by Matthew Thompson (images courtesy of Hitbox Team via their website)
It’s great how video games can make something fun out of seemingly mundane activities. I wouldn’t normally decide to sweep the kitchen floor or dust the mantle when I’m looking to liven up a boring afternoon. And yet the past few days, I’ve been having a blast cleaning up the dusty old libraries and gunk-covered labs of Hitbox Team’s Dustforce.
Dustforce puts you in control of one of four janitors with the goal of ridding the world of its dust problems. These maintenance workers have some slight differences in speed and jumping ability, but all have the kind of acrobatic skills you’d expect to see from one of gaming’s more typical protagonists: the ninja. You’ll be running along ceilings, bouncing off walls and slashing up baddies as you try and make it through the game’s tricky 2D platforming levels. Except your weapon is a broom or vacuum and your greatest foe might be a dusty old book or a filth-dumping trashcan.
Merely making it through levels isn’t your main goal either. You want to leave the level spotless and do so with style. Along with having your time tracked, you are graded on two criteria: completion and finesse. Completion has you attempting to clear away every speck of dirt in the level while finesse means keeping your combo building by never going too long without sweeping something up or striking one of the game’s dust monsters. If you want to achieve that coveted SS grade you’ll need to clean up the level completely while never losing your combo. What it ends up feeling like is Super Meat Boy meets Devil May Cry or N+ meets Resogun. And like some of those games, you’ll find yourself restarting levels often trying to achieve that perfect run.
The game is no pushover either. It took me a couple days to really get the hang of the controls and they still feel a bit finnicky at times. And despite my better grasp of said controls, some spots are kicking me around all the same. Just finding all the levels in Dustworld’s hubs can be hard and practice is definitely needed if you want to get enough keys to unlock the toughest challenges. The good news is each world has levels of various difficulties so you can cut your teeth and up those grades on easier areas before tackling some of the more sadistic ones that await you as you delve deeper into each world.
This is a gameplay-focused 2D platformer, so those looking for snazzy presentation or some kind of compelling narrative will have to look elsewhere. Dustforce sports a simple, but effective look that I think is quite sharp and I really enjoyed the music. It gives a off a calming vibe which was a good way to prevent me from heaving my Vita across the room during the game’s more difficult segments. I did experience some framerate issues in a couple levels so far which definitely can hinder things a bit.
I’ve only spent a few days messing around with Dustforce, so I wouldn’t quite call this a review (I have not tried the game’s multiplayer either). It’s really too early to say exactly how much I like it (though quite a bit at the moment) and even tougher to wholly recommend since it seems like an acquired taste. I’d at the very least recommend trying the demo if this sounds like your kind of game. Between its challenging 2D platforming and that “just one more run” reaction it elicits from me, it really is right in my wheelhouse. And if the first few days are any indication, this is a game that will continue to grow on me as my skills improve. And games that reward your practice like that are always a good thing in my book.