The Dust Dissonance

Flipping through the comments on the GiantBomb Quick Look of Dust: An Elysian Tail I found a common thread: People hate furries. People really, really hate furries. What’s a furry? They’re cartoon animal characters with human characteristics. They’re different from regular anthropomorphised animals (think Disney’s Jungle Book or Lion King), in that they generally look more human than animal. They usually retain only the face, feet and tail of the animal--the rest is very human-like:

Furries can also be defined by the characters around them. Disney’s Robin Hood cartoon has a furry-like protagonist, but the supporting characters are tamer, anthropomorphised animals that stick closer to reality (like the rooster or the rabbits and turtles). Same goes for games like Sly Cooper. Sly is furry-ish, but the supporting characters and enemies have more in common with the animals that inspire them than humans. If everyone in Sly Cooper’s world looked like him--basically human except for the face, feet and tail--it could have been a big turn off.

So why all the furry hate? Because the dark over-sexualized corner of the furry art style is too hard to ignore. It’s so disturbing, that earnest non-sexualized art in that style is difficult to appreciate. Personally I feel that the mere existence of that human-bodied, animal-faced art-porn--nestled so deep in the uncanny valley--is enough to make me nervous looking at anything that seems like it could be related. Guilty by association if you will. But that’s not the only negative connotation the art style of Dust has to battle. Many people have pointed out that it looks “deviantarty.”

For those that don’t know, is like Facebook for artists. Tons of well-known artists use it and it’s a great way to share and peruse art. Unfortunately there’s a huge amount of bad furry art on there. Maybe it’s an easy art style to start off with, or maybe furry enthusiasts just aren’t that great at drawing. Whatever it is, most of the furry art on deviantart has a strong amateur vibe. A “I’m 13 and jungle cats and boobs are awesome, so putting them together would be extra awesome” kind of vibe. Many deviantart furry character designs lack personality, all sharing the same general traits, save for different coloring or hair styles.

I also think some people don’t like it because it reminds them of the immaturity they left behind. What artist (or kid) didn’t go through the anthropomorphic jungle cat phase? I grew up with Thundercats, Ninja Turtles, Street Sharks, Biker Mice from Mars and more. I doodled my fair share of muscled man-beasts. But I eventually grew out of those things. I still love some TMNT (this looks fantastic for example), but in terms of what inspires me as an artist, that stuff doesn’t do it for me anymore. I think a lot of people feel the same way. You liked anthropomorphic animals as a kid, but you’re not a kid anymore. So when something like Dust comes along, and it wants to tell a mature story and it asks you to take it seriously with its art style that appeals to 13-year-old you, it’s hard to get around that dissonance. Also, if you’re like me, you’re afraid one of those cartoon foxes is going to have some furry cleavage, and it’s going to make you feel a little gross.

Despite all that, the furry art style in Dust isn’t a deal breaker for me. I hope it’s not for others either. I played the demo of Dust and thoroughly enjoyed it. This is one of those book cover judgement cases (as in, you shouldn’t do it). I might not be a huge fan of the art style, but I appreciate the consistency, the coloring and the superb animation. The major players are all anime-style furry characters, which means they have that bland we-all-look-the-same-except-for-our-eye-color-and-hair-spikes feel (that prevailing genericness is what bums me out about anime in general). The creature and environment designs on the other hand are inspired, varied and interesting.

Even if you can’t stomach the art, you should still give it a go. The combat is tight, responsive and flashy. The zippy pace and ease of use reminded me a lot of Shank 2’s combat. It’s juggle-heavy combo-focused design makes every fight fun.

I try to play a game in a genre or style I’m not familiar with every few months. I do the same with books. You never know what you might be missing. It’s how I found out I love the Fight Night boxing games despite not liking sports. Or that Advance Wars on the Gameboy Advance was kind of awesome. It’s how The Life of Pi became my favorite book. I suggest you do the same with Dust. Even if the art turns you off, you might find a fun game underneath.

I loved Shank for its art style and combat. Dust has the same type of combat but adds some much needed depth with an RPG-type leveling system and non-linear environments. As an artist working on an indie game, I really can’t get over how slick the animation is, and how it never interferes with the fast-paced combat. I also can’t get over the fact that this game was made largely by just one dude.

So give it a go. From what I’ve seen, the furry art is on the cheesy side of the spectrum, not the creepy sexualized side. Games are great because you don’t always have to like the way they look to enjoy the way they play. Case in point: I don’t like the Arkham City Batman design. I think he’s over muscled and his ears are too long and pointy. But that wasn’t enough to deter me from a fantastic game, because even if he looked kind of dorky in his suit, he still looked awesome busting up criminals. The same goes for Dust. Give it a try.