2D action platformers are a genre of games many enjoyed over the years. But to stay fresh and creative in the ever expanding genre, many games tend to go in odd directions and explore unique concepts. Playing as a sack of meat to save his bandage girlfriend, jumping in/out of the screen to kill mud-themed monsters, and running around as a dragon with speed rivaling a blue hedgehog across colorful landscapes; the genre isn’t afraid to explore interesting concepts.
So how about dusting? You know, that chore that we do in ensuring our homes are nice and clean. Indie studio called Hit-Box said lets turn that into a 2D platformer. The end result is a really creative adventure being formed. Through cleaning the world of leaves and dust, four heroes set out to save the world from dust monsters. Does this interesting adventure create one of the genre’s best? Pick up your broom and get dusting to find out!
Design & Lasting Appeal
The basic structure of the games is that you are in a semi-open hub world that you explore to find doorways to levels across different themes and settings. As you playthrough stages, you unlock silver and bronze keys which can unlock more stages for you to play. It’s a simple set up but small design choices make exploring the hub engaging.
Once you access a level, you can open a ‘Tomb of Levels’ that warps you to completed/unlocked levels so you don’t have to run around to find that missing portal. Another nice touch is that over 150 stages fans have produced in the PC release can be playable in the PS3, 360 and Vita versions through free DLC. This is also access through the ‘Tomb of Levels’ set-up and it’s a clean system for accessing levels right away.
Exploring hubs also helps you find portals to levels and they are hidden through tricky platforming bits. While this could be annoying as you could complete a bunch of levels and not know where the next one is located, the system pushing you to explore is quite nice. I could see this becoming an issue for some but it’s not a major one though.
Regarding the amount of levels, this game is overflowing with content. The base game contains over 10 levels for each of the games 4+ worlds and like mentioned prior, over 150 levels fans created from the PC version are playable on all console/portable releases of Dustforce. Each level has two completion rankings, one for the percentage of everything dusted and another for best time. Getting high ranks for both is difficult but getting a high percentage of things dusted is the easier of the two rankings, which helps unlock the two key types.
Overall the basic design is simple but through being open enough for exploration while also being quite snappy in accessing the many levels, it works out quite well.
Gameplay & Performance
Basic gameplay for Dustforce is a speed-focused 2D platformer where you have various abilities; dashing/air dash, jump and double jump, preforming light and heavy attacks. It offers a lot of tools for the player and careful timing of your inputs is important in getting rid of all the dust/dirt in a level.
When you see patches of leaves, you can attach on them through pressing analog stick/D-Pad in that direction and run across them. This includes when they are on top of ceilings and odd angles. But here is where the issues with gameplay start coming up. In the PS Vita release of Dustforce, the frame rate isn’t locked. It can be very high at one point but at other times, it can drop to sub 20FPS. This is a major issue for basic 2D platformers, as input delays can mess with your jumps and timing. But in a game like Dustforce, it becomes a major issue when trying to attach to walls and carefully time your attacks.
I cannot tell you how many times I died or messed up my level ranking just because the game wasn’t running right. It got very fustrating but it’s playable enough to get used to as you play more of the game. I would advise playing the console or PC versions through, as they run at a locked 60FPS which insures inputs are responsive. Regarding the rest of the overall gameplay, you can build up a gauge that increase the more your dust/clean across levels. When it builds up to it’s maximum point, you can trigger a special attack by pressing Light and Heavy attack at the same time. This is feels great to use when finishing stages as when you take out the final enemy, it creates a nice slow-motion effect and having that be active when pulling a special attack off feels rewarding.
Level design is quite strong across Dustforce, as it gradually gets more complex the more you play. For example, while the introduction stages of a world focus on basic actions like running and dashing, you will quickly be tasked with running under walls and attacking at the right moments to continue your aerial jumps. But the game teaches these mechanics to you through level design rather then basic introduction levels (through you have an optional one you can playthrough to understand basic gameplay mechanics).
This results in a game that is both fair to the player while also being quite the challenge for advanced players. The ranking system in place is also up on leaderboards, so you can try to top a friends score through repeated runs through a level until you master it.
Dustforce is a well thought out game that takes a basic concept of cleaning and utilizes it to create one of the most rewarding platformers out there. While not all versions are created equal for input responsive and controls, it still feels wonderful to get perfect runs and cleaning through the many levels even if it could play better on Vita.
Visuals & Music
While the game doesn’t run well on Vita all the time, it looks fantastic on the console. Using a very stylized look, Dustforce pops off the Vita screen through vivid coloring and heavy shading that makes the game appear like a comic book. Animations are also high quality, with every character looking unique through how they move and interact with the game world.
Music in Dustforce is also fantastic, as it has a mixture of high emotion and quality melodies that ensure you will be relaxed even when a level is too frustrating. Sound effects should be noted as well, due to how great it feels to mass the attack buttons as the sound effect for hitting enemies is great. A loud ‘thump’ is audible making combat feel rewarding even when it’s quite simple overall.
Console & PC Versions – 4.5 out of 5 / PS Vita Version: 4 out of 5
Dustforce is one of the better 2D platformers on the market due to great level design, inventive gameplay mechanics and overall sharp visual styling. If you want a game that is packed with content, the title is a great time for that reason alone thanks to the many levels from both fans and developers being included in the console/Vita release. While it is a shame the Vita version isn’t more optimized, it is still playable and if you can put up with annoying controls from time to time, it is a version I can recommend. But if you have the option, I recommend picking up the console/PC releases of Dustforce.
This game was reviewed using the PS Vita version of Dustforce that I purchased on my own.