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Dustforce Review (PC)

Sometimes its hard to write an unbiased review because you know someone that worked on the game. Other times its because the game is about something you love more than everyone else, like a fan of James Elroy novels reviewing LA Confidential. In some cases, one aspect of the game is so beloved to you that you overlook flaws and shortcomings elsewhere. For example, I have no idea if Trine 2 is actually a good game because I spend most of my time gawping at how ridiculously beautiful the visuals are. Similarly, I THINK Dustforce is a good game, but its hard to judge it fairly because I am so in love with just one part of it: the music. I mean seriously, just listen:

I mean seriously! I know this is very much within my own personal wheelhouse with my love of retro chiptunes, but this game is pleasuring my ears so much I can’t take it. I don’t want to play, because I am enjoying just listening so much. This is not an isolated example either, all of the music in the game is this good. Check this out:

I’ve since found out that the music was done by a musician called Lifeformed who has the OST for Dustforce available here. When I say this is my favourite part of the game by a million miles, its by no means a criticism of all the other great things about Dustforce. I just love this soundtrack more than any other I have heard this year.

So when you’re not just listening to Dustforce how does it play? Well very well in fact! The game it most closely resembles is Super Meat Boy, and its a similarly hardcore platforming experience. You play as one of four different characters and although its not obvious how they differ at first, they are subtly different and you’ll probably find one you prefer within your first few hours of playing. No matter who you choose your mission is the same; to make your way through a series of short levels (linked by a hub world of doors) and clean everything within that level. What this amounts to is making sure your character touches all the dirty surfaces as you make your way through the level in the quickest and most efficient way possible as you try to achieve the prestigious double S Rank. You don’t need to perform any actions to clean, rather you have to make sure you’re little brush (or hoover) wielding avatar slides across walls, runs over surface and generally makes contact with anything that is dusty, slimy or dirty. Within moments of seeing a video of the game in action you will get the idea of how it goes, but it should be noted that it requires a great deal of finesse and practice to get as good as whoever is playing in the video below:

Make no mistake, Dustforce is a difficult game. With no native gamepad support, playing with keys is painful. Meanwhile, if you choose to play with a gamepad you need to set out your custom controls. If you could use the analogue stick this would be my preferred option, but using a 360 controller I was unable to do this. It sensibly has a quick restart button though, and having this mapped to a shoulder button on the XBox controller worked fine for me. It doesn’t restart immediately either, it asks for a confirm which is good because losing progress through pressing this button by mistake would be rage inducing.

As you can see from the video, the game has a nice, minimalistic, almost pastel shaded palette and a really nice retro art style together with great animation. It feels really smooth to play, and is almost as responsive a platformer as the aforementioned Meat Boy. I found the old man with the hoover to be my favourite character as he’s a little slower and more deliberate, and my platforming skills aren’t what they used to be.

Once you get the hang of the basic controls it becomes a score attack game. You play the same levels over and over, shaving time off with each new run through and finding better and more efficient routes as you play. Although it seems at first that this might be a frustrating experience – especially seeing as one mistake usually ruins any chance of a decent score – there’s something about the music and the brilliant design of the levels that makes you keep playing. They levels themselves are always short enough that they never seem like a slog, and its amazing how quickly you go from bumbling janitor to cleaning ninja, bouncing off walls, double jumping and generally being awesome.

The few problems with Dustforce come from the fact that it offers little direction to the new player. Some of the eccentricities of the controls aren’t fully explained, and full mastery of these controls are necessary if you are going to be competitive on the dauntingly competitive leaderboards. In the same way the limited local multiplayer game isn’t well explained either, nor is the hub world with its locked doors.

In truth these complaints detract little from the game. I’m not sure I’ll ever be that good at Dustforce. I’m probably in the bottom half of the leaderboards for every level. I’ll keep playing though. For the music, for the atmosphere and for the sheer joy of being a cleaning ninja, Dustrforce has me hooked. Who knows, maybe if I keep playing I might even get good at it one day!

8 sweepers sweeping out of 10

Published inReviews