Happily, Dust's story is of a high enough quality to keep the player interested no matter how straightforward the sidequests can sometimes feel. The story follows the classic arc of the noble, amnesiac hero piecing together memories of his perhaps-not-so-noble past, and maintains genuinely impressive pacing, dialogue, and tension throughout. Dust's self-image evolves steadily over the course of the game, with the character managing to deliver the essence of this evolution without dragging the player through excess periods of navel-gazing. Although he can sometimes sound a little too morose about the whole situation, he's written well enough to generate genuine empathy. The way other character's behavior towards him changes as they too learn more about his past is especially effective in this regard.
While the voice acting occasionally slips towards the dodgy, it generally remains good enough to sustain credulity and humor even in situations that seem like they should be capable of bringing out the snarky side in just about anybody. The acting really helps maintain the self-aware tone that props up much of the game's writing, effectively bridging the gap between "we just asked the player to collect laundry for a gerbil with an Italian accent" and "perhaps they won't take this super-seriously." The harmony that exists between the writing and the acting is impressive, and its quality is responsible for a lot of the stand-out moments in the game.
Combined with its story, Dust owes much of its atmosphere and success to its truly gorgeous art and original, often complex music. Almost every backdrop is a hand-crafted gem that is aided by music that shifts in depth and tone at just the right moments to create a beautiful sense of setting and atmosphere. As with the writing and acting, there's a simple harmony at work between the art and music in most levels that works so well as to be virtually invisible, drawing you into Dust's weird world so seamlessly that you barely notice. Once you start moving, you'll be smiling to the end.
Bottom Line: Dust: An Elysian Tail is made of straightforward elements built to extraordinarily high standards, and rarely loses sight of its commitment to beauty, craft, and straight-up fun.
Recommendation: If your summer needs a last shot of happiness before it fades away to fall, Dust: An Elysian Tail has a place on your Xbox's HDD.
Game: Dust: An Elysian Tail
Developer: Humble Hearts
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios