Saddle up your horses. It’s time for Dead Dust, an arcade-style, twin-stick shooter set during the rough and tumble years of the American Wild West.
In typical arcade fashion, Dead Dust is a game light on story, heavy on action. In fact, the only exposition you’ll get is from the game’s store page. Here, we’re told that our hero – Schlango – has been contacted by a wealthy saloon owner whose daughter has been kidnapped. Joined by two other bounty hunters, you’ll have to blast your way through a literal army of bandits and Indians on the way to rescuing the girl.
Gameplay-wise, Dead Dust has a fairly simple set-up. You’ll be dropped into a level and have to kill every enemy in order to advance. A counter in the top corner will tick down with every one you kill, allowing you to keep track of your progress. Each character has their own starting weapon, but only a limited amount of ammunition. You’ll have to keep it topped up by either looting chests, picking up other guns, or buying more from the saloons you’ll find dotted about with the coins you’ll pick up. Of course, you can also drop the gun altogether and pick up a spear or tomahawk and go on a rampage with that if you like! And yes, you can throw them.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m absolutely terrible at twin-stick shooters, but I get the sense that Dead Dust will give even the most hardened gamer a rough time. Enemies are extremely accurate from the get-go, and it’s very easy to become swarmed by a small army. Things get even harder once you begin to encounter gun-toting enemies. Not only are they disgustingly accurate, but they almost seem to anticipate your moves. There are also bosses scattered throughout certain levels. They’re like normal enemies on steroids, retaining all the accuracy whilst also benefiting from massive amounts of health.
Normally, this difficulty wouldn’t be such an issue, but Dead Dust doesn’t do well at equipping you with the tools necessary to succeed. The controls are smooth and responsive, sure, but the limited moveset the game gives you makes it almost impossible to succeed. You’ll find it impossible to dodge bullet swarms in the later levels where enemies are equipped with fully automatic rifles. It’s in situations like this that Dead Dust would have really benefited from a dodge or roll mechanic.
You will die. It’s inevitable in a game this hard. Annoyingly though, death is permanent in Dead Dust. Once a character dies, that’s it for them. You’ll need to pick another to carry on. Once they all die, you’ll have to restart from the very beginning. All your progression is wiped and nothing carries over.
I hated this design choice.
Forcing the player to play through the same two levels over-and-over again doesn’t encourage them to keep going. It only serves to frustrate, and harms the game’s replayability in the long run. Good arcade games invoke an urge to keep trying, to push through mountains of deaths. Dead Dust doesn’t. After a handful of attempts, I had lost any urge to try again.
Considering how hard this game is, it would have been a better design choice to have the game save after the completion of every level. Even offering the player a limited number of continues would have been a better option. It would have certainly encouraged me to push on. Another consequence of this design choice is that most people won’t be able to appreciate some of the unique levels that Dead Dust has to offer, simply because they can’t get there. It’s a shame because they’re great additions to the game and actually quite fun to play, despite the difficulty.
It’s at this point I should mention that the game has a hidden cheat code that, when entered, renders the player invulnerable. The cheat won’t invalidate achievements either, meaning that Dead Dust effectively becomes a fifteen minute completion. Achievement hunters rejoice!
There is nothing inherently bad about making a game really difficult. In fact, some of the best games are defined by their difficulty. With Dead Dust, it doesn’t really work. This is a game that could have benefited from some balancing, allowing the players to work their way up with a few less punishing levels. Instead, you’re dropped straight into it, armed only with a gun and a moveset that is woefully inadequate for the kind of enemies you’ll be facing. That all your progression is wiped after a game over is the final blow, and really puts you off playing it more than a handful of times.
The fact that I had more fun using a cheat code than playing through the game normally says something. I’d give this one a miss, unless you’re looking for some easy Gamerscore of course.
You can buy Dead Dust now for Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One from the Xbox Store