Dustforce is the first release by Australian game makers, Hitbox Team and they
come out swinging with this astounding debut. Much in the same vein of Super Meat
Boy and N+, Dustforce is a side-scrolling platformer that requires precise control.
In Dustforce you control 1 of 4 custodians straight out of the Naruto universe,
with abilities to defy gravity, wall climb and move with the speed and agility akin
to a cross between a ninja and a Jedi. The goal is to clear a level of all dust while
also defeating any enemies along the way. Afterwards the player is graded under
completion and finesse, completion is cleaning everything in the level while finesse
makes sure you never break your flow or drop your accumulating combo.
Right off the bat, you’re given all your abilities; double jump, light and heavy attacks
and dashes, all of which are used in tandem to keep your momentum. For example
jumping while an enemy is in front of you, you can strike them with a heavy attack
that will give you the ability to add an additional jump to your double jump and then
dash for the last bit of momentum. It is gamepad supported and this in my opinion
is essential in order to play, the lack of control on a keyboard is ill-suited for a game
that requires such precision.
Until now I’ve only spoken about the mechanical soundness of the game but
don’t think I’m grazing over the excellent art and music. The in-game art has a
painteresque style showing various shades of light colours that all look slick and
fantastic. The music (which I just bought) provides a soft touch of whimsy and
melancholia to a game that is very demanding. It’s almost like the visuals and the
mechanics were designed in contrast of each other in order to put the player into a
relaxed state to help deal with the extremely challenging levels.
Challenging platforming isn’t the only thing to worry about, there are various types
of enemies that loom. All seemingly innocuous things that have been covered by
garbage turn feral. Books and stone gargoyles turn into flying obstacles while foxes
and bears come to break your combo. Most large deposits of enemies are located
at the end of many stages; fortunately you’re given an area of effect attack if your
combo meter reaches a certain level. It’s a well-implemented move as it lets you
finish a level in style as you gracefully land in slow motion after vanquishing your
The levels are set in a hub world called the Nexus where various level designs are
all expertly intermingled into one. Each of these levels are gated by a key that can
be acquired by getting a Double S rating in previous levels. This is one of my few
complaints for Dustforce as the only way to progress is to get the best possible
rating. I understand the design decisions behind it because it really makes every
key feel truly earned but I find that it limits the more casual players pulled in by
the gorgeous game art and ambient music. This is my only hang up about Dustforce
but perhaps overall playability is not what Hitbox was going for. What I found is
Dustforce is not harder than games like Super Meat Boy, but instead demands more
of the player with the grade level required to move on.
In the Nexus you’ll also find multiplayer that lets you play local co-op with promises
of playing with your Steam friends online. The multiplayer is broken up into survival
and king of the hill where the custodians face off against their dirt spreading
counter parts in what can be described as highly chaotic. I only wish that the online
component was completed by the time I wrote this review.
Now I won’t say Dustforce is for everyone since it requires a specific kind of
dedication and skill but for those looking for a challenging and rewarding
platformer, look no further. Personally, I find I am a bit of a masochist and enjoy this
type of challenge even though I’ve already broken one gamepad playing. And if this
game isn’t your fancy, I implore you to check out the awesome soundtrack here. It’s
only a couple of bucks and definitely good for sweet ambient background music.
Dustforce was a great debut game for Hitbox and now anticipation for their next
project is high.