Who knew cleaning up could be so much fun? Hitbox Team’s new release Dustforce is a brand-new indie platformer now on Steam, and one of the better platformers we’ve ever played. It looks stunning, handles beautifully, and is also ridiculously hard. But if you’re a fan of challenging and fluid platformers like N+, Super Meat Boy, and even Fancy Pants Adventures, read on.
In Dustforce, you play as one of four very dexterous janitors, each determined to sweep up the messy levels they traverse. Your janitor is ridiculously agile for an employee in the service industry. He is able to jump, double jump, run up walls, dash across ceilings and swat enemies until they’re tidy. As you dash through the levels, your janitor jumps and slides along the floor, walls and even the ceiling, sweeping up the clinging dust and leaves. As mentioned, there are four janitors that each control slightly differently: two of the janitor have brooms and a default double jump style; one has a feather duster, weaker jumping height and the ability to triple jump; and the last has a vacuum cleaner and a challenging jumping arc.
The graphics look great, and Dustforce has a very crisp art style. The environments are highly detailed and varied, with very different styles for each of the four worlds, and the levels themselves vary even more. In contrast, the janitors are all very simple in their design, but each one is fluidly and beautifully animated, with each new move transitioning perfectly from the last. Complementing the gorgeous art style is the soundtrack, which has a relaxed retro feeling that suits the game perfectly. The screenshots look pretty great, but seeing the game in action makes it look even better.
Matching the fluid animations are the excellent controls. Each janitor controls very easily, even on the keyboard. You have the Z key as a jump button, and two variations on attacking mapped to X and C, making combos very easy to chain together. The only difficult control mechanism is the dash move, which is bound to the “ctrl” key. Since you rarely use this function, it’s easy to completely forget about it.
Each of the four worlds has twelve thematically distinct levels – four unlocked from the start, four hidden behind iron locks, and four hidden behind bronze locks. There is no menu system in the game; instead, Dustforce has a central hub world to explore as you find new levels to conquer. Luckily, once you find a level it is added to a central tome found in each world area, making it easy to see what you still need to achieve.
At the end of each level, you’re awarded medals based on how much you have cleaned and how stylishly you have done so. The medals add a nice incentive but they also lead to our only complaint. The only way to unlock keys for later levels in each world is to get an S ranking, requiring you to clean up every bit of mess and defeat every enemy without dying, getting hit by an enemy attack, or even going for more than 5 seconds without cleaning. It rewards absolute perfection, and while this probably helps make sure you’re ready for the challenges of the later levels, it does create an enormous skill barrier. We consider ourselves quite good at platformers, and this game managed to stretch our skills to the absolute maximum.
So on one hand, we can’t really recommend this game to those who are really bad at platformers, as the demand for perfection would make unlocking more than the starting twelve levels maddeningly frustrating. On the other hand, if you love a challenge then Dustforce provides an amazing sense of satisfaction. If you die in the game, chances are it was your fault rather than the game cheating you out of your life. It also has a gentile learning curve too, with seemingly impossible levels slowly becoming within reach with tons of practice.
Final Verdict: If you’re a perfectionist, you don’t mind a challenge, and you like your games hard, then Dustforce is a must-buy as a platformer that ranks just as good or even better than genre standbys like Super Meat Boy and N+.
Rating: 9/10[starreview tpl=16]
This review is based on a review copy of the PC version of Dustforce provided by Hitbox.