‘Heaven Dust’ is a game that makes me smile. It’s a game made by fans. Not just any fans; fans after my own heart, whose affection for the original Resident Evil games shines through in every polygon. Some twenty-x years after Capcom’s seminal survival horror hit the scene, this tribute made by ‘One Gruel Studio’ manages to hit all the right notes needed to evoke the feel of that first tentative shuffle through the Spencer Estate whilst still doing it in a new and distinctive style. Given how much the series has evolved and diverged, there’s something refreshing about a game that rewinds time back to what hooked-us in the first place.
…oh, I’m sorry, you wanted an objective review?? Nope.. none of that here thank-you very much…
Of course this type of thing is so in my wheelhouse that it’s basically an oak panelled part of the decor, but I ended up playing it mostly by chance after some fortunate browsing of the Switch store. In recent months, the Switch has become a staple gaming platform for me and I’m perpetually on the lookout for new releases that are compatible with my commute. ‘Heaven Dust’ was a delightfully stumbled upon discovery that has appeared on the store in the past few weeks and fills the super-niche of being a great choice for anyone who wants to play ‘Resident Evil’ on the go, but wants something just a little more causal than just playing ‘Resident Evil’ on the go*.
The player is handed the top-down reigns of some spiky-haired survival-horror protagonist. Fading in to view, they find themselves without much explanation somewhere in the heart of a zombie infested mansion. From here it’s a case of explore, survive, and escape in the true tradition of the genre. The threat of the slow shambling zombies is balanced by the slow deliberate handling of aiming and shooting, so whilst there is no trace of fast paced combat, the player often has to retreat to make space and often finds themselves in a corner, blasting away, to avoid being mauled by those outstretched hands. Tentatively the player has to move through the corridors and unlock the mansion; trying each door, exploring the open rooms, and making mental notes of the locked doorways and puzzle elements that need some additional object to be resolved. The map may be small and the overall progression fairly linear, but this backtracking style of gameplay makes great use of the space and remembering ‘where-things-are’ being just as much of a puzzle as the puzzles themselves. Inevitably backtracking means that once rooms have been cleared there’s not much threat in returning, so it’s worth re-iterating that if you’re looking for lashings of combat then this may not be the title for you. That being said, there is some effort to keep visited spaces a little unpredictable with certain zombies animating on the second or third pass and the inclusion of a couple of vent ducts along corridors that always threaten to spew forth one of the undead.
Clearly I’m a sucker for this pace of gameplay and in my eyes the ingame puzzles hit all the right Resi-notes. There are a number of items and segments lifted directly from the original inspiration with others being just as outlandish, impractical, and convoluted as any fan could hope for. Likewise healing herbs feature, as do mysteriously connected item boxes, and limited inventory space. Sadly, despite some pretty cool title-card artwork, there are no animated (or otherwise) dialogue or cinematics making ‘Heaven Dust’ a lonely experience with plot gradually revealed in documents found along the way. One neat original feature is the inclusion of ‘vending machines’ that crop up in a number of locations. Our protagonist can spend some of his hard earned (or scavenged from defeated zombies) tokens to buy a small selection of ingame upgrades, maps, hints, and ammo.
I’d be lying if I said that I had any truly negative things to say about ‘Heaven Dust’, but there are a couple of things that I know might rub other players up the wrong way. It’s not a long game and will only provide a few hours of playtime with little reason to replay ( I think there may be two endings, but don’t feel compelled to investigate that further). There’s also no variety in combat or weapons; once you’ve killed your first zombie, you’ve basically experienced it all and I know that fans of the genre will be disappointed that not even a shotgun (that staple of the zombie experience) makes an appearance. It also suffers from a few indie-troubles as I managed to get glitch-trapped in the corner of a room … twice… and the English translation is more than a bit dubious at times which I’m pretty sure led to me not quite ‘getting’ one of the puzzles.
For me however that was all easily overshadowed by how much I enjoyed the experience and I’d be more than happy to recommend it to Resident Evil (or early survival horror) fans. The slightly bobblehead cutsey presentation is charming and fun yet it still maintains a cheesy horror vibe and the gameplay, puzzles, and plot manages to lovingly pay homage to Capcom’s early survival horror titles. It’s not an epic game, or a long game, but it is fun, well put together, and good value considering the low pricepoint. ‘Heaven Dust’ is available now on PC and Switch.
*Note: I’ve just bought the RE:Make on Switch so I can now also play Resident Evil on the go.