A casual browse through the Nintendo Switch’s digital Shop pages—something my wife loves to do to discover random new things—brought our attention to a cheap (literally and figuratively) game called Dexter Stardust. I wasn’t convinced and we moved on. Two months later, the same thing happened, only this time it was on sale. The trailer tried really hard to emulate Monkey Island’s witty humor but I still wasn’t convinced by the muted color palette combined with the rough animations.
Boy was I wrong. Dexter Stardust is great!
In essence, Dexter is a classic 2D point & click adventure game where you’ll be picking up a lot of junk, trying in vain to combine stuff, engage in silly conversations, trying in vain to convince others' to give their stuff, …—you know the drill. The game does not pretend to be anything else except a lovely hand-crafted homage to the classics of the genre. I counted more than 5 Monkey Island references and a very visible Sam & Max one. A shovel attached to a sign? Disabling a waterfall? A broken emergency phone in the woods? While I loved those references, veteran adventurers might expect something more original.
There is one very important thing you should know about Dexter Stardust: it’s almost entirely created by one guy. as the official website states:
Written, directed, illustrated, animated, programmed, and scored all by one individual - Jeremy Fryc
Jeremy is a music composer that has zero experience in coding. He used the Adventure Creator Unity toolkit to sidestep that problem, and the result looks shockingly good for being a solo project. There are obvious signs that this wasn’t done by a bigger team:
- Complex animations are replaced by a black screen. For instance, when Dexter dons his diving suit, the screen turns black, and a second later he says “There, all done!”. This trick is employed multiple times.
- The animations themselves—especially the lip sync—is, in all honesty, quite shoddy. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying the game.
- The game is fully voiced, but some characters, like Dexter’s partner, could do with an increase in quality.
- Scenes are re-used across episodes. This is neatly tied into the story and doesn’t bother the player.
- Some strange glitches can occur now and then while moving the protagonist around. Moving from scene to scene isn’t always easy; we regularly miss-clicked, Dexter moved almost off-screen, but the screen didn’t change.
That said, I can’t imagine the amount of work that had to be poured in such a project. Even though Dexter Stardust is relatively short—it contains 4 episodes of which only one is fairly chunky—the plethora of scenery to draw, voices to record, … I read in an interview with Jeremy that it took him almost 11 years—I hope this wasn’t a full-time occupation…
You’ll notice from the screenshots that the color palette is quite muted: this is another clever “trick”; most of the game you spend your time on Mars, which has an obvious reddish-brown look smeared all over it. Still, some animations or interactions were quite pretty to behold, but don’t expect the level of art like in Machinarium or The Curse of Monkey Island.
The puzzles themselves are mostly not very challenging. I’d categorize this as an easier adventure game, which definitely did not contain any “moon logic” like the crazy Gobliins games, or even Kathy Rain, where the illogical ending made my head spin. In most of the episodes, you simply have Dexter pick up something, and use it in another scene (or even the same), to acquire a new item, to use in another part, to acquire something new, to…
Episode 0 is a gentle introduction to the mechanics of the game (5 minutes), episode 1 and 2 are lovely but, to us, not very challenging, and episode 3 is where the real meat of the game is, while episode 4 simply concludes things and is story-heavy instead of puzzle-driven. I’m quite pleased with the difficulty, we only had to look up one thing in episode 3, and eventually figured it out ourselves. This is a laid-back adventure game, Dexter himself is laid-back, so why shouldn’t the puzzles be?
The mood of the game is (purposely) reminiscent of Futurama and the over-the-top jokes and Mexian-themed puns didn’t grew stale. This is clearly a Monkey kind of adventure game, where you’re supposed to laugh during and after puzzle solving—which we did plentifully. While the underlying theme is quite dark, in the end, the lighthearted mood prevailed. If you want a serious game, you’ve come to the wrong place.
The game is fairly easy to control with the C-stick which emulates a mouse and moves a classic crosshair around. I’d rather play it on PC, but we had a more relaxed experience on the couch. The
- button enabled access to developer commentary for each scene, which was superb, as you can hear Jeremy talk about the development of the game, the reason behind some of the puzzles or funny gimmicks, or even sometimes providing hints here and there. I loved that option, and it again shows a lot of devotion to the project. Why this game is only
€10 is beyond me.
If I have to give it a point of critique I’ll mention the shortness of some of the episodes, the uselessness of Aurora, Dexter’s partner—there’s only a single instance where you’re suddenly her, selecting dialog in an emotionally laden discussion with Dexter—and the fact that Jeremy has planned a successor in the form of… a 2D platformer called Returns to Outer Space. Wait, what? He doesn’t want to make the same genre again and again and likes to experiment. Adventures in Outer Space could be the perfect introduction to a long running episodic adventure game, but that dream is already destroyed. Oh well.
All things considered, I’d put Dexter Stardust in the same liege as other recent excellent adventure games I played: Irony Curtain on the Switch and Kathy Rain on PC. If you have
€10 to spare and are bored or in dire need of a point & click fix, this will be right up your alley. I can’t find many reviews of the game meaning it’s quite underrated, so please give it a try. There’s a free demo available on the Steam store! Adventure Gamers rated it 4.5/5 (Excellent), concluding their review with:
Dexter Stardust is a gloriously over-the-top, Latin-themed homage to pulp sci-fi and classic adventures. The story takes a backseat to the puzzles for a while, but it has attitude and good vibes to spare.
Verdict:/5 I really liked it!
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