Home > PC, Platformer > Dustforce [REVIEW]

Dustforce [REVIEW]

Dustforce: released January 17th, 2012
Developer: Hitbox Team
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux

[NOTE: Mac and Linux versions are currently unreleased, but are on the way!]

Skill based platformers are a truly unique beast. To some extent you could say that all platformers are skill based (and of course you’d be right), but what I’m referring to here is a completely different breed of platformer. Something familiar, yet so very unique from your Super Marios and your Donkey Kong Countrys. Each level of these games presents you with a unique challenge, a series of obstacles that you must overcome by exercising quick reflexes, minute precision, and an extraordinary amount of practice, practice, practice! These games are hard, and they make no apologies for it, because it’s that very difficulty that gives them their style, their power, their edge. That old feeling of getting a high score and beating out your friends’ best efforts is reimagined in the form of getting a new best time and completing each level faster than your peers.

It takes a lot of hard work, but there’s nothing quite as majestic as a perfectly executed speed run in a game like Super Meat Boy. Seeing someone jump and slide along these perfectly calculated paths is a truly impressive feat. Rarely do we get to see such noteworthy displays of skill in single player gaming, but thanks to titles like Super Meat Boy and N+, it’s becoming more and more common. Case in point, Dustforce, the newest skill based platformer to enter the fray, brought to us by developer Hitbox. So has Dustforce earned the right to be mentioned with the likes of those previously mentioned classics? You bet your ass it has!

In Dustforce you take control of an acrobatic janitor, and your goal is to jump, slide, and sweep away every ounce of muck you can find. Technically you can choose from four different color-coded characters, each one with their own little nuances, but for the most part they all play pretty much the same. There’s a variety of techniques you’ll need to master if you wish to be successful, such as wall-jumping, dashing, gaining momentum by attacking enemies in midair, and running along ceilings. A certain level of finesse is required to really make all of these techniques come together effectively, and it definitely takes some getting used to, but once you’ve got it, there’s nothing quite like it.

Running up a wall, then across the ceiling, then jumping out in to the open just to double jump backwards on to the wall that was above you, then rebounding up a narrow column just to reach yet another set piece of acrobatic obstacles… it’s a beautiful thing. Honestly, once you’ve really got the rhythm going, it’s not like anything that I can put in to words here. I said before that a perfectly executed speed run is a majestic sight to behold, and no game exemplifies that more than Dustforce.

In a game like Super Meat Boy it was all about finding that perfect line, that path that would lead you to the finish in record time, but there’s more to it in Dustforce. In case you’ve forgotten, you are a janitor, and your job is to clean up all the dust, leaves, and lab muck that’s littering the environment. At the end of each level you’ll not only be judged on your time, but on the amount of litter you cleaned up, and the finesse with which you did it. You’ll have a combo meter that continues to grow as you clean up the various locales, but should you take too long to reach the next pile of muck, or should you get smacked across the face by an unfriendly inhabitant, your combo meter will reset, and your final finesse ranking will suffer. So to recap, you have to clean up all of the muck, do it in a timely manner, and make sure to not get knocked out while doing it. To say that Dustforce can be pretty demanding of it’s users would be putting it lightly.

Technically you don’t have to perform double ‘S’ rank finishes to beat a good portion of the levels, but if you want to play everything the game has to offer, you better brush up on your dust forcing. The game starts you off in an overworld hub, and you’re free to branch off and explore the world as you see fit. Levels are presented in the form of doorways that you can enter which are scattered throughout the hubworld. At the start of the game there are many unlocked doors for you to venture in to, but you’ll also notice a decent number of them remain locked. The only way to get the keys for these doors is to perform a perfect run on the levels that are already available to you. Get a double ‘S’ rank on the starter levels and you’ll unlock a silver key. Get a double ‘S’ rank on a silver level, you’ll get a gold key. If you manage to get a double ‘S’ rank on a gold level, you get a red key. Starting to get the picture?

Performing a perfect run will allow you to unlock a level ranked one tier higher than that one, then if you perfect that level, you unlock a stage from the next tier up. This is Dustforce’s way of ensuring you’re never too overwhelmed. There are some extremely difficult challenges in this game, but you aren’t going to be allowed to play them until you’re ready, until you’ve earned that right. This system forces you to prove yourself before you can move on, making Dustforce’s pacing absolutely spot on. You will never encounter a level that you haven’t been prepared for, so while the game is certainly quite challenging, the well executed difficulty curve ensures that your enjoyment will never be hampered by frustration. That’s not to say you won’t get frustrated of course, just that it never gets in the way of the enjoyment!

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on the unbelievable presentation in Dustforce. Both visually and musically, Dustforce is a marvelous achievement. The designs are so seemingly simple, but to see them move and interact with the environment the way they do, it’s truly impressive. The animations are extremely slick, and seeing your character leap from a wall, strike an enemy midair, then run along a ceiling looks incredibly fluid. The environments themselves, though also simple in design, look fantastic. I particularly love when you run through a pile of leaves or dust and they billow in to the air, looking completely natural. Then of course there’s the music which is absolutely stellar. The electronic soundtrack is very chilled out and almost dreamlike. It has this entrancing rhythm that you just can’t help but be mesmerized by. I personally can’t wait for the soundtrack to be released to the public as it’s something I would honestly listen to on a day to day basis, just because I love it so much. I sincerely hope you’ll watch the trailer at the end of this review so that you can truly absorb and appreciate the aesthetics in Dustforce.

A note on the controls, I personally played using a 360 controller with a custom layout via Xpadder, but from what I’ve heard, the controls using a keyboard are actually pretty tight. I tried them briefly, but it’s just not something I can get used to. Some games are clearly always going to be better with a mouse and keyboard, but I firmly believe that platformers, especially ones that require as much precision and control as Dustforce, are better played with a gamepad of some kind.

Dustforce is a prime example of top notch game development. Brilliant level design combined with the unique weightiness and acrobatic nature of the controls make Dustforce more of an art form than a game when properly executed. Performing well on a level often times only encourages you to try again, and attempt to dethrone those who are ranked above you. The ability to watch replays of the highest ranking players on the leaderboards only adds to this feeling, since once you see how they managed to do it, you’ve got to try and take what they did and improve upon it. Of course, even if your quest isn’t to become the number one dust forcer in the world, it’s always entertaining to try and rank higher than your friends. Anybody who has ever played Trials or N+ knows what I’m talking about.

Finally, I just have to throw this disclaimer out there, since if you’ve read this far you may be getting the idea that Dustforce is a generally flawless experience. For someone like myself, this is actually quite true, but please take note that if you are not a fan of being challenged by your games, Dustforce doesn’t really belong on your wishlist. If games like Super Meat Boy or Trials always irritated and enraged you to the point of hating everything in the known universe, then chances are you’ll probably end up just as furious when playing Dustforce. I hate to turn anybody away from this game, and if it still seems interesting to you then by all means check it out, but just remember, it’s a tough game.

Dustforce easily earns its place among the top-tier of indie platformers, and even among the so called “AAA” platformers as well. The stellar visuals and entrancing soundtrack are not soon to be forgotten, and the tight, precision platforming is something I’m sure I’ll be working at for months to come. There’s such a genuine sense of satisfaction from conquering a difficult level, or placing high on the leaderboards, and that rewarding feeling isn’t something you often happen across in gaming, or in anything really. Dustforce can demand quite a bit from it’s users, but when you nail that perfect run and get that super fast double ‘S’ rank, you really feel like you’ve achieved something, and I’m grateful to Dustforce for giving me an experience that I will remember fondly for a long, long time.

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