⭐ Games that receive this star have a score of 95% or above. This is purely from a game design perspective and is not in any way related to our morality evaluation.
As an amatuer video game reviewer, I often look back at my previous articles and wonder if I’m ever a bit too critical of the games I play. My harsh standards often come from a desire to take an unbiased viewpoint that will better inform potential buyers and help them make good decisions. But there’s always the worry that I might have taken off a few too many points and dissuaded someone from playing a game they might have really enjoyed otherwise. However, I recently played a game so exceptionally well crafted that it reminded me why it’s necessary to discern the difference between good games and truly great ones.
Dustforce was developed by Hitbox Team and originally released for the PC in 2012 and was later ported to the Playstation 3, Playstation Vita, and Xbox 360 in 2014. The game was rebranded as Dustforce DX after a major content update which also occurred in 2014. It’s been nearly a decade since this game was unleashed onto the world, but it has remained relatively obscure despite positive word of mouth from those who have played it. Personally, I think it’s an absolute crime that it doesn’t come up more often in the discussion of great indie games from the past ten years, and I would be very happy to explain why.
In Dustforce DX the player takes the role of one of four janitors and navigates them through the game’s various levels to clean up all the dust they can find. Why is there so much dust? How are these janitors capable of such acrobatic feats? Don’t worry about it! There’s no real story to speak of in Dustforce, but ultimately the game doesn’t need one because playing as a janitor in a filthy environment is the only context required to understand what the goal of the game is.
While there may not be a gripping narrative to lose yourself in, the game’s presentation more than compensates for it. On the surface it might look a little simplistic, but the animation is extremely smooth and weighty which perfectly captures the game’s high speed platforming action. The music in Dustforce is also brilliant. Despite the intense nature of the game’s platorming challenges the music takes a very calm and relaxing tone which sounds like a contradiction on paper, but in practice helped me suppress my frustrations with my failures and focus on overcoming the obstacles standing in my way. The music and visuals together make Dustforce a mesmerizing experience, working in tandem to keep the player calm and focused at all times.
Of course presentation is always secondary to the gameplay and this is where Dustforce shines the brightest. Like in most platformers, you navigate your character to the end of the level while avoiding hazards and defeating enemies. Dustforce spices things up by littering each level with dust in the player’s path that they must clean up to get the best score possible. To achieve these objectives the player has access to many useful abilities beyond basic movement like double jumps, dashing, climbing, sliding, light attacks, heavy attacks, and a super attack. Furthermore, all these different abilities interact with one another in special ways depending on the situation, leading to all sorts of advanced techniques. The four playable characters (Dustman, Dustgirl, Dustkid, and Dustworth) also have slightly different attributes making some more suited to certain levels than others. It’s a very robust set of mechanics and every level is meticulously designed to test all of them.
Speaking of the levels, each one is initially accessed through doors in a large overworld. You can freely play through the game’s easiest levels at any time and by doing so you’ll gain keys to unlock doors to harder levels. Additionally, The doors to harder levels are often located in the overworld in places that are intentionally hard to reach, forcing the player to learn some of those advanced techniques I mentioned earlier to even access them in the first place. I find this overworld design to be a stroke of genius by the developers as it keeps inexperienced players away from levels that might be too difficult for them to handle at first, directing them to challenges more suited to their skills.
From what I’ve been describing, you’ve probably figured out that Dustforce is not a very easy game, but that difficulty gives it a unique appeal. The player’s score is determined by how much dust they managed to clean and how fast they were able to do it, categorized into “completion” and “finesse” and rated on a scale of “D” to “S”. Since each level is relatively short the player is encouraged to replay them over and over to perfect their scores in each one. This sort of mastery through incremental improvement is something only a game with incredibly fine tuned mechanics like Dustforce could possibly provide. I would even argue that reaching and surpassing every level in the game is almost a secondary object alongside simply getting better at playing the game. I know not everyone finds inherent satisfaction in a game’s mechanics like I do, but for those of you who can get behind such a mindset Dustforce will keep you occupied for a long time.
There’s also a multiplayer mode in which up to 4 players compete in one of two game modes. King of the Hill sees players fight to control a certain area of the stage while Survival is a contest to knock the opponents off the stage and be the last man standing. Considering the game was clearly designed for single player first and foremost, I was surprised at how well the mechanics translated into a multiplayer mode. It feels similar to a game like Super Smash Bros. which I would consider a very favorable comparison.
From the Catholic perspective, I found myself occasionally reflecting on the challenges of real life as I zoomed through Dustforce cleaning up virtual filth. We all face problems every day from dirty rooms to dirty behaviors, and sometimes it’s hard to confront those problems. However, if we don’t make the effort to clean them up they’ll only continue to get worse and worse. Imagine Dustforce as an analogy to a person doing penance, cleaning their soul of attachment to sin. So long as we always remember to trust in God and follow his will, he will give us the strength to set straight even our biggest messes and improve ourselves as people.
All in all, Dustforce DX isn’t just one of the best indie games from the past decade, it’s one of the best platformers ever made. Everything from the music, visuals, level design, and mechanics all comes together and elevates the core gameplay into a hyper focused experience few games can match. If a fast paced 2D platformer that rewards mechanical mastery sounds like something you’d be interested in playing then you would be absolutely crazy not to pick up Dustforce DX. The game quite literally wipes the floor with its competitors.
Scoring: 100% ⭐
Morality and Parental Warnings:
Dustforce DX involves some very light elements of combat against dust covered enemies, largely against animated objects, but any instances where the player is up against an animal or person trapped in the dust never results in any real physical harm.