Cleanliness. In a sense, every game ever made has revolved around that theme. Picking up misplaced coins or legendary weapons; cleaning the mess caused by an evil sorcerer or crazed terrorist; or saving some-high profile princess from a sticky situation — video games are all about cleaning things up. Indie dev Hitbox Team has taken that idea and boiled it down to its most basic form in their new platformer, Dustforce.
The premise of Dustforce is simple: you take control of one of four acrobatic janitors cleaning up dust, leaves, and trash as you run, jump, dash, and sweep through complex platforming levels.
The game plays similarly to other recent platformer games like Super Meat Boy or Rayman: Origins. Your character performs nimble movements like running up walls, sliding across ceilings, and leaping long distances. Like other platformers, your main goal is to collect everything in a level. Unlike other platformers, you’re not picking up coins or rings, but instead sweeping up dust, dirt, leaves, and other such detritus. The floors and walls are lined with patches of the stuff. This takes basic level design beyond just complex jump patterns. Players must memorize where every spot of dust and enemy is before, and how to slide or jump to them as quickly as possible.
At the end of each level, you get a rank for how well you completed the level, and your finesse. Finesse essentially means how quickly you hit each patch of dust, leaves, etc. without breaking your combo meter. Your combo meter fills higher the more dust you touch, but if you take too long between spots, flub a jump, get hit by an enemy, touch spikes — anything that would impede building your inertia — cause the combo to break. As the combo number rises, your combo meter does too. This doesn’t break unless you die, and a full meter allows you to perform a special move, which sweeps up all nearby filth and enemies. There are specific spots in each level (usually at the very end) wherecombo moves are key.
If you manage to complete a level, cleaning up everything and never loosing your combo, you earn a key. Keys ar used to unlock new levels. On top of that, your time is added to the leader boards for that level, but locally and online. This adds great incentive to go back and replay each level over and over, and the level design is fun and fluid so return to past stages is never dull. that being said, the levels ramp up in difficulty, requiring perfect movement down to the second in the later areas. For example:
While the gameplay is fun and addictive, perhaps the two most standout features of Dustforce are its music and art direction. The graphics aren’t anything flashy, but the super-stylized sprites and beautifully crisp animation make the game a joy to watch. The game features four playable characters, a male and female janitors armed with brooms, a little girl with duster-pom poms, and an old man with a vacuum. Without any sort of story or dialogue, the art direction manages to give the characters personality and charm from the animations and design alone.
In the game-world itself, the art continues to create a unique look. Leaves twirl in the wind as you sweep them up, critters jump and scamper after cleaning them. The color palette is full or saturated greens, reds and blues, but are muted enough you can clearly tell your character against backdrops of forests, caves, mansion, city streets, and laboratories.
While all these things have created a great game, the center piece of the game is the music. The music is calm electronic, 8-bit-ish tunes that instill a sense of zen. It makes missing a jump or missing some trash much more bearable. The game never punishes you for failure in the first place, but the music is so calming and great to listen to it’s like a cooling pack of ice to press again your beaten face… so to speak. In fact, several times I’ve fired up the game simply because a song from the game popped in my head and I wanted to listen.
Every element of Dustforce does exactly what it needs to do. It never tries to be overly flashy, which makes the basic parts of the game feel refined and polished. Impeccable controls, great level design, beautiful art, and amazing music all converge to create a vastly enjoyable platforming experience. It has a bit of a learning curve, but once you’ve got it you’ll be playing Dustforce for days to come. I highly recommend this game!