If you’re a fan of brutal twitch platforming, adrenaline-fuelled parkour and obsessive cleanliness, Hitbox Team’s frenetic sweep-’em-up, Dustforce could well be for you. Bringing new meaning to the term ‘good clean fun’, the game casts players in the role of one of four kick-ass custodians, attempting to cleanse a world of pollution equipped with nothing more than a brush and a cat-like agility.
Foregoing any real narrative, the core of this idiosyncratic experience is focused squarely on its thumb-blistering gameplay, which – akin to Super Meat Boy – is as unforgiving as it is invigorating. Utilising double-jumps, wall-runs and mid-air dashes, your janitor of choice must navigate breakneck stages, purging them of a film of grime that serves to illuminate the path ahead.
While reaching the end of a level is often no easy task, the crux of the game’s challenge comes from attaining its elusive SS rankings. Players are judged on both how much filth is expunged and how far their combo meter is filled, and graded accordingly. Sterilising surfaces builds the aforementioned gauge, and by maintaining momentum and chaining manoeuvres, courses can be conquered in one flowing sequence.
Much like Trials HD, it’s exhilarating to execute a perfect run, which requires exceptional reflexes and careful memorisation. However, a plethora of hazards and corrupted creatures threaten to shatter your combo and catapult you back to the last checkpoint. Fortunately your cleaning tool makes for an effective weapon, and sufficient sanitisation provides the ability to execute a devastating super-attack.
Regrettably, mastering your ninja-like skill set will likely prove problematic due to loose, fiddly controls, and a shallow tutorial that fails to fully impart the required expertise. It doesn’t help that the learning curve here is exceptionally steep, and often basics – like how many times you can jump and dash mid-air – are simply not explained. Therefore the first couple of hours with Dustforce may be quite stressful, resulting in confusion, frustration and an all-encompassing rage.
One thing that is sure to counteract those emotions however, is the game’s ethereal soundtrack, composed by recording artist Terence Lee – a.k.a. Lifeformed. Its electro beats, 8-bit synths and effortless bass lines offset the frenzied nature of the gameplay wonderfully; a fascinating juxtaposition that infuses a curious sense of tranquility.
The game’s striking visuals are another source of pleasure in a title that is often the cause of so much pain. Minimalist manga-inspired character design is complemented by awe-inspiring backdrops of forests, labs and cityscapes, replete with shifting perspectives and myriad subtleties. Animations are fluid and polished, and when the stars align, witnessing your character gracefully traverse the landscape is like poetry in motion.
Multiplayer in Dustforce can be played both locally and online, allowing up to four players to compete in two separate game modes. King of the Hill involves dominating areas of the map, whereas Survival is simply a battle to the death. Although a briefly enjoyable distraction, the most compelling multiplayer aspect remains the online leaderboards, which will keep you engaged long after the competitive modes have been abandoned.
With fifty-six levels and one-hundred more promised as free DLC, there is definitely a lot of bang for your buck here, despite the lack of Cross-Buy. The real question you have to ask yourself is, do you have the patience and determination to pursue those insurmountable high scores? If the answer is yes then prepare to be swept off your feet, but if not this game will likely mop the floor with you.
Hitbox Team’s indie darling personifies that classic old-school challenge, providing merciless whirlwind platforming that perfectionists will adore. Though control issues and a lack of story are disappointing, its serene music, glorious visuals and frenzied gameplay still amount to a satisfying experience. Just bear in mind that if constant restarts and obsessive score chasing aren’t for you, then perhaps neither is Dustforce.