Ninjas… they’re fast, agile, can dice enemies in midair, and take out a room full of foes before they even know what hit them. The ninja archetype is well known and loved by many. But what would it look like to combine the well-known assassins with, let’s say, janitors? If you’ve ever pondered that question, Hitbox Team has your answer: Dustforce.
If I was to break Dustforce down to its simplest objective, I would say that it’s a game of time trials. You want to make your way to the end of the level as fast as possible while cleaning up as much dust, dirt, and grime as you can. Your performance is ranked on two items: 1) Completion and 2) Finesse. Completion is how much dirt you actually clean. Some levels are pretty linear while others will require you to figure out the most effective way to clean the entire level.
Cleaning increases your combo counter, which is what your Finesse rating is based on. The more continuous cleaning you do, the higher the counter. You have a short period of time where you can be transitioning from one dirty section to the next, but once that counter disappears, you start from zero. Your finesse score will be determined based on how well you can string your combos and how fast you complete the level. Both Completion and Finesse are rated at the lowest “D” through the highest “S”.
To be honest with you, getting “A” ratings is difficult enough; getting “S” ratings requires mastery not only of the level, but of your character movement. There are four nameless characters to choose from—differentiated by their clothing and weapon cleaning utility. There are subtle differences in each character that you will pick up over time. For instance, purple seems to be the most agile; while at the same time, green feels more clunky to move around (he’s an older fella). Their cleaning utilities differ as well. Blue uses a regular broom that feels like it reaches a bit further than Reds push broom. Purple definitely has the shortest reach because she is using what appear to be handheld dust mops.
These small differences in the characters can mean all the difference in the world if you’re just milliseconds off from getting an “S” rating. There are some constants between the characters movements such as double jumping, walk-jumping and sliding, running on ceilings, dashing, and their attacks. You’re going to need your attacks to deal with the dust covered enemies you come across, such as foxes, bears, maids, and gargoyles. Enemies in Dustforce can’t kill you, but what they can do is slow you down and also cancel your current combo. You’ll have three ways to deal with enemies: 1) Normal, 2) Heavy, and 3) Area attacks.
The Normal attack will require a few whacks to get your enemy cleaned off, but there is an advantage: if you are attacking an enemy midair, you can use that combo momentum to make it across pits and obstacles—this is something you will use often. The advantage of the Heavy attack is that it usually only takes one or two hits and will leave the dust you knock off of the enemy on the floor, thus, allowing you to increase you combo counter when you clean it up.
The Area attack is the best you have in your move set, but requires you to fill your combo meter before it can be used. Pressing your Normal and Heavy attack buttons at the same time will unleash your Area attack—causing your character to clean all enemies and dust in an area in a split second. Poor bastards won’t even know what hit them.
In order to get a perfect rating, you will need to use all of your moves and attacks in harmony. Transitioning from one area to another smoothly is the key in keeping your momentum. Moving from the floor, to a wall, then to a ceiling, then using an enemy to help you cruise across an open or spiked pit, and then back to another ceiling (still without touching the ground at this point) can definitely test your platforming skills. While the levels are challenging, they are also fair. When you mess up, you will almost immediately realize why you did. Perhaps you used the wrong move or maybe your timing wasn’t right.
Those who are skilled enough to get perfect ratings are rewarded with a key which will open doors to harder levels. I thought this was a nice touch because it definitely gives the player more incentive to go back and work on perfecting levels they have already played. At first, you may not care too much about getting the keys and proceed to the next level. But as you wander the world screen and constantly pass by locked doors, it will start to get to you. You’ll start visiting those old levels and analyze what you can do to shave off time while still cleaning as much as you can.
One helpful item players have in this aspect is the leaderboard and replays. After you finish each level, you will see scores from other players that have completed that level. You can also watch the replay of how they did it. In regards to the replay system, I was extremely surprised how quickly they loaded up from across the internet. My Starcraft 2 replays don’t even load that fast and they’re on my PC.
Games like these tend to get a bit tedious and sometimes downright frustrating. One thing that definitely helped keep me calm was the soundtrack. The music of Dustforce is very calm and pretty relaxing. Once you get frustrated in a game like this, you typically start making more mistakes, therefore getting more frustrated. My frustration levels were kept low, thanks to the soundtrack, during those times when I had to play the same level over and over, or when I would make that tiny mistake that I knew would cost me the “S” rating.
Overall, Dustforce is a great game. It’s easy to play, challenging to become good at, and difficult to master. For those of you who enjoy a good challenge, Dustforce will provide you with many, many hours of fun and challenging gameplay. Taking the time to master the game feels extremely rewarding because getting perfect scores is no easy task. I would recommend Dustforce to anyone who enjoys platforming and isn’t afraid of a challenge. If only regular cleaning were this fun, mothers around the world would be a bit happier.