Dustforce (PS3 & Vita) Review
Written : Thursday, February 06, 2014
By: Lee Bradley
There’s an interview featured in the extras for Indie Game: The Movie, in which Edmund McMillan praises Tommy Refenes’ programming work on the platformer Super Meat Boy.
“He has a sense of when something feels tight, when it feels really good,” says McMillan, as Refenes sits next to him wearing an expression of both pride and embarrassment.
“[In Super Meat Boy] I feel I have complete control over the character,” he continues, “and that’s number one, because you can’t make a platformer and when somebody dies they’re like, ‘Ah, the fucking game feels stupid’ or ‘Ah, they killed me because the button feels dumb.’ It has to feel right.”
Super sweeping caretaker.
I couldn’t help but remember this quote when playing Dustforce. A PlayStation 3 and PS Vita port of Hitbox’s original 2012 PC title, this indie platformer inspires those exact complaints. With infuriating regularity, Dustforce doesn’t feel tight, and it doesn’t feel good.
Here’s the setup. You play as one of four acrobatic janitors, tasked with cleaning up a variety of themed environments littered with waste. At the end of each level your performance is ranked in two ways; one for maintaining your combo by constantly cleaning and avoiding damage, and another for the amount of waste you cleaned.
In theory, it’s all about flow. To successfully conquer each level - and earn keys to unlock subsequent levels - you’ll have to combine slides, double (and triple) jumps, dashes and wall runs while demonstrating a mastery of your toolset. Pull it all off in one smooth motion, while flawlessly cleaning and fighting, and you’ll be rewarded with top marks.
Dustforce’s visuals are often gorgeous.
Yet, despite the levels themselves featuring some wonderful design (encouraging speed and quick reflexes in some situations and exploration in others), you’ll feel like you’re spending more time battling the controls than the levels themselves. Double jumps don’t always work in the way that you would expect, wall runs are needlessly finicky and character movements range from being leaden to slippery - depending on the situation.
All of this combines to undo the good work done in a game that has so much going for it. The way the central hub is a level in itself, the way you unlock keys to access new areas, the way that each of the characters have different abilities, the art style and the music is all great. But the clunky controls render much of it irrelevant.
There’s multiplayer here too, which the accompanying review notes tell me include 2v2 and King of the Hill modes, but just one day following Dustforce’s worldwide release, I couldn’t find a game with strangers. Getting a few friends together is your only option.
Two multiplayer modes are also included.
Also, it’s worth bearing in mind that this is a review of the PlayStation 3 version of the game. On PS Vita, meanwhile, it’s almost unplayable, combining all of the above complaints with a stuttery frame rate and unrecognised inputs that make wall-running virtually impossible. If you only own a Vita, you should steer completely clear of Dustforce, at least until a major patch is released to rectify the problem.
However, should the Vita version ever reach parity with the PS3 version, it will still be far from ideal. Dustforce is a hard game by design, with an accompanying list of tough, progression-based Trophies, but it’s the difficulties presented by the controls that infuriate the most. And that, ultimately, is why it’s hard to recommend.
“They killed me because the button feels dumb.”
Held back by some looping stutters on certain levels, Lifeform’s soundtrack is brilliant, at once retro, forward-looking and endlessly catchy. It’s one of the game’s strongest features.
The design and bold colours of the characters are hugely attractive. The environmental art is less consistent, but at its best it’s gorgeous. There are some slight, occasional frame rate issues.
Occasionally infuriating. The lack of consistency in your character movements, combined with fiddly controls, undermines the strength of the rest of the game. It’s a terrible disappointment.
Dustforce features an expansive single-player campaign, with numerous themed levels delivered via a nicely-executed hub world. There’s multiplayer modes too, though they would appear sparsely populated.
Though unimaginative, the trophies on Dustforce’s list instead reward players for completion and mastery. Even aside from the game’s control problems, this is a tough list. You’ll earn every trophy you get.
Dustforce’s gorgeous visuals, fantastic soundtrack, solid level design and nicely executed hub world are great. But the platformer’s weird physics and clunky controls undermine its accomplishments. It’s a terrible waste of a fantastic concept.
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