Nukezilla Review: Dustforce (PC)
Let’s be honest: in today’s indie games market, the 2D platformer is king. Such a simple facet of game making has become the skeleton for many an indie darling over the past few years such as Super Meat Boy, N, I Want To Be The Guy, And Yet It Moves, Fez, and Cave Story. This has lead to a deluge of like-minded titles flooding the market, forcing you to wade through nonsense before you find a true gem. Dustforce is just another one of those games, presenting you with quirky art, teeth-gnashing difficulty, and a neat little twist on the genre. Thus, a question must be asked: if Dustforce is so similar to these kinds of games, why is it worth purchasing?
Because it might be the best platformer you’ll play this year.
Possibly drawing from it’s platforming great-grandfather, Dustforce’s heroes are also menial servicemen; janitors, rather than plumbers. They are tasked with traversing the walls and ceilings of a city, forest, laboratory, and mansion, disposing of refuse such as dead leaves and dust. The focus here is speed, getting through levels and dust quickly and efficiently. Running or sliding along a surface clears the debris away, and adds to a combo meter. If you stop dusting for too long, or get hit by an enemy, you lose your combo. At the end of each level you’re given a time and a grade for how well you cleaned the level and kept your combo alive. You can also view a video each and every run that other players have done on the game’s leaderboards.
The refuse is apparently causing problems in the environment, causing animals, humans, and statues alike to animate and attack people. That’s where our grime-fighters come in. Our heroes have a defense against these dirty foes. Each Dustforce member can use their personal cleaning utensil to perform heavy and light attacks. These attacks can also be utilized in platforming. By knocking the dirt off an enemy or, you can replenish your double jump, and constant attacks on masses of dust can propel you forward without using a second jump. Also, by building up your dusting combo, you gain power and pull off a room-sweeping flash of raw dusting power, useful for defeating the last few enemies that usually end the levels.
Each level has a different philosophy to approach from. Most, like the Server Room and Grass Cave are about precisely timing jumps and letting the environment work for you. This is broken up by levels that throw you into a small room filled with enemies (Store Room, Containment), and larger stages that encourage exploration to make sure you’ve eradicated each and every bit of dirt (Caverns, Forgotten Tunnel). All of the levels have something for those that like exploring, as well as those who want to speed through as quickly as possible.
The game’s aesthetics are what really make it special. Dustforce is one of the prettiest games I’ve ever laid my eyes on. The heroes you control have these vibrant hues that set themselves out from the dull, drab earth tones and gunmetal grays that litter the environment. That’s not to say the levels themselves aren’t gorgeous. Exposed circuitry and wiring, shelves upon shelves of books, and rolling hills connect each area with its theme and grime type. The concert of all of the visuals makes for a game where almost any screen shot could be framed and admired as art. And then there’s the music. My God, the music. Robot Science has gone and made a soundtrack that almost anyone could just burn to a CD and play on repeat in their car. It’s dancey and funky, with mellow synth-heavy roots of the bygone video game soundtracks of yesteryear. “Swimming Through The Waves” is the perfect example of this.
The Nexus itself stands out as a high point in the visuals. Each area and its unique art style are seamlessly integrated into each hub area, with a few secrets tucked away for the dedicated to find. The hubs are a fun diversion from the fast-paced levels, as you can leisurely roam around looking for the next room you want to try out. Some doors are locked, and obtaining keys is as easy as completing levels. Gold doors are by far the hardest levels in the game, meant only for expert players. I’ve taken a look at some of these rooms and can’t even comprehend how to complete them. But that’s the thing, these are the kinds of levels that make you want to push yourself and better your dusting skills. This game may be hard, unbearably so at times, but you never really feel like walking away from it.
Back when I first got my hands on Dustforce, I knew I was getting into something special. The game hasn’t changed much since those initial impressions, save for more things to do and an overhaul of the key collecting system. It’s still the graphically-breathtaking, aurally-orgasmic, finger-breaking good time it was when I downloaded the demo that I couldn’t stop telling people about. Only now I can edit levels and play it on my Macbook. It may take the form of many other great indie titles that have come before it, but Dustforce makes a name for itself, and it begs to be tried out once.