Fans of Super Meat Boy and N, look no further. Dustforce is here, and this beautiful and brilliant game offers up level after level of acrobatic platforming challenges, while being a bit more forgiving than its predecessors. In Super Meat Boy, players guided the titular Meat Boy through a brutal level, executing perfect feats of platforming to reach a goal. In N, players collected blocks of gold on a single screen to clear the level. Dustforce is a bit of a mix of these, combining elaborate acrobatic platforming with a collection game.
The general concept is simple; you take on the role of one of four unusually agile space janitors that set out to rid the world of dust and grime. The differences between the characters are subtle, but significant, so itís good to experiment and switch around the characters you take into each of the gameís levels. Each level has a number of surfaces that are absolutely covered in filth. To beat a level, you just need to clean it up. Cleaning a patch of dirt on the ground is simple; you just need to run over it. Walls and ceilings will also need your cleaning attention, and to take care of these trouble spots, your janitor can jump, double jump, air-dash, wall jump, wall run, cling to ceilings, and generally put on a performance worthy of any Olympic athlete. As you clean up tiles of dirt, your combo meter grows. If you take too long before you clean up another tile, then your combo meter resets. It also resets if you are hit by one of the gameís enemies.
Enemies in Dustforce are typically innocent beings that, when covered in grime, become evil for some reason. You have two methods of cleansing them, both literally and metaphorically. Your regular melee attack is a simple affair; just keep hitting them with your cleaning implement until they arenít dirty anymore. You also have a stronger attack with a delay and slightly longer range. This single blow knocks the dirt off of the target, but also hurls the dirt onto a nearby wall, floor, or ceiling, depending on your position relative to the target and the angle of attack. This means you have even more opportunity to build your combo meter. On top of that, every time you clean up some dirt, a special attack meter builds up. Activating this special attack instantly annihilates all filth on screen at once, which is especially handy for defeating the stronger enemies, as well as cleaning those hard-to-reach places.
Moving around in Dustforce is simple; To run, push the arrow keys. Push Z to jump. Push X to perform a light attack. Push Z to perform a heavy attack. Control lets you dash, although you can also choose to allow double-tapping a direction button to let you dash. Finally, pushing the light and heavy attack buttons at the same time performs a full screen cleaning. The controls are extremely responsive, and youíre able to perform last-second maneuvers to get around the levels more efficiently. The default controls are solid, but they can be remapped, and if you have a controller, you can use that as well.
The graphics are simple, but work extremely well. They characters go for a stylish cartoon look that has a bit of a vectorized flavor to them, similar to older games like Another World, so they look good at just about any resolution. The animations are beautiful as well, just as they should be. Just running, jumping, and flipping around really brings the game to life.
Music in the game is similarly retro, while having a modern sensibility to it. The chiptune soundtrack was created by the indie composer Lifeformed. While thereís a bit of energy to the songs, they donít try to go aggressive or ramp up a lot of tension; this is a game where concentration is key, after all. The music is soothing, which helps relieve some frustration if you happen to get hurt and restart from a checkpoint, or screw up and break a long combo. The sound effects are likewise retro and used wherever theyíre really needed. You wonít hear grunts while you jump or anything like that, and the gameís aesthetic as a whole is extremely polished and gorgeous. Dustforce looks and sounds beautiful in play. Doing well feels fantastic and screwing up doesnít rub your face in failure. You just shrug and give it another try.
The game has multiplayer (local only, unfortunately), but they arenít much compared to the main game proper. Theyíre by no means bad, but theyíre not a major selling point. In Survival mode, the players fight on an arena and try to knock the other players off. A player thatís been bumped off the stage loses a life, and the last one with lives remaining wins. In King of the Hill, an orb appears on a platform and each player attempts to get to the orb and stay there until a point is awarded to them. After that, another orb appears on a different platform, and the battle over the platform begins anew.
Multiplayer doesnít put as much emphasis on acrobatics (though knocking someone off the platform in King of the Hill can require some pretty imaginative approaches!), but the core of the game is still there. Thereís still filth to clean up, and in these modes, players can also be evil characters who spread grime wherever they run instead of cleaning it up. The special attack bar still charges up (although the evil characters charge it by messing things up instead of cleaning), and using special attacks can be key to knocking someone away.
Thereís definitely a lot to do in Dustforce, and while levels can be cleared quickly, going for a better time or perfect combo provides plenty of replay value. For only $10, Dustforce is an incredible value, and itís practically unique on the market. Sure, it has similarities to Super Meat Boy, but the Super Meat Boy is built to punish, while Dustforce is built to encourage. I prefer Dustforce of the two, but itís very easily to love both games. Dustforceís theme may not instantly grab you, but try watching some videos, and you can see some of the amazing moves you can pull off. This is an absolutely excellent game.