Have you ever wondered why there’s not a game about dusting? Ponder no more, because developer Hitbox – with the aid of publisher Capcom – has released Dustforce, a platformer built around the idea of everyone’s least favourite household chore. While the premise isn’t full-on Freddie Mercury in that one Queen video, this slick 2D platformer will see you polishing floors, walls, and ceilings while parkouring your way through levels. The big question is: does the title deliver a clean sweep, or should you leave it to collect dust?
The release sees you take control of a cast of four characters (all nameless), each with one of four unique traits: speed, agility, power, and flexibility. You’ll start off your cleaning quest with a tutorial in virtual reality, which will teach you the pristine platformer’s core mechanics. These include how to dash between ledges, run up walls, ground and aerial combat, and more. It does a great job of getting you up to speed, ahead of your primary escapade.
The title consists of four main environments: Laboratory, City, Forest, and Mansion. Each area consists of numerous levels to clean up, which will grade you on your performance based on two attributes: Completion and Finesse. The former determines how much dust you wiped up, while the latter depicts your combo throughout the stage.
It’s that mechanic that makes the game rewarding. For every spectacle of dust that you destroy, your combo counter will increase – but if you dawdle for too long, your string will be broken. The same is true during combat, except taking damage will reset your multiplier. Enemies vary in each environment, but consist of the same basic types, spanning weak adversaries that don’t attack to heavy grunts that’ll take a bit of a beating. Maintaining your combo throughout these encounters is pivotal, as you’ll earn keys based on your performance. These can then be used to open increasingly difficult stages, before eventually awarding you with access to the game’s finale.
The gameplay has a very old-school flow to it that’s reminiscent of an old Capcom title from the SNES days. Naturally, that means that it’s challenging as well – and it will leave you cleaning out your mouth with soap if you let it. While the title starts off reasonable, later challenges will really begin to test your patience. The gold stages in particular will leave you scratching your head, with the level design similar to a hacked Super Mario emulation. Utter perfection is the only way that you can reasonably expect to progress through these sections, and that will turn off even the most masochistic players.
Of course, that presents a problem. The game is often unclear about what you need to do in order to unlock keys and subsequent levels at the best of times, but it’s also unfair. In the later stages – where you need to play perfectly – it can be difficult to judge exactly what you need to do in order to progress, and one wrong movement can send you straight back to the last checkpoint. This will leave you tossing four-letter rants in the game’s general direction.
Worse still, there’s no real story to keep you motivated. There’s an animated intro sequence upon starting the game, but you never really get any indication of who your characters are, why the enemies are attacking you, and how the world has got so dusty. There is respite to be found online, with two multiplayer modes: Capture the Flag and Survival. However, despite our best efforts, we were unable to test these for review purposes as the servers were completely empty each and every time that we attempted to find an opponent.
At least visually, the game looks striking. The animations are exceptional for each of the characters, and the environmental objects are well distinguished. The framerate can be an issue, though, with hiccups leading to unresponsive controls. In a game that’s all about precision, this is frustrating and unfortunate. At least the soundtrack is a little more successful, boasting some nostalgic tunes that have been modernised. Along with the sharp sound effects, this techno-ambient audio fits the experience well, and will at least attempt to ease your frustrations.
Dustforce is a very enjoyable game for the most part, but its later levels suck the entertainment out of the experience, as it becomes little more than an exercise in anger management. The game’s got a lot going for it – great visuals, outstanding audio, and overall strong mechanics – but outrageous difficulty coupled with some performance hiccups prevent it from achieving greatness. This is still the most intense cleaning that you’ll ever engage in – just remember that any housework becomes a chore eventually.