Dusty's Revenge

There was a time when 2D-beat’em ups were all the rage (Get it? You get it?) in gaming. From the glorious Streets of Rage to everyone’s favorite Ninja Turtles titles, they were exciting games in the arcade and on consoles. However, making the jump to consoles required the genre to add some more meat to its gameplay, so you started getting more intricate level design or elements from other genres; some games used platforming segments, while others added RPG elements.

Before long it was time for the genre to hit 3D, and by now you all know that part of the story due to the likes of Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, or God Hand. And because triple A games in this genre are mostly of the 3D variety, the 2D beat’em up itch only really gets scratched by the indie scene (with some exceptions), and these games are usually shaped by the games that inspired these developers. When you get an indie take on a beat’em up, the obvious call backs to Streets of Rage and its ilk are borderline high-handed. So in one way Dusty Revenge’s most interesting aspect also happens to be its freshest: the game is more focused on bringing in elements from the Devil May Cry franchise than it is anything else, as well as bringing the modern improvements of a 3D action game into a 2D styled game.

That ends up being too tall of an order for the game to tackle, but the one area I find the game to be successful at is actually the combat. The game shows the developers have a handle on the technical mastery that makes this genre so satisfying. You’ll find juggles, frame specific combos, animation cancels, downward slashes, and a solid variety of dial-up combos. You also have a pair of sidekick characters that play the role of power up moves, namely Rondel, a rocket launcher (you aim it like you're playing Angry Birds, it's neat) toting Bear, and McCoy, a sniper dog. No seriously, it’s a dog who snipes, and he has a cowboy hat on. He kind of makes me think of what Scruff McGruff would look like if he became a cowboy.

It provides an extra layer of strategy to some of the encounters, as a few of them will require you to balance the use of these characters correctly. It's usually fairly simple stuff, like using Rondel on armored foes, and McCoy on hidden enemies using projectiles, and on a purely mechanical level, the game makes plenty of strides to keep you from simply mashing your way to the end. It’s just unfortunate the game doesn’t do enough in every other department to remain satisfying. As a matter of fact, the game can become dull after spurts of interesting combat segments.

One of the more noteworthy offenders is the primitive level design. Some might dismiss this drawback because of the “variety” of environments found in the game as backdrops. These include the old west, a jungle, ancient ruins, and the bane of my personal existence, a sewer level. However, that variety is entirely cosmetic. Once you have both sidekicks, these levels throw a lot of the same obstacles at you. It's your standard "go forward, area gets blocked off, you kill dudes, and then you move on" kind of design. The environments have no real trick of their own, and a speeding train feels like the only outlier in what are mostly cosmetic props.

Dusty Revenge also has an awful habit of regurgitating certain aspects of its design. For instance, there is one segment where wooden logs are set up in one large zig-zag, and as you ascend you’ll deal with enemies. However, you can just run right through that scenario with impunity to get to the next part of the level, and the game actually repeated that same set up a few times, right up until the last stretch of the game.

Boss fights are painfully simple in Dusty Revenge as well. All the boss fights in the game are pattern-based, and all of them rely on fairly simplistic patterns. Any tension one of the fights has is almost completely thrown out the window as dodging these moves is a non-issue most of the time. Some of it is a matter of adhering to the game’s weird way of conveying arbitrary moments where you can and cannot take damage. I’ve had moments where Dusty clearly ducked a swipe and was hit, and I’ve also had moments where I know I should have gotten hit and the game doesn’t even acknowledge it. The only real challenge comes from the fact these fights feature enemies with multiple health bars. It takes a fight that has maybe 3 minutes worth of ideas, and stretches them out to 5-10 minute affairs, if not longer depending on your level of aggression.

It’s a level of design that usually paints the not so flattering picture around indie games.  A lot of the design in the game feels straight up archaic, which is a point that carries over throughout the game’s presentation as a whole. Sure, the animations are well done, and some might enjoy the art, which is a weird mix of old west/cyberpunk and anthropomorphic character design. It's not exactly my cup of tea, but I can give credit to a game I find to be well animated. However, other aspects of the game's presentation are simply low budget.

The hit detection and its inconsistency is one thing, but that speaks as much to gameplay as it does presentation. The narrative and plot, however, are poorly executed aspects of the game. The story is told through cutscenes that use stills of the characters/actions happening in the plot. That aspect? I can dig it. The voice acting and tone of the plot? Not so much.

Dusty is simply too bland of a character. He starts this journey because his girl is killed off in the beginning, and of course he goes out looking for revenge (hence the title) in an attempt to avenge her death. Beyond that, however, there is no real reason to connect with him. There is never any real interplay between him and his sidekicks, and his dialogue is delivered in this overbearing, gravelly voice. It sounds like a weird mix of Max Payne and Kratos, but the delivery has twice the angst. It would be one thing if it was just the voice, but the fact that the script has some awful writing really bogs the whole experience down. The plot goes on and on about how this compass he has was pointing to some ruin, which is about where I started to check out. To be fair, I wanted to check out earlier, at a part where you find out his dad is named Dante, which is frankly much closer to being nauseating fan fiction than a respectable homage given that the game pulls so much inspiration from Devil May Cry.

If the game is trying to be intentionally corny, then I'd argue the game needs a change in tone. It's presented way too seriously for it's own good. If it is meant to be taken as seriously as I think the game takes itself, then it needs to consider loosening up. The game is about a rabbit killing dudes Devil May Cry-style with Scruff McGruff the sniper, and a little bit more camp and flare would have given the game some personality that it is currently devoid of.

The game also has technical problems, but some of what I dealt with has been patched. For instance, on my playthrough the moves list would outright disappear after I unlocked a new set of moves, which required me to start writing down the inputs for any new combos I unlocked. The game also crashed on me a handful of times, and I had some noticeable issues with framerate dips. It's certainly not devoid of some bugs at this point, but I get the impression PD Design Studios is making an effort to patch these issues out of the game.

If you really want to fight a giant robotic snake or a gimped version of King Kong, then Dusty Revenge has its moments. In fact, the combat is the kind of foundation you can build a terrific 2D beat’em up around. It’s just unfortunate that the rest of the game is so poorly designed or uninspired. The level design has no personality to it beyond routinely getting a new coat of paint as the game progresses, and the inconsistent hit detection and presentation become grating after a while. The boss fights, which should be highlights of an action game, are an absolute slog to get through. The combat is solid, but that's not enough to recommend this game with all of its other problems.

Final Score - 4/10

Editor's Note: A copy of Dusty Revenge was provided to us for review.

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