Dustforce is a beautiful, traversal style 2D platformer with a lot of parkour, wall running, ceiling hanging with some light combat. If you’re the sort of person that likes exploration and collecting in platformers, Dustforce is right up your dirty alley. First is its beautiful art style that makes it stand out from a heap of other platformers. Then you have a great sense of movement control. You can double jump, dash, run up walls for a brief time, wall jump, cling to a ceiling and move along to it before you ultimately fall off. You can slide down slopes and Yaba-Daba-Do your way off inclines at the end to launch yourself.
The game introduces you to all these incredible mechanics via three tutorial levels. One for traversing, another for combat and the third for advanced techniques such as dash jumping into a double jump to run up a wall. I had to return to the advanced techniques 2 hours into the game to complete it. You are never forced to do anything in the game, but there is definitely a need to perfect these skills.
As a member of dust force, your goal is to clean the world of dirt by touching it. Its easy enough to just run across dirt, making it disappear, but the challenge becomes getting up walls, onto ceilings, and beating the dirt from enemies that gives harmless things a sinister new life. The object of each level is to dust trails of leaves, green glop and other forms of dirt all the way up to defeating a few enemies at the end. There’s nothing to differentiate these enemies, one dead end full of enemies might not be the dead end full of enemies you’re looking for.
Combat gets relegated to two buttons, a weak attack and strong attack. The strong is only good for larger enemies, because defeating a smaller enemy will only scatter the dirt covering them and you’ll still need to clean it. Light attacking enemies in the air gives you an extra jump, so you can double jump, hit an enemy and then jump a third time. As you play, you’re also building a meter. When it gets full your character will color trail and pressing both attacks will give an automatic beating to enemies and dirt on screen. Assuming your character will be able to reach them.
There are a few different types of enemies, big hopping heads, angry bears. There are more mundane hovering types either balls of leaves or gargoyles. Green balls of goo that will punch you back, hovering barrels dumping goo beneath them. Even a sort of porcupine that shoots quills or sharp leaves at you. The biggest threat is spikes that cover large areas in later parts of the game. Each spike death or pit in the Nexus or in a level will respawn you.
When going through a level, you don’t have to sweep every bit of dust or leaves, but at the end you’re graded on your completion and finesse. For everything you clean, enemy or trail of dirt, you build a combo. Finesse gets determined by how high of a combo you score in each level. Getting hit or taking too long to clean something new will break your combo and hurt your finesse grade. Each level is also connected to a global leader board. Getting a “S” rank in a level will give you one of three colored keys (copper, silver and gold) to unlock new levels.
The problem is you need to find every level in the game via a hub world called the Nexus. This hub world offers. a real sense of exploration and challenge even to get to these level doors. Some doors are clustered in easy to access areas, but others are for more skilled players. You’ll need to slide down ramps and vault over pits, or double cling to ceilings to make it across a bed of spikes. There are even areas that you’ll need to time jump, dash, jumps to make it through and then do it again. For every path you take in the Nexus, you’ll need to make your way back. Its never as simple as doing the same thing a second time. You’ll need to figure out a way to do it or take a different route and hope that it circles back. Other doors are completely hidden and you’ll need to get into every nook and cranny to find secrets.
Its not like Metroid where you unlock a new ability, getting there relies completely on your skill. After the first two dozen levels, everything gets a lot more difficult. Its this difficulty that some may love, but it hindered my enjoyment of the game. This Nexus is big and it has to be to fit over 70 levels in it.
Each level starts by letting you select from one of four members of Dustforce. They’re all color coated with different looks and ways to clean, but they all play the same. No one has any ability over one another. These characters definitely give the game character and charm. An old man wearing green carrying a vacuum, a brunette in purple with pom poms as dusters, a blue clad janitor with a humble broom and a female version with red overalls.
In fact style summarizes the game as a whole, from the beautiful world with rich backgrounds in a washed out color pallet to the movement and flow of your character. Even the soundtrack has a style that fits the art. Its tranquil synthetic ballads fit perfect into the background of the beautiful cityscape, caves and laboratories.
Outside of the Nexus is a different sort of hub. Its a place that lets you visit the tutorial levels, and even go through previous levels you’ve beaten. These tomes come in four different books, each for different themes of each level. There’s the cityscape, the castle, laboratory and. I’d much prefer flipping through a book to find a level rather than exploring the Nexus, but whatever.
For anyone creative, there’s a level editor that lets you make levels in game as rich and beautiful as you’ll find in Dustforce. You can even go online to download levels from your web browser. It seems like an extra step that should just be in the game. These levels all have ratings, difficulties and keywords tagged with them so you can find whatever you have a mind for.
There’s even local multiplayer survival and king of the hill for up to four local players. I didn’t test this or anything so I can’t review it until I get a party together on my wide screen to play Dustforce.
Now for the bad stuff, by default there is no controller support, but you can rebind the keys to support your controller. The only problem with that is you still need to hit the ESC key to bring up a menu. Having a menu bind would have been nice, but its hardly a big issue. I’ve managed to get myself stuck outside of the screen and the camera just wouldn’t follow me. Are these enough to ruin a game, no certainly not.
While this is a beautiful game with a lot of fun mechanics, it just feels needlessly difficult to get to levels. Some may like the exploration to find a level or get to a door they see high up above, but it feels like extra padding. Even with all these mechanics the game still just didn’t feel like fun. It felt like a chore to go into a level and touch every place with dirt, dust and leaves. Sure I didn’t have to, but if I wanted a key I’d have to. In the later hours of my play through I spent more time just getting to the levels.