Wot I Think: Dustforce

By John Walker on January 17th, 2012 at 5:00 pm.

Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

It’s pretty exciting to already know one of your games of 2012, midway through January. And it’s always exciting to have a game that compels you to play the same levels over and over and over and over and over, despite the fact that it’s over two hours since you needed to go to bed, and your hands hurt from thumping your desk, because you have to get a bloody “S” on this level because… because you just do! That would be Dustforce.

With the engagingly silly premise of a 2D side-scrolling platform game where you play a janitor, the overall goal of Dustforce is to sweep up all the mess in a level. But forget whatever images of a game that conjures up in your mind – the dust, be it leaves, fluff or green chemical goo, is the motivation to perform some of the most rewarding platform parkour I’ve ever seen. The dust are the targets to hit, automatically collected as you so elegantly swoop over it through levels, skipping off walls to dart along ceilings, double-jumping between floating dust beasties who you bash to bits, and swooshing down steep hills to make spectacular jumps into seemingly unreachable gaps.

A few dozen levels are scattered around a peculiar hub of various themed areas, some open from the start, others unlocked by perfecting previous challenges, each offering its own gravity-ignoring assault course to tackle. On your first go through you’ll make a few jumps, see what it expects of you, and wonder at the ceiling how you’ll ever be able to finish it with your combo intact. Impossible, you’ll declare, before figuring it out, and getting stuck on the next challenge.

Just played as an A-B platformer would be to wildly miss the point of Dustforce. While there are a few levels that make that task alone pretty tricky, most you’ll be able to run through without too much of a struggle. Instead, the goal here is to sweep up every scrap of dust along the way. Except, actually, that’s not it either. The real goal here is to get through the level, sweeping up every scrap of dust, without letting your combo drop. Combos are pretty simple – you can’t let too long go since you last swept something. If you don’t run over some dirt for a few seconds, the number dramatically drops out of the bottom left corner of the screen. You can keep going, and the first time through a level you probably will. But it will hurt.

Also in the mix is a further feature of collecting dust: fill the bar at the bottom of the screen and you can unleash an attack that wipes out anything in direct line of sight of your janitor. The timing of when to use these is absolutely critical to maximum success.

There are two main rewards at the end of a level. The amount of dust you collected, and the “finesse” you show as you do this. What that actually means is how well you’ve maintained your combo, with the top award, an “S”, only being dished out if you keep it up throughout. Get every scrap of dust and you’ll get the other S. And then playing as something of a tie-breaker is the time you complete it all in.

Because finish a level and you’re presented with the high score chart for all Steam players for that level, and your place on it. And that means war. Even managing to awaken the high score beast (not seen since Trials 2) in some as usually uninterested as me, seeing that another journalist with review code managed to get their SS four seconds faster than me makes it impossible to go to bed. How? How did he do that? I was perfect! PERFECT!

Well, how is an easily answered question. Because brilliantly the game records the play of every player’s entry on the chart, and from that table you can instantly watch their run. And oh! OH! They bounced off that wall to do that ceiling there, rather than going over there! Right then. RIGHT THEN.

Being able to see other people’s techniques once you’ve reached the end of a level at least once is probably going to cause some consternation. Of course you can look at the top position and learn all the best tricks for a level straight away. And then copy them. And do it slightly faster. And then officially be better than them. Or maybe you can’t, because a lot of those figures just before release belong to the developers, and they’re bloody good at their game, unsurprisingly. And, well, as much as you can try to copy, succeeding in copying is entirely another matter.

So much of Dustforce is realising how much more you can do than you realised. Early lessons like working out how to manoeuvre from running on ceilings are liberating. And figuring out what the dash button is really for is one of many revelatory moments where suddenly the possibility for greater success opens itself up to you. Those moments send you tearing back to levels you’ve gotten stuck with a maddening “S,A” score on, hopefully revealing a way to ace it.

Issues? They are few, but I’m not convinced the double-jump is perfect. Once I’d realised that an obscure “double-tap” option needs to be switched off for it to work properly it was much improved, but a few too many times it seemed to fail to fire despite my not having done anything wrong. And sometimes, when playing with a controller at least, turning around in critical moments can be a little laggy. It can make the difference of which way you fire a karate chop against a dust-possessed critter, and that’s beyond maddening.

Oh, and I would very much like to see a few more options mappable to a controller, and indeed the instant restart button to actually be that – currently it just pulls up the menu with “Restart” selected, which isn’t helpful. A single button restart would put this in that Trackmania place of obsessive restarting mania.

Otherwise, it’s sublime. It’s ludicrously compelling, leaving me replaying the same opening section of the same level dozens of times in a row, as I – ever more furiously – restart it after making the same stupid mistake for the nineteen billionth time in a row. But that repetition is bearable because it’s such a joy to play. Those movements are so perfect, clipping the edge of a platform such that you can fling off in the other direction, run up just enough wall to reach a floating enemy, then fight him such that you move sideways across the screen, the critter-death rewarding you with another bounce that means you can touch that ceiling and drop onto the next big slope.

It looks beautiful, the wonderfully painted backdrops gorgeous to skid your meticulously animated cleaner about. And it’s packed with so many levels that becoming infuriated with one means you can run far, far away to a different zone and be infuriated there instead. Or indeed be MAJESTIC IN VICTORY, as you nail that S,S, and receive the reward key to open a new level, where the cycle begins again.

The code I reviewed from wasn’t quite finished, I have to say. The finished version will have a few more levels, and hopefully will have tidied up the very scrappy menus. But since the unfinished version is one of the most bloody excellent platform games I’ve played in a long time (and I was playing the superb new Rayman over Christmas), it seems likely to only get better. I’ll update if that’s not the case. I also wanted to make sure the review was up before the blackout tomorrow, as it would be too big of a shame for this to miss coverage. Get it.

At $10, this is a must. It’ll be out on Steam in the UK in about two hours.

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74 Comments »

  1. kyrieee says:

    I’m glad it’s good, the trailer looked pretty awesome :d

  2. Lobotomist says:

    Getting it now!
    I mean as soon as i get home :P

  3. InternetBatman says:

    I’m glad. This game looks like it will feed my platformer itch for a while.

  4. Kill_The_Drive says:

    Finally a game for girls people who like to clean.

  5. Priestman says:

    “…seeing that another journalist with review code managed to get their SS four seconds faster than me makes it impossible to go to bed. How? How did he do that? I was perfect! PERFECT!”

    BWAHAHAHA! You’ll never beat my times, John. NEVER!

  6. Kits says:

    *sighs and sits staring at Steam page* “This game will unlock in approximately 1 hour”. Feels like too long, after reading this.

  7. airtekh says:

    I seem to remember playing a demo of this ages ago.

    Hopefully they managed to sort the controls out, it was a bit imprecise when I played it.

    • Gnoupi says:

      It was a prototype from last year, I think I tried it too.
      Hopefully it will be like Meat Boy and Super Meat Boy.

      Edit: here is the prototype, and from their own words, it has performance issues, and runs on a completely different engine. So I’m quite confident.

    • Tams80 says:

      The prototype was lovely, but yeah the controls were a bit wonky. That was ages ago though, so I too have a lot of confidence that most if not all of them will be resolved. This will be the first game I’ve paid full price for in ages.

  8. Nim says:

    Looks like I will be dusting off my old steam account to get this.

  9. Velvetmeds says:

    I’ve been interested in this for a while. Will i like it if i did not like SMB?

    • des0lar says:

      Well, it has little in common with Super Meat Boy. If you like platforming, you will like this game.

    • Premium User Badge

      JiminyJickers says:

      Probably wouldn’t risk it. Whereas it is different from SMB there is a lot of similarity. You can do most missions without having to replay it but to get the keys to unlock some of the other levels you must have a perfect score. This means you will have to replay the levels from the beginning multiple times.

      I have both SMB and Dustforce and I definitely enjoy Dustforce more.

  10. Meat Circus says:

    Oh wow. Watch other players high score times is brilliant AND EVIL.

    • The Innocent says:

      I agree. That’s a feature I wish had been in Super Meat Boy, so I could figure out how my friend beat the level in 3 fewer seconds than I managed. That’s a mystery that still keeps me up nights.

    • jjujubird says:

      Being able to replay high scores on a 2d sidescroller reminds me a lot of a game I used to play a long time ago -
      Elastomania http://www.elastomania.com/

      It is a 2d sidescrolling motorbike game (much better than all of the crappy ones you see on flash-game websites) where you have to get all the apples on the level and finish by touching the flower. If you hit your head/arms on anything you die. With great effort you’ll be able to beat all the game’s levels, but then there is a website where you can upload your replays / best times and there’s a leaderboard for every level. Some really ridiculous Europeans that play that game; it has such a high skill-cap. Oh and it’s really easy to make your own levels – there are tons of level packs out there. Such a great game, hopefully this one can accomplish a similar idea but on a grander scale since it has Steam exposure.

    • siegarettes says:

      The new (old) Megaman games on console toys have this feature for the top players I believe. Its incredible how fast and perfect these players move. They use powers in ways you never even though of and switch weapons in microseconds.

  11. fenriz says:

    one more let down, such a pretty style and suhc a childish and pathetic gameplay.

    if it came out in my beloved 90′s, it would have been on Amiga or console, not for a good old pc gamer.

    • Delusibeta says:

      I’m sorry, I didn’t realise all PC games have to be Super Obscure Spreadsheet Simulator 2012 or Realistic Manshooter 23. I guess I’ll be a peasant and enjoy this game.

    • Premium User Badge

      Llewyn says:

      They were your nineties? At least now I know who to blame.

  12. MartinNr5 says:

    I would love to love this but after playing Super Meat Boy, VVVvvvVvvvv et. al. and not feeling anything but non-plussed I’ll give this a pass.

    • Wedge says:

      Did you ever like N (or N+ on the consolewotsits) back in the day? I haven’t cared for an indie platformer since that game… but this one is seeming like it’s going to be my next one from what I’ve played.

    • Josh W says:

      Really? I still love n, unoptimised resource hog that it is.

      I was wondering if this one played similar from the same sort of intense chilledness the video’s suggest.

  13. Premium User Badge

    mineshaft says:

    Is there a level editor?

    Also, I see combat but don’t know if there is multiplayer. Maybe it wouldn’t work.

    • Author X says:

      I assume the combat is multiplayer, one of the videos on the official website is titled, “Dustforce multiplayer gameplay”

      ETA: Yeah, they’re doing a livestream now, which had multiplayer gameplay earlier. Local-only, though.

    • Suits says:

      It’s not LAN either, you’d have to be on the same computer

    • Tacroy says:

      The level editor is “coming soon” according to the main hub.

  14. Armitage1982 says:

    This is looking great !
    Will have an eye on this one :)

  15. deadly.by.design says:

    Most important question:
    Is this one of those silly titles that supports the 360 pad as the ONLY available controller setup?

    I hope not, because the game looks pretty elegantly executed. Ninja Gaiden with a broom and double jump.

    • ThTa says:

      It’s actually designed around keyboard input. Which is great.

    • duncanthrax says:

      It actually ONLY supports keyboard input. And I would like to play with the 360 controller.

    • footloose says:

      It lets you bind your own keys to the controller. It doesn’t have to be a 360 controller either. I’m using my logitech gamepad.

    • duncanthrax says:

      Right, that works, and plays much better. Couldn’t get that hang of both hands on keyboard, it’s been a long time.

    • Chirez says:

      Having tried to play it via keyboard, I have to say I find it near impossible. The design seems very much adapted for a pad, to me. Basically I guess it seems like a game where all the abilities should be triggered by the thumb, rather than separate fingers. I had the same problem with Shank.

  16. Ic4ruz says:

    Instant buy. For some reason this reminds me of “Nimbus” wich was a really good game. Unfortunately it was one of those indie games that “slipped” trough everything and I suspect it didn’t sell that well ):

    • siegarettes says:

      Nimbus was actually in one of the Indie Royales, so I’m assuming that gave it a decent boost in sales.

    • Ginhyun says:

      Nimbus was indeed fantastic. It certainly feels like it got unfairly glossed over, though, which makes me sad.

      Not sure I’d really compare Dustforce to it, though.

  17. Syra says:

    You had me at double jump

  18. Ushao says:

    I’m reminded of the gorgeous art and animation style of SNK fighting games. I’ll definitely pick this one up soon.

  19. Fumarole says:

    …and hopefully will have tidied up the very scrappy menus.

    Respect.

  20. Kill_The_Drive says:

    For some reason there isn’t a “Buy” button on the Steam page. This makes me sad :(

    • Premium User Badge

      ScruffyLemming says:

      Same. Is this not available in the UK or something? Please let me give you my money!

    • povu says:

      Same here in The Netherlands, and a guy I know from Australia doesn’t have the option either.

    • Telzis says:

      It displays as “released” on the front page in Germany without a price tag or buy button on the game page, too. There’s also just one achievement currently listed.

      Oh, it now has a “will be unlocked in approximately 2 hours” note. :)

    • mrwout says:

      Yey it’s already available in Belgium.Bit strange though :p

  21. Hexidecimal says:

    Can’t buy it here yet. Seriously can’t wait to play this, C’MON STEAM!

  22. Xocrates says:

    TB’s posted a WTF is…? for those wanting to see it in motion.

  23. JBantha says:

    looks a lot like Mirrros edge 2d, sound also.

  24. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    Man! And I was going to try to cut down on the game purchases this year. It’s going to be like 2011 all over again, isn’t it?

  25. QualityJeverage says:

    THANK YOU!

    My god. Hadn’t heard a peep about this game, and it would have passed me by completely if I hadn’t seen this post. Bought it on this recommendation, and only 10 minutes in I’m utterly blown away. Love, love, love this game.

  26. PetitPrince says:

    Oh, and I would very much like to see a few more options mappable to a controller, and indeed the instant restart button to actually be that – currently it just pulls up the menu with “Restart” selected, which isn’t helpful. A single button restart would put this in that Trackmania place of obsessive restarting mania.

    It restarts if you press the restart button two times. I don’t find double-pressing a button that slow – actually I find this a better system than an instant replay button, because you won’t press it by accident.

  27. Farsearcher says:

    I love the music in that trailer, is the whole game soundtracked in similar stuff?

  28. Buemba says:

    Played 4 levels so far.

    The game is very fun, but I can already tell my obsession with getting S on all levels is going to drive me nuts.

  29. Luk 333 says:

    Dear RPS, after the Christmas sales I was just starting to get my wishlist under control. Now look what you’ve done. Enough with these good games. Enough. More Flatout 3: Chaos & Destruction, please.

  30. Sleepymatt says:

    Well, this WIT has made me buy it, even though I suck terribly at SMB and it’s ilk I just couldn’t resist a game that has that Trackmania replay urge! And, it’s the first day 1 buy for me in an age :P. Nice to know it isn’t needing the usual AAA day1 patch!

  31. cibo says:

    Ohh, the trailer looks so GOOD.
    It reminds me of N+ for the DS, the way your character seems to build momentum. There’s a feeling of gravity and … well, momentum – I love that!
    It’s just that I don’t care one bit for hiscores and repeating things to perfection.
    How I wish there was a Metroid/Castlevania-like game with player physics like that. I went to one of the Castlevania games on DS after playing N+ and the movement seems so stiff, even though the animations are great. But more games should have this sliding down slopes and walljumping, dashing and things like that.

  32. vivlo says:

    How is this guy supposed to clean anything, if he constantly scatters any leaf heap on his way ?

  33. BooleanBob says:

    The real question I want answered is, how does it fit into the Grand Uniified Indie Platformers are Britpop Theory?

  34. Theoban says:

    Gosh this game is joyful. I’m not great at it yet but the movement and the combat and just the ‘feel’ of the game is a wonder, I can see myself losing myself in it. Little purple girl is the best. FACT.

  35. Premium User Badge

    stahlwerk says:

    It’s very good, incredible style and sounds. I need to play more, and I’m hoping for preconfigured pad support down the road.

  36. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Ready to clean house!