There's something to be said about a game that grips you and keeps you coming back due to its blatant challenge. It's these games that, no matter how tough and imposing they may be, have you returning to the same levels to see if you can conquer them. Dustforce is one of these games. It systematically challenges you with its clever stage designs, but you can't help but return to it over and over again. While there are certainly spots that feel a bit too punishing and unfair, it's hard not to notice the excellence of this 2D platformer.
You play as a group of four custodians. These folks don't have some deep back story, but their intention is clear: to rid the land of dust and debris using only their cleaning tools and their snazzy acrobatic moves. Though it may not be apparent at first, each of the characters control differently and have certain perks. Some are faster than others, some jump higher, and one even has a triple jump. The best way to see which character is right for you is by experimenting with all of them.
The levels in Dustforce themselves are all pretty spectacular. There are a number of varying overworlds such as a park, a mansion, and a lab. Each of the levels within the game's many areas is joyfully engrossing. As you run through them, it is your job to clean up any leaves, dust, goo, or other debris using your broom (or dusters, or vacuum). All you need to do to perform clean-up duty is run over the filth. Enemies pop up from time to time, and you can give them a light whack or a heavy smack to release more garbage for you to sweep up.
Dust isn't just scattered along the floor, though. There's a lot to sweep up on walls and roofs, which means you'll be grateful that these janitorial heroes can run up walls and even do a bit of upside-down roof running. It's these abilities that really make it possible for you to clean up all the dust in every level, and if you want to get an S-rank for completion, you're going to want to do exactly that. The way the sweeping of dust accentuates and enhances the running and jumping gameplay is surprising, and it's impressive to see how you can speed through levels and link combos by going for flawless runs.
As enjoyable as it is to run freely through levels, there's a lot of emphasis on cleaning up dust. And if you intend on playing through every level in the game, you're going to have to do exactly that. While that's certainly fine, completion isn't the only thing you need to worry about in each level. A second determining factor, finesse, requires you to run through levels as fast as possible in a perfect manner. That means you can't break your cleaning combo or get hit by enemies. This is surprisingly demanding, and it's a bit of a shame that you need to do perfect runs of the initial levels to see everything Dustforce has to offer, especially because this means not everyone will be able to, or want to, put the time into mastering the game to unlock everything.
That said, it's still a lot of fun going back to those levels that kicked your butt and attempting to conquer them completely. It's tough as heck, but it's incredibly rewarding finally seeing those two S-ranks for both completion and finesse after playing through stages repeatedly. When you do unlock new stages, you better be prepared to bring your best, because these are significantly more challenging than the game's open levels.
A lot of people have compared Dustforce to Super Meat Boy in terms of gameplay and challenge. While Dustforce is certainly host to a plethora of awesome levels, has some crazy wall jumping gameplay, and will definitely brutalize you with its difficulty, I really can't make the same comparison. That's because Dustforce is its own game worthy of its own merit, and though Super Meat Boy got a lot of praise, Dustforce is a really great game in its own right that deserves its respective spotlight.
As impressive as the gameplay in Dustforce may be, the visual and audio presentation may be even more magnificently crafted. Simply put, the game looks beautiful. It has a very minimalistic style rife with wonderful color usage. Levels looks great and backgrounds pop nicely, offering an aesthetic treat throughout. If your rig isn't all that powerful, you may notice some slowdown. Thankfully, you can turn off some or all of the background and other environmental aspects through the options menu. Even if you have to do this, Dustforce is pure visual candy.
Even more lovely is the game's soundtrack, which is full of great music. Everything has a distinct indie sound to it, and you're bound to find yourself humming a lot of the themes from Dustforce long after you've stopped playing. The music in Dustforce is, for all intents and purposes, some of the best music to come from a video game in the last few months, and I'm certain that as 2012 comes to a close, there will be plenty of gamers who argue that this soundtrack was one of the coolest of the year.
There's really a lot of game here for those who wish to perfect their approach and unlock new stages. And even for gamers who aren't completionists, Dustforce is a ride worth taking. There are local multiplayer modes such as King of the Hill and Survival, but these serve mainly as distractions. What I'm most excited about is the upcoming level editor, which should serve to add to the game's appeal. The fact that the hub world itself is so interactive speaks volumes of the ambitious nature of Dustforce. This is a shining example of stylish creativity in games. Dustforce looks great, sounds awesome, and plays smoothly, and it is definitely worthy of your attention. Play this indie gem, and enjoy its powerful sense of style.