|System: PC, PS3*, Xbox 360|
|Dev: Hitbox Team, QLOC|
|Release: February 4, 2014|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Fantasy Violence|
by Jenni Lada
True heroes don't seek out glory. They're the unsung people just showing up to do their jobs every day. It's true in real life, and even more so in Dustforce. Here, the janitors are our salvation. Dirt, grime, dust and muck cover everything. Their unholy influence taints everything it touches, contaminating the lands and all life within it. The only people capable of reclaiming the world and bringing animals and people to their senses are a group of janitors. Ninja-esque janitors, sure, but rather ordinary people all the same.
I must admit, though, that this isn't my first experience with Dustforce. The Humble Indie Bundle 6 was my introduction to this indie gem, though I didn't appreciate it at the time. I lacked a gamepad for my computer and the keyboard controls just didn't cut it for me. Fortunately, the PS3's version, with its spot-on controls, three different control schemes and adjustable sensitivity, has me hooked. While there were some moments when I felt frustrated, assured I had perfectly timed a jump or attack to extend a combo and bridge a gap, the fault for failing was (unfortunately) always my own. This is a tighter game, and precision is surely key.
So is knowing one's strengths. The four different janitors aren't there to shake things up aesthetically. Each one has different hallmarks that make them better suited to some of Dustforce's over 50 levels. Dustman is the Mario of the game, good in practically every area, while Dustgirl is speedier and Dustkid has a triple jump and can manuever into tight spaces. Finally, old man Dustworth and his vacuum can take out any enemy with a strong and lengthy attack. No one is any better or worse than the others, they're just better suited to certain situations. Even then, one level can't be designated as just a "Dustkid Level," as part of the fun is seeing how well you can do with any character.
The basics hold true for each one, after all. Dustforce is a parkour experience, and every surface can be scaled. The janitors can run along floors, ceilings and walls in the pursuit of cleanliness. Just passing over is enough to render it spotless. Swipes with brooms, feather dusters and vacuums can beat the dirt off of enemies, revealing harmless creatures and people beneath. These runs and jumps, when chained together, can come together in an unending combo of cleansing.
Sometimes, such strings aren't just about efficiency and stylishness. They're also key to survival and passing over substantial gaps or seemingly insurmountable surfaces. Still, most challenges, at least in the immediately available levels, aren't terribly trying. In fact, it's almost as though Hitbox Team designed them as an introduction to Dustforce parkour. Instead of seeing dirty surfaces as goals, see them as flagposts. This is the way to go. Run along that surface, scale that wall, touch that ceiling, serpentine back and forth between these walls, and you'll be there. You'll reach the goal, and you won't even realize it. Don't think. Just do.
Done right, Dustforce is a zen experience. While players are rewarded with a score for both completion and finesse, neither really matter. Successfully eliminating every speck of dirt or darting stylishly through a level counts towards the earning of silver and gold keys that unlock more taxing levels, but that isn't the only way to play. Dustforce is about the experience of gliding from platform to platform, uninterrupted, in an unstoppable, cleaning wave. At the same time, it's also about exploring every nook and cranny, searching for secret areas and every speck of dirt. There's no wrong way to play, and every playstyle is eventually rewarded with keys to unlock extra levels.
Which is why it's fitting that Dustforce's music is a soothing chiptune soundtrack, accompanied by stylized visuals with faceless characters. Don't focus on the people, the animals or the monsters. Only notice that some are covered in fine layers of dust, garbage, leaves, and slime. Purge all that is dirty, so nothing unsightly remains.
It's a game built for speedruns. Fortunately, Hitbox Team realized this and offered the ability to retain every playthrough. You can watch it once or save it as an .mp4 file. I loved knowing I had the opportunity to record some of my best runs through levels, either to watch later on my own, to see where I could shave off seconds or optimize movements, or to eventually transfer and share with friends. There's a leaderboard as well, for those concerned with keeping up with the best janitors out there.