It can’t be coincidence that the job description of Dustforce’s main characters match the overall impression of the game itself: long hours, tough work, few rewards. Modeled after the hardcore titles of yore, Dustforce fancies itself as a go-to title for gamers looking for a serious speedrun challenge set in a world gone mad with garbage.
Players choose from four janitors and proceed to dust, vacuum, sweep, and brush their way through fifty stages, half of which are locked from the start. Levels are connected by a central hub and divided into four separate worlds: city, forest, lab, and mansion – each with their own unique aesthetic. Dustforce has a simple visual design that skirts the line between anime and minimalism, and it works, creating a style that’s very much its own.
The gameplay can best be likened to classic Sonic titles, wherein speed and level-memorization are key success factors. High scores are awarded for the amount of grime players can clean up in a given level and the speed with which they do so, pushing them to replay the same levels for higher scores. The scores are more than just bragging rights, they’re also the primary means of unlocking new levels.
“Seeing a level completed perfectly is something to behold”There’s a beautiful flow to the platforming as your chosen janitor leaps from one pile of leaves to the next, never missing a beat, and sweeping them along the way. Seeing a level completed perfectly is something to behold, but like all wonderful things it’s a fleeting sensation, as the majority of the experience is mired with frequent restarts and wrestling with the imperfect controls. Dustforce requires absolute precision and the controls aren’t up to par.
One of the biggest issues that all four janitors have is differing stats. Purple has a triple jump, a little fact that makes a big difference when players choose who to pick when tackling a level. There’s also no way to switch between the janitors during the level—instead, gamers have to quit the level and go back in. Learning the ins-and-outs of each janitor is a game entirely of its own with no information given. It’s entirely trial-and-error.
“Dustforce establishes these rules and stops adhering to them”There are a dozen little tricks the brief tutorial does attempt to teach players—sliding downhill, sweeping dust with a powerful stroke so it sticks to a ceiling, using enemies to cross chasms, and many other subtle aerial moves that come in handy. The problem is Dustforce establishes these rules and stops adhering to them. Levels aren’t designed from the mindset of gradual increases in difficulty and introducing challenges to help players master one trick after another, instead the scattershot approach demands mastery of all the techniques right out of the gate.
Another headache stems from performing tricky jumps and finding that the dash, double-jumps and ceiling-sticking seem to work only half of the time. Many times players will find their janitor missing jumps and other inputs with no real indication on how they should be timed. It’s especially frustrating when the player knows what to do but the controls fail to oblige, watching their combo break and subsequently rewarded with a big fat D rating at the end of the stage. Other times a portion of dust will be cleaned up and a jump missed, resulting in players getting stuck in one section with no way to advance, save for restarting the level, which need to be completed in a certain pattern.
What enjoyment is mined from Dustforce pales in comparison to the never-ending uphill battle with the controls. Random timing with crucial dashes and double-jumps across enormous pits leaves players in a frustrating state where the janitors never do what they want them to and the only reward for completing a level is another level to play. Dustforce demands perfect level-memorization, timing, and dexterity but doesn’t nail the most crucial element of such a punishing experience: the controls, and that turns the experience into a mess no janitor can clean up.