Dust and grime surround us. Every day, they collect atop coffee tables and in forgotten kitchen corners, but no more. In Dustforce, it's time to fight back. Filth falls before four acrobatic janitors--each equal parts ninja and handyman. Their world is built on speed and has you building momentum while sweeping away patches of leaves and battling waste-covered foes. It's up to you to determine how these chores piece together to earn the best score, and when you do, it's immensely satisfying.
There is a unique economy of movement in Dustforce that must be mastered to succeed. Running and jumping are simple. It's when you start zipping around in midair that things get tricky. For instance, most characters can either double jump or dash while in the air. That is, unless you defeat an enemy while airborne. Then you can either dash again or make a third jump. And once you touch the ground, the whole system resets. If this sounds confusing, don't worry; the game eases you into this system through a comprehensive tutorial stage and several basic early stages.
At the end of each stage, you're graded on completion, finesse (a blanket term that factors in your combo meter, whether you defeated all enemies and the like), and speed. If you perform well enough, you earn keys that unlock doors leading to more challenging stages. Each stage also has two unique leaderboards: one for overall score and another for time. However, the best feature is the replay support for each entry on the leaderboards. These can offer insight into surmounting the tougher stages. They also offer plenty of "That doesn't look so hard" moments and feed into the game's already addictive nature.
Compared to other 2D platformers, such as the masterful Super Meat Boy, Dustforce feels slower and heavier. This weight stems from the extra layers of complexity afforded by the game's movement and combat. For combat, each character has a light and heavy attack. By chaining light attacks together you can propel your character through the air while striking an enemy. Hitting a foe with a single, heavy attack is faster; however, this leaves behind a patch of filth for you to clean up. Everything--from cleaning to combat--feeds into your combo meter. Once full, this meter can be used to unleash a screen-clearing attack. Using these elements together makes the stages feel like puzzles. You're constantly experimenting with different combinations of dashing, attacking, and jumping to find the fastest route.
Dustforce is supported by outstanding audio and visual design. The music feels especially fitting: a calming, trancelike soundtrack that is akin to inMomentum and Mirror's Edge. The music has the added psychological effect of calming you down when you hit attempt 50 on the same level, and its subtle nature prevents it from becoming grating after listening to it for long stretches. The visuals are just as rich. Each of the game's four settings has its own style and is rendered using a soft, pastel color palette that complements the soothing tone set by the score.
This harmony is interrupted by a lack of explanation of some basic features. The two most striking examples of this have to do with the differences among the four playable characters and the game's multiplayer. Of the four playable characters, the blue character with the broom appears to be the most well-rounded one, while the purple character with the feather dusters is quicker but can't jump as high. This lack of information only serves as a detriment to the game and adds unnecessary confusion.
The multiplayer mode is even more baffling. This local-only mode supports up to four players in a king-of-the-hill type of match. This is not explained, and when you first load it up, chances are you won't know what to do. Thus far, the game has taught you to clean up everything in sight as quickly as you can. In this mode, some players play as the four cleaners, while the others play as their messy counterparts: spreading dust, leaves, and the like across the map. Therefore, your first instinct is to clean and fight until one side dominates the screen (which is almost impossible). Gradually, it becomes obvious that cleaning and fighting are not the focus of this multiplayer mode--and unless you have a keen eye, chances are you won't know what to do next.
There are a handful of other, smaller issues that drag Dustforce down from greatness. On one computer, the game performed without issue, while on another similar setup, it suffered major performance dips when traversing the overworld and would infrequently crash on specific stages. There is also a mysterious video tab in the options menu that has been left completely blank. Being able to perform the basic functions of resizing the game or playing in a window would be a welcome addition. While these issues do reveal some rough edges, the game proper is left largely unaffected. Sliding through the world of Dustforce is a fun, free-flowing experience, and it's easy to get hooked on it.