Every year it seems a stylish indie platformer captures the hearts and minds of gaming journalists everywhere. In 2010 it was Super Meat Boy, in 2011 you might argue Limbo took the honor – and now that we’re only a few weeks into 2012, an ambitious title has already thrown down the gauntlet. That game is Dustforce, a quirky side-scroller from Hitbox Team.
Dustforce meets the hallmarks of a distinguished platformer: it’s simple and fun to play on the surface, but deeply nuanced and increasingly challenging as it progresses. You play as one of four members of a cleaning crew tasked with doing a thorough and expedient job of cleaning the game’s stages. Debris can be removed from most surfaces by either running across it or swinging your cleaning implement towards it. Enemies can be dispatched in much the same way: by removing the offending dust with your weapon of choice or by using a flashy special move.
Where Dustforce distances itself from the crowd is its tight controls. Characters are amazingly agile: they can scamper up walls, dash in mid-air, and even slide along ceilings in an effort to clean them. To add to Dustforce’s complexity, each character has weaknesses and strengths which make them better suited to certain challenges than others. Mastering them can be key to acing each stage.
That brings us to the key point we need to consider: in order to progress in Dustforce, you must achieve high ratings in each of the game’s stages. This is accomplished by cleaning the vast majority of dust in as efficient a manner as possible. And by ‘high ratings’, we mean an infuriating level of near-perfection.
In the simplest terms I can explain, Dustforce is like the woman who is ideal for you in every way – but who, in turn, demands perfection from you. She’ll point out your grammatical errors, express disapproval if you’re getting a little tubby, or call you out if your shoes don’t match your belt. And you’ll cave like a whipped puppy, because you know how close she is to being out of your league.
So, does Dustforce have the right to expect such high levels of platforming prowess from its players? Of course it does. Will it punish you until you’re ready to throw your controller across the room? Unless you have achieved a state of zen-like calm, then yes. But will you get your gaming mojo back if you stick with it? We certainly did. And that’s why we love this game.
All we can say is Dustforce represents everything we enjoy about challenging games: it’s sublime in its difficulty, rewarding in the mastery its fluid controls, and memorable as a feat accomplished with hard work and dedication. And if you need help, you can always view replays from other gamers via the in-game Level Tomes.
The music is wonderful, the graphics and level design way above par, and the characters are lovingly crafted – even if this can only be expressed through their appearances and movement animations. Our only criticism would be the awkward keyboard controls; if you’re going to give Dustforce a go we’d recommend you use your favorite gamepad instead.
We don’t mean to sound snobbish, but if you’re not looking for a challenge then Dustforce probably isn’t the best game for you. But if you aren’t afraid of failure and are ready to push your skills to their limits, then Dustforce is a game you shouldn’t miss.
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Available on: PC
Developed by: Hitbox Team
Published by: Hitbox Team
Release date: January 1, 2012
EG Score: 5 out of 5 / “Worth Buying”