Dustforce is a 2D, side-scrolling platformer which sees you bouncing off walls and flying through levels, cleaning up as much rubbish as you can as you go.
The story in this game is virtually nonexistent. You’re kinda helping people clean up their little corner of the world, but that’s as far as it goes regarding plot. It turns out this doesn’t even need a strong story, though. Everything else about the experience playing the game is more than enough to compensate for any perceived weakness in this area.
Audio & Visual
The first thing that hits you when you first start up the game is the utter awesomeness and beauty of the art style and design. The characters are colourful, the animation is awesome, and the overall visual style of the game is unique and compelling.
I’m sure many, like myself, were drawn to the game by the beta videos Hitbox Team released as they developed the game. These really showed off the great gameplay, but they had me even before I clicked on the video. The thumbnails themselves revealed there were wonders inside. The art style is simple, but very, very effective, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it… in a video game, at least.
The audio also does a great job of adding to the art style, too. The music is done by a guy called Terence Lee, who released videos showcasing the game’s wonderful score, adding to the hype and awe the Dustforce fans had for the game.
The general feel of the score is chilled out and laid back, featuring some sweet synth and slow beats that do a good job of keeping you calm in the more difficult and frustrating levels. The tracks also reflect the milieu of each of the 4 main areas (and one for the tutorial level), so that wherever you are in the game, each level feel alive and unique in it’s feel.
The game opens with a tutorial level, where you are taught the many ways of maneuvering around the levels and how to clear up each of the many forms of rubbish that are scattered throughout each level.
The basics are: arrows for moving around, Z, X and C for jump, attack, and heavy attack, respectively. But it’s how you combine all of these that makes this game such a complex one; the old and often misused line of “easy to pick up and hard to put down” applying perfectly to this game.
To get through each level you have to utilize a combination of special moves, as well as well-timed jumps and movement. You can find all of the expected moves in here… double-jumps, speed-boosts, sliding down hills, running up walls (even upside-down), and aerial attacks against floating blobs of rubbish giving you extra hang-time.
But the way all this is implemented feels just right. You may need a few run-throughs to get to grips with how a level is to be attacked, but once you’ve figured it out, all the moves are so straightforward to execute that you’re left with a lingering “I’m so awesome” feeling as you fly smoothly through a level, and getting a perfect score.
The overworld level-hub is a level just like any other, with doors dotted around the place which you use to access the levels themselves. When you select a level, you are able to change character to one of four distinctly designed Dustforcers, all with slightly different stats and play styles.
There are also books, one for each area, which list all the levels for that area, showing which are unlocked and giving you access to the your online high-scores, as well as to the best replays for any given level, which give you hints as to how to attack a particular section, or just to enjoy watching.
To start off, you are given access to the tier 1 levels, which are already unlocked for you to play as you wish. To unlock a tier 2 level, you’ll have to complete a perfect run in a tier 1 level, getting an “SS” ranking. This will then give you an iron key, which you can use on any iron-locked tier 2 level door. I’m guessing you’ll receive a gold key to unlock a tier 3 level, but alas, I haven’t been able to make a perfect run on a tier 2 level as yet. They are suitably difficult.
At the end of a level, you are graded based on your performance. First for how much of the rubbish you collected in your run; and second for your finesse in maneuvering through the level. This is based on your combo score you accrue by cleaning up rubbish without leaving too much of a gap before collecting more rubbish. This also builds up a “special move” meter you can use at the end of the level to take down the final group of bad guys, giving a great crescendo to the end of each level. So if you fly through a level with no mistakes, you tend to get a higher ranking than if you’re going through it for the first time and are unfamiliar with it’s layout.
As I mentioned earlier, you’ll have to perfectly complete a level, with an “SS” ranking to get a key to unlock a harder level. In my first session I was frustrated by this… trying my best and only getting an “AA” ranking and so not getting a key… but if you stick with it and muster the patience to practice on a single level to hone your skills, then the reward of unlocking a new level to play with is very satisfying.
So if you really, really don’t like grinding in games, then you may find this one equally frustrating. For me, though, the style and finesse in which this game has been made makes it all worthwhile. It is simply a pleasure to play and experience this game.
There is also a local multiplayer “king of the hill” mode, where up to 4 players an battle it out, with selectable bad guys which lay down rubbish and goop and such instead of cleaning it up to build up their combo meter. The different stats of the characters are made really obvious here; the attacks of one guy sometimes not able to reach the other guy if they are using the same attack. There doesn’t look like there’s any online multiplayer right now, but for those of us who like playing with housemates or siblings in the same room, this local multiplayer is a welcome addition rarely seen in modern games!
There’s also a level editor hinted at in the overworld level-hub, but it is currently unavailable at the time of this review.
I love this game. And while I’m still not the best at it, and it may take me a while to complete a level, I can’t help but come back for more. The art and music in this game is some of the best out there, certainly for an indie, 2D title, and in my opinion better than some of the bigger, triple-A titles out there today.
I just can’t recommend this title enough. It will be available on 17th January 2012, tomorrow at the time of writing this article. So make sure your Steam account has your latest bank details and ready yourself for downloading it as soon as possible!