On Forces and Dusting: A Review of Dustforce - This 8-Bit Life
When I first heard about Dustforce last year my response was tepid at best. I have since prostrated myself accordingly as this game is almost perfect. That may sound like high praise for something with such an odd premise as acrobatic janitors fighting dust monsters and sweeping levels with a grace and speed unmatched by most of the Parkour Traceurs I have seen. Indeed it is high praise, and well deserved too. This game combines everything that was fun (and maddening) about games like Super Meat Boy with really fun combat mechanics, gorgeous art and, some of the best music (notice I did not say video game music) that I have heard in quite a while.
A Beautiful Style
It’s hard to know where to start with Dustforce, everything is just so good but, I have to pick a starting place so I want to focus for a bit on the beautiful minimalist art style of the game. The intro video to the game gives us a brief introduction to both the characters of Dustforce as well as the art style that persists throughout. We are greeted with a sort of stripped down, flowing and, minimalist animation style that is both reminiscent of French animation (think The Adventures of Tin Tin) and its later derivative style, Japanese Anime. The character models of all four player characters and their presumably evil counterparts are sleek and only as detailed as they need to be with hints of facial features and impressions of creases in clothing. All of the detail is implied rather than presented directly. The art feels to me like a study of efficiency and beauty and, this statement extends out to all aspects of the game.
The environments that you will be air dashing, wall running and, sliding through are not to be outdone by the character models either. Everything in this world is lush and finely detailed without being overwrought. The world around you feels very much alive and even real despite the unrealistic proximity of different environment types to each other. Even the ‘hub world’ that you traverse to reach new levels is beautifully designed and enjoyable to look at. This is, plainly, a beautiful game to look at.
The Sound of Music
Let me say now that if Terence Lee, the mind behind Dustforce’s soundtrack, does not release an original album someday soon that the world will be worse for it. The music was one of the first things that grabbed me about this game. It is fresh, unique, soothing (which is important when you’re replaying a level for the 15th time) and, very entertaining in its own right. After I first started playing the preview build of the game I immediately copied out the .ogg music files from the game and put them on my phone to listen to while I worked. The music in Dustforce really enriches and evokes the world that you are playing through. It has a distinct personality to it for each level. Even better, it doesn’t seem to get stale or too repetitive. This is not only video game music done right, this is video game music done stylishly. I cannot wait to buy the official soundtrack.
Dust off your Gamepad
Dustforce follows in the grand tradition of ultra-punishing action platformers like Super Meat Boy and I Wanna be the Guy. It has a few fairly simple introductory levels that let you establish a flow and study your technique but, it has so many more that are admittedly aggravating (in a good way). It is a testament to the quality of the game that the difficulty does not feel pointless or contrived. As I mentioned before Dustforce does hold many similarities to similar titles but, it also manages to distinguish itself from the rest with combat elements that tie-in directly with its economy of movement/speed-run style. You may find yourself sliding down a steep slope and then have to jump a split-second later to avoid a very certain spiky death, all while also attacking a floating enemy in order to maintain your momentum to safety and build up your combo meter! It can be intense and highly nuanced. The game has some very fluid technique to it that demands to be mastered if you want to move up in the ranking of the online leader boards.
You will learn quickly on how to use your double-jumps, dashes, air-dashes and, wall runs to effectively traverse a level. You will also be able to pick up the combat system fairly quickly as it is, on the surface, very simple. You have a light attack and a heavy attack; which vary based on which of the four characters you choose to play as. Your character also has a two-button combo attack that will clean up any enemies or debris on the screen but, this powerful attack can only be used once you have built up your combo meter to the point that it glows. This all sounds basic enough because it is but what you will find is that the varied enemy types, their patterns of movement and the environment around you will all have some say in what attacks will and won’t work. These are all things that you will have to study on your own.
As I mentioned before, the game has online leader boards. These are shown to you after your run through a level is graded. From here you are presented with a few panes that show your score for the level, where it is in the ranking and the highest ranked players of that level. I still haven’t told you the best part though. Next to each ranking is an icon of a movie camera, if you select this you will be treated to a recording of that person’s run which can give you insight into what you may be doing wrong and/or how to improve your game. I think that this is by far one of the best features of the game.
The gameplay presented here is certainly some of the best I have encountered in a long time. It’s addicting, fun and, challenging. I definitely get the sense that the best way to play this is on a game pad. I have had some success just playing on a keyboard but I found the experience overall to lend itself better to the layout offered by a controller. Lucky for you this indie game even has a mapable control scheme.
The game even has a multiplayer component. It is sadly though, only local. As of right now there is no word on whether or not online play will ever be available but, one can wish. That being said local multiplayer is better than none. What you have is a multiplayer King of the Hill style game that supports up to 4v4 players. One side plays as the good guys and the other as the untidy perpetrators of the mess that you’ve been cleaning in the single player mode. On the surface it would seem that the object would be to clean, or dirty the level and fight your counterparts until one side wins. The actual object of the game is to protect these glowing orbs from your respective enemy lest they score a point. And so the multiplayer goes. It’s not bad but, it’s not great and sadly it’s not online.
I have had so much fun with this game. I loved almost everything about it. The combat was satisfying; the traversal made me feel skillful, the art made me excited and, the music made me smile. I can’t fault this game on much other than the addition of a local multiplayer mode in an interconnected world. And even that is a minor gripe at worst and a fun time with some friends at best. If you only have 10 dollars to spend on a game this month it should be this. You will not regret it.
Dustforce is available on Steam right now for $9.99!