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Speed Cleaning: An Analysis of Dustforce

2D game design has been making a real splash lately. And with Dustforce we may have a new king of challenging 2D design.

2D games have been recently reinventing themselves as a hardcore gamers’ paradise. With Super Meat Boy and Rayman Origins last year and now Dustforce by Hitbox Team joins the group. Don't let the stylized graphics and peaceful music fool you though, as Dustforce could be the most challenging 2D game to come out yet.

The premise is that you play as janitors who also seem to be masters of parkour. Your goal on each level is to clean it up, which involves clearing up patches of trash and trash monsters.

Movement is the name of the game as you're able to wall and ceiling run along with performing double jumps. Combos are earned by constantly cleaning up and you'll lose the combo if you go a few seconds without cleaning or getting hit. What makes Dustforce so interesting is the progression system and how it rewards expert players.

Currently, there are four areas in the game for players to go through. In each area you'll find doors that represent levels. There are three things the game tracks per level: how much you cleaned, your total combo and your time.

The latter is purely used for the high score list/bragging rights. The former however determines your grade in the level. The highest grade you can earn in a level is S/S, which means that you cleaned up everything and you preserved your combo chain for the entire level. In other words, you'll have to get a perfect run to earn that rating.

Getting a S/S rating on a regular level gives you a silver key. Doors locked with a silver lock represent medium difficulty levels, which of course require more skill to complete. If you S/S those levels, you'll earn a gold key that opens up expert level courses. Getting through a level with anything less than a S/S won't give you anything.

As both a hardcore gamer and a completist I don't know how I feel about this system. While having the key system allows expert players to feel rewarded. I would have liked something to be given or unlocked for getting through a level. Especially when you try out the gold rated levels which are incredibly difficult.

Beating a level feels like a hollow victory when you finish it and have nothing to show for it. Since all progress is tied to perfect runs. Now some may argue that the knowledge from clearing the level is progress enough. However the challenge of Dustforce isn't getting through each individual element in a level, but doing it all at the same time without any screw ups.

The other problem I had was some issues with the responsiveness of the controls. The player can either double jump or air dash one time once the player is in the air, and resets only when they touch ground. There were times where neither was going off when I wanted them to.

This becomes a major pain during sections where the player is moving faster than the camera can pan which require precise movement to get through. Now, I was using keyboard controls and can't comment on if it happens with a game pad. Because of these issues I don't think I'm going to see the end of the game.

Dustforce is an interesting game which takes the whole "easy to learn, difficult to master” motto to a new level. If you enjoy challenging games and know what you're getting into, this is a great game to test your platforming skills.

Josh Bycer

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