Dustforce – Review

Title   Dustforce
Developer  Hitbox Team
Publisher  Capcom
Platform  PS Vita (Reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360, PC/OSX
Genre  Platformer, Time Attack
Release Date  February 4, 2014
Official Site  http://www.dustforce.com

Let’s face it, a game about running around with a broom, cleaning stuff up, doesn’t sound that exciting but Hitbox Team think otherwise and with the release of Dustforce, they’re going to try and convince you too. Originally released on the PC and OSX a few years ago, the powers that be have seen fit to release the game on the Vita along with PS3 and Xbox 360 versions.

The premise is simple – get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, all the while cleaning up the debris that just happens to be scattered around the level, the type of which depends on the particular zone the level takes place. For example, play a level in the lab and you’ll be cleaning up green slime, while in the forest it will be dead leaves.

There are four different zones in total and you are free to play any level you want in any order. Of course it’s not that simple; Dustforce takes the interesting approach of requiring you to discover the entrances to each of the levels. Most are easy to find but each zone has some that are in hard to reach places which will often require a key to unlock. The keys come in two forms, silver and gold, and are earned by completing levels and earning qualifying scores. The silver levels are more difficult than the unlocked levels but are still relatively manageable while the gold levels, on the other hand, are hard as nails. Once you do complete a level it is added to the Tome of Levels, which gives you quick access rather than having to go back and find it again. So, rather than you getting stuck on one particular level and then not being able to progress, you’re able to freely pick and choose whichever level you want, thus stopping you from getting bored or go back to try and beat your score.

The levels themselves are basically obstacle courses filled with pits, spikes, and awkward to reach places that you’ll need to navigate with jumps, slides, bursts of speed, and wall runs in order to clean up all the dust. As you collect dust you gain a bonus which, providing you continue to pick it up, will grow; however you’ll be reset back to zero if you don’t pick anything up within a set period of time. If that wasn’t difficult enough, there are occasional dust-infused enemies who will get in your way. Touching them won’t kill you but you will instantly lose your bonus if they do, although enemies can be defeated by giving them a smack with your broom.

Broom attacks come in two varieties: there is the quick-but-weak attack or the strong-but-slow attack. Collecting dust also builds up a power bar which, when filled, allows you to perform a super attack which will instantly kill any enemies in the vicinity as well as pick up any remaining dust that happens to be nearby. This is quite useful for areas with lots of enemies and as the attack also cleans up all nearby dust, it’s good for grabbing those hard-to-reach pockets of debris that might be otherwise impossible.

At the end of each level you are given two ranks along with a time for your run. The first rank is for Completion, which relates to the amount of dust you manage to collect, while the second rank is for Finesse, which relates to your accrued bonus. The ranks go from ‘A’ to ‘D’ with an ‘S’ rank awarded for a perfect run. To achieve a ‘Double S’ rank you’ll need to collect all the dust and kill all enemies in a level as well as never losing your bonus. This is the part of the game where Hitbox Team might as well just inject digital crack into your eyes; for reasons which I can only attribute to stubbornness and a mild case of OCD, I found myself repeating levels over and over again trying to get a ‘Double S’ rank. The tiniest mistake quickly leads to failure which then results in a restart, repeat ad infinitum until muscle memory starts to take over and you know the level like the back of your hand. Eventually your hard work will pay off and the sense of achievement when that ‘Double S’ rank comes up is massive. This game makes you really work for it, and to help speed things along, Hitbox Team have very thoughtfully put in the ability to quickly restart the level by pressing the select button, which you’ll be hitting repeatedly when going for those top ranks.

For the more serious players out there not merely content with getting a perfect rank, the time of your run, which is measured down to the hundredth of a second, separates the men from the boys. The leaderboards are split into two categories: you can either go for the quickest time possible without worrying about completion or finesse, or you can go for the best score possible which is a perfect ‘Double S’ rank run as quickly as possible. For further bragging rights, when viewing the leaderboards, you are able to see the replay of somebody’s run. I thought that his was a great feature, especially if, like me, you want to remind yourself how shit you really are at this game. It’s also very handy for getting tips on how to achieve a perfect score.

Unfortunately, the replays aren’t available until you manage to complete a level, so if you do find yourself on a particularly tricky area that you can’t get past, for example one of the levels that requires a key to unlock, you’re pretty much stuck with trying to work out a way to the end yourself. This is often frustrating and I found myself simply giving up after repeatedly dying without making any tangible progress. The sudden spike in difficulty will be jarring for most, and I think that some sort of hint feature might have been helpful here.

In addition to the normal sweeping levels, each zone has a few combat levels. In these you are simply placed in a room full of enemies and you have to defeat them all as quick as you can. In terms of scoring, it is exactly the same as the normal levels. ‘S’ ranks for Completion are gained by defeating all enemies as well as collecting any pockets of dust that might be around the arena, while ‘S’ ranks in Finesse are gained by avoiding enemies to ensure that you don’t lose your bonus. I enjoyed these levels as they added welcome variety to the game; it’s just a shame there aren’t more of them.

To add further variety, there are four characters to choose from for each level. Each has slightly different attributes that set them apart. For example, the blue guy is the all-rounder and pretty good at everything, the red woman is able to move a bit quicker, the green guy carries a vacuum cleaner and is therefore able to hit harder, and finally the purple girl is more agile than the rest. It’s not immediately obvious what the different attributes are, and I had to go into the help area to find out. It would be useful if some sort of attribute summary was shown for each character when selecting them so that players can make an informed decision before choosing their character. From what I could tell though, any level can be completed with any character, so in the end it comes down to who you feel more comfortable with. I found myself using the blue guy the most, and occasionally I’d switch to green.

Surprisingly, there is also a multiplayer element where up to eight players can fight together in teams in two game modes; ‘King of the Hill’ and ‘Survival’. The characters from the single player game are paired up with their opposites who, instead of clearing dust, cover the level in it. In ‘King of the Hill’ players are required to hold areas of the map which contain lamps, finding the lamp and keeping the enemy players away from it. If they manage this for a short period of time, the lamp will disappear and award the holding team a point before another lamp reappears somewhere else on the map and the process starts again. The winner is the team who secures the most lamps after all have appeared.

In ‘Survival’ mode the teams simply just have to eliminate each other from the game. This can be be done by either pushing them over ledges or on to spikes. Once a player is out of lives he is eliminated from the game, with the winners being the last team standing. Both modes appear to offer a lot of fun but, unfortunately, at the time of writing the servers were dead and I really struggled to find a game online. However one thing that is important to mention is that there is an Ad Hoc multiplayer mode, so you can create a game and play over a local network with friends.

In terms of graphics, the game keeps it simple and clean with a nice 2D side view of the action. The animations are solid, smooth and pleasant to look at, and I especially liked the bears and foxes in the forest zone. I also liked the way that the characters gain a white blurred outline whenever the power bar fills up, letting you know that your power attack was ready to use. It’s a helpful visual cue that means you don’t really have to keep looking at the power bar down in the left hand corner of the screen. Despite the solid graphics, on some levels I did notice a slight slow down during particularly busy sections, however this didn’t really affect the gameplay too much.

Each zone also has its own individual style of music, reminiscent of 8-bit style but with lots more chimes and synthesised sounds thrown into the mix. It’s fine to listen to for the first few hours of play but I found myself turning it down after a while as it doesn’t really bring much to the game. The sound effects for the enemies and the broom attacks are nothing to write home about, but do the job of adding a bit of life to the proceedings.

Overall, Dustforce is an excellent game which packs a lot in for a download-only title. The easy-to-learn but difficult-to-master gameplay, along with brilliantly designed levels and addictive elements, ensure that you will keep coming back to it. In the past week or so I’ve never used my Vita as much, killing the battery at least three times in the process. This can only be a testament to the quality of the gameplay on offer here, and may also mean that I should probably charge my Vita more often. It’s safe to say that Dustforce is currently one of my favourite Vita titles and while there are, of course, some problems with it, they are few and far between.

  • Great level design with ability to pick and choose levels.
  • Addictive gameplay
  • Combat levels are fun and add extra variety to the game
  • Excellent leaderboards with replay feature
  • Easy to learn, hard to master
  • Difficulty spikes can be painful
  • Multiplayer is dead
  • Music gets boring after a while

Simple ideas are often the best and Hitbox Team’s simple game about getting from one end of the level to another whilst sweeping up dust is one of the simplest there is. Great level design coupled with giving the player the ability to pick and choose which levels to play is a breath of fresh air. The visuals are simple but what it lacks in visual flair it more than makes up for it in having that “just one more try” feel about it.

The only problems I found with the game were the difficulty spikes and dead multiplayer, but overall it is a fantastic and well-thought-out title that, for the money, offers a lot more in terms of replayability than a lot of fully fledged premium titles. While Dustforce is never going to be GOTY, I still believe that all Vita owners should at the very least try the demo and trust me when I say that it is worth the relatively low price being asked for the full game.

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  1. Lorna Lorna says:

    I like the idea of having to find the entrance to new levels. Sounds like a damn weird concept overall, but I like puzzle-platformers and it is odd enough to be intriguing.

  2. Ste Ste says:

    Yeah the fact that you need to find the levels is interesting. There is one draw back to that though, it can be slightly frustrating when you could see a level but didn’t know how to get to it. Other than that it’s still a good game. Definitely worth a punt.

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