I’ve been preaching the past few weeks about how a gem of a game like Dustforce has completely opened my eyes to indie games, and I still stand by it. I think being a smaller team without any real secure financial backing or anything motivates people to be more creative, and to put out a truly great product. That’s how an idea like Dustforce is born. A concept so completely original and refreshing that it revitalizes a person’s faith in the gaming industry’s future.
But enough about philosophy. You’re here because you want to know how the game is, and I’m here to tell you.
Dustforce is a new hardcore platforming game not unlike N+ or Super Meat Boy. Whereas most normal platforms simply have players jumping around levels to get from point A to point B, Dustforce kicks it up a notch and adds ninja-like moves like the ability to run up walls, cling to ceilings and unleash a flurry of attacks in midair. Using these abilities, you and your team of acrobatic super-janitors must clean up environments ranging from dusty old castles filled with haunted books to tidying up the leaves in a forest. Captain Planet himself would be proud
When players start the game, they aren’t presented with a normal menu, and are instead dropped into a hub world where the game’s various levels and other modes can be accessed, such as the tutorial, multiplayer and leaderboards. Walk up to a door and hit the button, you’ll be presented with the four different characters you can choose from. They each have their own tools of cleanliness, and play slightly differently. For example, the default blue character is pretty quick but doesn’t have much punch behind his attacks. The older, green, vacuum-wielding cleaner has considerably more bite, but is a bit more sluggish.
The levels themselves are fairly straightforward. Use all the moves in your arsenal to get to the end of the level as fast as possible while racking up as big of a combo as possible. Combos are achieved by consistently cleaning up whatever mess the current level is struggling against. Higher combos obviously earn a higher rating, and also earn the player an area clearing ultra-attack.
Your rating at the end is split into three different sections: how quickly you finished the level, how much of the level’s dirt you’ve cleaned (cleanliness) and how well you kept up a combo while dispatching enemies and avoiding spike traps (finesse.) All of these translate into your overall spot on the leaderboards.
The only problem with this is the lack of real punishment should you fail, other than having that higher spot on a list of people you’ve probably never met. Enemies don’t actually damage you, they simply break your combo if you had one going. Falling into a spike trap doesn’t make you restart the level or result in a game over, instead simply dropping you on the last bit of stable ground you were on. It’s incredibly ironic that a game that caters towards the hardcore gamer doesn’t have any sort of huge setback should you fail somewhere.
However, as a person that goes on record as many times as possible and mentions the love for great art directions in video games, I’m in love with the sights and sounds of Dustforce. The animation is just as fluid and quick as the gameplay is, and makes nailing a difficult section all the more impressive to watch, not just to play. The sounds are an odd, but welcome mix of the 8-bit soundtrack and “realistic” sound effects coming from both combat and just background ambiance. There isn’t a single person that will play the game and argue that it’s not an artistic one.
As much as I enjoyed leaping about with a broom in hand defeating the very evils that come with having dust bunnies under the rug, there was one major hindrance to the game: the interface.
I mentioned earlier in the review about how instead of a traditional menu guiding players through the game, you’re dropped in a hub world. This would be great, if the game actually told you how to access the tons of levels.
When I played the preview build a few weeks ago, I was presented with the same hub world and several doors going to the levels. Several of the other doors were locked, which I thought was just a side effect of the game, you know, not being the final product. The final game comes around, and those doors are still locked, but this time there’s a key sitting next to one of the doors. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the key opens any locked door you choose to walk up to, but it was unclear on how to gain more. An NPC gave me the hint that I might be able to find the keys if I played the levels. I managed to find one more key, (I’m not sure how, I just noticed several levels later that I had an extra one,) but failed to find any others.
Whether this is due to the keys being in really hard to find spots or a mistake on my part in interpreting the admittedly vague clue about finding more could be debated all day. Regardless, this is the same thing that I mentioned in my Choplifter review last week about singling out gamers that might not get the hang of the game. It effectively locks out gamers who cannot wrap their head around what little amount of hints the game gives in terms of how to progress. This very mechanic leads to frustration, which leads to gamers angry at the game and potentially never playing it again.
I am also a little more than confused at the inclusion of local multiplayer. Local multiplayer, in my opinion, is never a great idea on a PC. Unless you have a set-up like mine where your computer is actually plugged into a TV, getting two people huddled around a computer monitor is always an awkward experience. It’s a little easier to get used to since the game supports both keyboard controls and a gamepad, but it’s still an awkward experience nonetheless.
It is, however, a 4-player King of the Hill style game where players are tasked with staying in close proximity to a certain point on a map long enough to gain a point. Whoever makes it to the point limit first is the winner.
There’s supposed to be a level editor too, but it wasn’t available at the time of this writing.
Regardless of my complaints, I had fun with Dustforce. It’s a fun, addicting and challenging game that might be a bit too challenging for its own good at times. If it weren’t for that lock system and the general lack of getting valuable information to the player, the game would easily be one I recommend to everyone I know. There needs to be a middle ground in games as open and un-linear as Dustforce so that players might be able to change up their approach to advancement. However, considering that the game weighs in at a scant ten dollars, I still recommend the game to anyone who might be looking for a new and unique experience, as long as they have more patience than I do. You could certainly do worse with $10.
Dustforce was released on Steam on January 17. This review is based on the final build of the game, which was provided to us for review purposes.
I've been preaching the past few weeks about how a gem like Dustforce has completely opened my eyes to indie games, and I still stand by it.