21 September 2012


Last night I played Dustforce until my fingers started to ache. My wife had gone to bed, and I'd have stayed up playing if I could manage to flex my fingers fast enough to get to the next level.

I couldn't help it. I was in the game's grasp. I was in the zone. I was running upside down over walls, zooming through bizarre enemies and over spikes. My character, a blue-clad janitor with a corn broom, was engaged in a midair ballet that I was the sole conductor of.

Let me explain. Dustforce is a fast-paced speedrunning platform games from Hitbox Studios, released sometime earlier this year. And it's glorious.

It goes like this: You're in charge of cleaning up around here. The mansion is full of dusty gargoyles and filthy servants who wallow in their own muck, the forest is unruly with leaves, and there's an alarming layer of slime on everything in the laboratory. You've got to jump, dash, double jump, walljump, and cling onto the ceiling like spider man in order to reach that dust. In order to get the very best Completion score (rated from D to S, in typical video game fashion), you've got to get every bit of dust. Yes, even the stuff on the ceiling covered in spikes and only reachable by a split second double jump dash. That's the point. If it was easy, they wouldn't need the Dustforce after all; they could do it themselves.

But it's not just about being thorough. You have to be both thorough and fast- and here's where the brilliance comes in. You have a limited amount of time to keep your "combo" going. Each bit of dust you sweep up gives you a point, and each strike you land against your dust-animated foes gives you a single point. Take too long getting the next point, or get smacked by an enemy, and your combo goes down the drain. In order to get the highest Finesse rating, you're going to need to complete the entire level without missing a bit of dust, in a nearly continuous path, without getting hit or landing on spikes or falling down any bottomless pits.

Obviously enough, the game isn't designed to be easy. Completing any levels beyond the first few takes multiple tries, especially when you're getting to grips with the controls. You will take a dozen tries to get your first double S rating, and you will start getting mad at the game. But the calm, tasteful electronic background music helps. So does the gorgeous, clean visual style. So does the fact that you're well aware the level is completable, if only you'd have done better. And that's the real fun of the game.

Dustforce is a game that knows you can beat it. You've got all the tools, and you can watch other people beat the same level you've spent the last half an hour trying to get right. So you do, and you pick up a trick or two. Then before you know it, you've mastered half a dozen levels, it's midnight, and your fingers ache like the dickens.

The only problems I've spotted so far is a tendency to get a bit slow on some levels, without any real indication of why. Sometimes turning off graphics options helps, and sometimes it doesn't seem to do much of anything. Some levels do lag, even with the graphics options all off, but not all the time. It's probably a problem with my aging computer, I'll admit, which is why it's hard to bring up. But it's there, and if you experience it like me, there's not much you can do about it except suck it up and bear it.

In addition, there's not a single hint of storyline. I can presume that the Dustforce is a team of janitors, because that's what they look like and they are doing a suspicious lot of cleaning. But it's not readily apparent why the dust animates gargoyles, or why slime animates televisions, or why it's important to clean up the leaves in a forest. I mean, you'd think you could just leave those there- it is a forest, after all. But where some people may be frustrated by a lack of purpose, personally, I'm happy there are no cutscenes, or poorly written dialogs. The only characters in the game will state a sentence when you walk past them, and nothing else. There are no quests, no items. No important NPCs. No questgivers. Dustforce has a laser focus on what it does. And luckily for it, what it does, it does very well.

No question about it: Dustforce is one of the best games I've played this year. Pick it up. You won't regret it.


GET IT IF: You like platforming games, speedrunning, or challenging gameplay
PASS IF: You're looking for plot, don't like platforming, or are easily frustrated

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