By Mike Bezek
Every once in awhile a game almost flies under the radar here at TPG, and Hitbox Team’s Dustforce just so happened to be one of them. A scarcely viewed posting on Reddit led to a preview video that blew me away as to how such a polished gem was going largely unnoticed. We immediately contacted Hitbox Team to get our hands on a preview copy, and what we came back with was a game that has the potential to usurp the indie platforming crown from Super Meat Boy by force.
Painting Dirty Pictures
One of the first things noticeable about Dustforce is its unmistakable palette filled with vibrant and sweeping pastels. Environments are designed to be simplistic, yet simultaneously brim with life and originality. Whether it was the amber-tinged park filled with sprawling hills or the darkened bowels of an abandoned castle, every individual setting has a personality that has been brought to life with color. There are simply not enough games on the PC that emulate the cherished pastel/cel-shading approach, and Dustforce lays its cards on the table to show how beautiful a game can be with a palette that doesn’t deviate far from the traditional color wheel. Characters transition beautifully while performing a variety of actions, and a constant 60FPS throughout compliments the silky smooth animations. Leaves crashing about in an explosion of color while the swift white streaks of your character’s broom making physical contact with an enemy shows how much care has been put into making a game that looks like an interactive storybook. It’s simplicity at its finest.
Dustforce is defined by an accurate and honed platforming system that will never slight the player. The main focus of every level is to never stop moving in order to not only to race against the clock, but to clean as much dirt as possible while moving seamlessly to the goal. Walljumping plays a very large part in every level, and some situations will force players to navigate ever-upwards to string a symphony of expertly coordinated jumps with little room for error. While it did take me a little while to accustom myself to the lighting-fast reflexes required to conquer some portions of the game, once mastered, the ability to travel so smoothly is intensely satisfying.
The beautiful thing at work in this game is the balanced level of challenge that Super Meat Boy simply did not have; players are eased into the trials of the game in a challenging, yet comfortable learning curve. Practices in masochism has become far too commonplace in the new age of platformers, and it has been a long time since I haven’t been forced to pull me hair out in a profanity-laced tirade while playing these types games as of late. Creative variety keeps every level interesting as you will find your skills tested in a enjoyable number of ways, and the combat system spices things up a bit while justifying itself as a means to furthering you “Finesse” rating.
Combat boils down to a simple, single button-press that serves as a way to keep your combo meter going. The more dust you sweep and enemies you defeat in rapid succession builds a meter which, once filled, allows the player to execute an attack that will simultaneously dispatch every enemy on the screen. At the end of a majority of levels there will be a small collection of said enemies waiting to slow you down if you haven’t filled your combo meter. The feeling of satisfaction of being able to take them out all at once and end a great run is simply undeniable, and the icing on the cake is that the final blow slows down time to culminate in a well-orchestrated summation of your skill.
Leaderboards keep track of your progress at the finish of each level and even allow you to watch videos of other players in order to disseminate how they achieved their times. The addition of the ability to review other players performance gives a great benefit to those that are struggling with solutions to climbing the competitive ladder. I found myself watching the top player of every level to learn how I can hone and improve my own skills.
The past year has been very good to indie developers, as well as the sound teams involved with the production. Darren Korb is riding high on the heels of universal praise for his incredible and moving work producing the Bastion soundtrack, and I have the feeling that Terrence Lee could possibly be following suit after getting recognition for his work here. A large array of tracks set a mellow vibe that coagulates nicely with the overall theory of how the game is supposed to be played: smooth and effortlessly. Instead of being an overbearing companion to the rest of the game to push the player forward, the soundtrack lies comfortably in the background providing a steady and sublime beat that compliments the brilliant simplicity of the game.
The soundtrack plays such a large part in the game that is effectively erases the need to
supply much else to the experience. Simple sweeping sounds, along with effects for attacking enemies are added in for good measure to tie the experience together. Lee is a master of his craft, and I predict a large number of players clamoring for a physical copy of his works after Dustforce hits the streets. I found it hard not to pause the game in order to take in the ear candy he has created for this title.
While I am still in the dark about the story, it’s very clear that even without those details, Dustforce is poised to once again up the standards for the platforming genre once more. Whether it be the soundtrack that oozes with personality, the precise controls, or the overwhelming feeling that you are becoming a ninja-turned-custodian, Hitbox Team has delivered something truly special. Look for it via Steam on January 17th.
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