Needs to clean up its act a little.
After a couple decades of game playing, I occasionally feel like I’ve seen just about every concept that’s out there. Then along comes a game like Dustforce, and reminds me that there are still plenty of new ideas to be found. Featuring a squad of janitors, Dustforce challenges players to clean with style. It’s a fun concept that has its bright spots, but is ultimately weighed down by its repetitive nature and controls that don’t quite deliver the precision required for success.
Dustforce is broken into several main areas, each with several levels. After choosing one of the four characters, players enter a level and attempt to clean it as quickly and completely as possible. Characters automatically sweep debris, whether it’s dust in a mansion or leaves in a forest, so the main challenge is getting to the trash, which can be on walls, ceilings, or even enemies. At the end of a level players receive a letter grade based on the completeness of their cleaning.
As a character sweeps they build a combo meter, which is the second metric players are judged on. The combo ends if the player goes too long without cleaning something, or if they are attacked by an enemy. The Finesse score at the end of a level reflects the time needed to complete the level and the combo score(s) achieved. The Completion and Finesse scores combined earn the player progress towards silver and gold keys, which are used to unlock later levels. While a perfect level score will earn a key, lower scores on multiple levels will add up to reward keys as well.
Getting all the dust requires some fancy moves. Dustforce characters can double jump and run along walls and ceilings for short distances. Defeating enemies resets jumping, so I was able to double jump, kill an enemy in the air, and then jump again. While the initial levels are simply a matter of how stylishly one can clean, later levels will require lots of acrobatics just to make it all the way to the end.
This was my main issue with Dustforce – the game requires precision, but the controls make some sacrifices in the pursuit of fluid movement. Characters always take an extra half step, which keeps things looking smooth but causes problems. In one extreme instance I needed to go down a shaft in the ground and it literally took me 30 seconds, because my character kept stepping over the gap instead of falling down it. A much more common occurrence was a character not doing what I intended – the controls for running up a wall and along the ceiling are the same, so when jumping towards a corner I had about a 50% chance of doing what I wanted.
Certainly the controls can be adjusted to, and that’s part of the challenge, but replaying levels time and time again to figure out exactly where and when to jump, dash, or attack starts to wear thin, especially given their sometimes fickle nature. When double jumping, if I jumped too early and would hit the wall too high, I would pause before hitting the button again for my second jump, only to find that often that press was just ignored. Executing a second jump anywhere other than at the peak of the first one was a hit and miss affair at best. This simply increased the need for repetition, as I had to find the exact spot to jump, since I couldn’t count on being able to adjust if necessary.
One great feature that Dustforce has is the ability to watch replays of other players once a level has been completed. Picking the top score and watching that run was impressive and very helpful when it came to plotting out the best route through a level. It’s like having a mentor, and was very useful in instances when I just couldn’t quite figure out how to get to an area, or complete a section without losing my combo.
The game has a nice, cartoony art style, and the different areas add some nice visual variety. According to a buried submenu the characters have different attributes, but aside from the aesthetics I noticed little difference from one to another. The music is good, but unfortunately the best track is the one that plays when the game is highlighted in the PS3 menu.
Dustforce has both King of the Hill and Survival multiplayer modes, with options to tweak game settings. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to try either of them out, as I was the only player in any of the lobbies, so only players who have friends willing to jump in with them should plan to take advantage of these modes.
I had some fun with Dustforce, and in its bright moments the game reminded me a lot of playing the old Tony Hawk games, as I was trying to complete a level while stringing together a massive combo. Unfortunately, as the game wore on it felt like the precision required to succeed was sacrificed in the name of smooth, fluid motion. The replacement for that precision is simply repetition, but after one or two passes through a level, I was ready to move on. As a game it’s a good amount of content for a fair price, but I would advise checking out the demo before jumping in.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on PlayStation 3.