground in a powerful slam attack to eradicate the crowd of baddies at your feet.
Fidget hovers just out of danger's reach, but is happy to toss projectiles into the fray when the situation arises. Zooming blue lights drain smidgens of your enemies' health, and you can control these flecks of pain with handy propeller moves. Either stationed on the ground or whizzing through the sky, you twirl your sword like a helicopter blade, tearing meanies to smithereens while diffracting Fidget's energy balls so they mercilessly pelt enemies. Watch as your combo count soars, first registering dozens of hits, and then hundreds more once you learn to link these attacks together. Chimes and flashes of light clue you in when you're tabulating a particularly high tally, and those elements combined with the smooth grace of your master swordplay make for an enjoyable way to chop those who oppose you to shreds.
Within the first few minutes of procuring your blade, you learn these flashy attacks, and it seems as though your repertoire will grow ever stronger during the duration of this lengthy adventure. But sadly that's not the case. Aside from two different elemental projectiles for Fidget, you have the same combos for the entirety of An Elysian Tail. At first, this lack of growth isn't a problem. Slicing and dicing foes is eminently satisfying, and trying to string together a massive combo chain has you working to perfect your offensive swipes and time your defensive feints until you can tear through hordes of enemies without breaking a sweat. But it doesn't take long for you to master your attacks. And once you test every permutation of your modest moveset, it's clear that celestial attacks are more efficient and make for higher combos than ground-based sword swings. So you repeatedly zip across the screen until even your stylish death strikes become tiresome.
The goblins that populate early levels change to lumbering trolls, kamikaze bombers, slinking wolves, and other ill-tempered creatures as you plunge deeper into your quest. Diverse visual design ensures every beast you snare has a cartoonish charm that makes even the brain-hungry zombies endearing, but don't expect deeper strategies when tougher monsters appear. Aside from a gargantuan monster that requires a well-timed parry to daze, you can defeat every creature using the same tactics. Just have Fidget shoot some fireballs while you zoom around the screen like a crazed hummingbird. It's all fun because the sharp controls and increasing experience points tally make you feel as if you're gaining power, but the lack of evolution is impossible to ignore.