Retro gaming FTW!!! Any time a game developer (particularly an indie studio) takes an old idea, or ideas and makes it their own in a successful manner I become ecstatic as a gaming enthusiast. While it's often times hard not to come off seeming like someone ripping off another idea I think "HitBox" did good with "Dustforce". This indie-like title which contains elements of the classic "Prince of Persia", and "Sonic the Hedgehog" did good to stray away from any blatant misuse of such clone worthy material. In the end what they created was an offline, and online experience that caters not only to the gamer who is looking for something new, but also an experience that caters to the more competitive gamer. Through simple controls, and challenging arcade style gameplay HitBox, and their publisher Capcom aim to capture your attention with one of the more noteworthy gaming experiences of early 2014.
Like the previously mentioned "Prince of Persia" game, Dustforce takes place in a side-scrolling 2D world filled with fantastical colors, and an underlying mythology. Without any real story in place you will find through the included tutorial, and gameplay that you are a part of an environmentally friendly cleaning crew known as the "Dustforce". With brooms, pom poms, and vacuums in hand you will take on the role of four unique characters that each have their own cleaning capabilities. There's a broom toting male, and female chimney sweep, a little girl with pom poms, and an elderly grandpa with an vacuum cleaner. As one of these individuals you will traverse four different areas filled with several combo ending threats. Hazardous spikes, and creatures possessed by pollution are among the things to look out for.
As a Dustforce team member you have access to a "Nexus" that in turn gives you access to different environments. Out of the four environmental areas you'll be sweeping your way through you'll find a Castle, a Laboratory, a Forest, and a City. In order to clear these areas of their accumulated filth you will need to go from room to room sweeping out the 2D landscapes contained within. Some doors will be accessible from the get go while others will require a silver, or gold key to unlock. Keys of course become available after the completion, and mastery of the lesser unlocked rooms. The better your playthrough in these room oriented stages the more valuable the key is that you'll get, and the better your score will be at the end of it all.
As you can likely guess gameplay in Dustforce is centered around the clearing of litter, and various other forms of debris which are placed strategically along the metroidvania style landscapes. The debris itself varies depending on which area you are currently playing through, and matches the theme of that location. The forest, for example has land, and creatures with patches of leaves covering them. By moving along the patches of leaves, or other debris in the game your Dustforce team member will automatically sweep the clutter out of existence. At the same time by traveling along flat, and curved surfaces covered with the debris you will be able to gain access to harder to reach areas. Basic cleanup in "Dustforce" is as simple as moving your chosen character along the polluted pathway via the "Left Thumbstick" while advanced cleanup in the game is a little more complicated.
Like any metroidvania style game you'll be using certain given skills to navigate through the labyrinthine levels. Wall jumping, double jumping, and air dashes all come into play as you try to clear out each stage of each area. There's also the added attack mechanics that double as a way to clean off pollution possessed creatures. These same offensive maneuvers also act as a means to get across the more distanced drop offs. Through the tutorial which is provided via the game's main "Nexus" area you will become familiar with all of these in-game mechanics, and will learn the ropes in a virtual version of the main game. Keep in mind that while the concept is simple, the game is anything but that. I'd liken it more to a hardcore experience than anything. As such you may want to give the tutorial a few run throughs before venturing out into the actual levels, and stages.
Being the competitive game that it is, Dustforce includes some timed, and graded features. As you go about your business clearing each stage of debris you will be timed, and graded for your playthrough. Factors such as "Completion" percentage, and "Finesse" come into play at the end of each stage. While time also plays a factor in Dustforce you'll find that it is the lesser focal point as you can still earn a double "S" grade for simply playing the level fluidly (Finesse), and clearing out all of the debris included (Completion). Grades in this game mirror that of older SEGA arcade games (hence the Sonic reference). They are alphabetical in nature, and range from a low "E" to a high "S" (E, D, C, B, A & S). The letter "S" of course reflects the highest possible score while the "E" reflects the poorest score available.
Another thing to keep in mind as you play is that combos matter. By continuously sweeping away patches of debris, and ridding the local inhabitants of their pollution you will earn combo points that will remain with you so long as you do not get hit, and keep the combo going. Combos in Dustforce are a one string deal meaning that you must carry your combo from start to finish in order to reap the reward at the end. Doing so can be a problem if you don't mind the creatures, the hazards, and the pitfalls contained within each stage. All it takes is one slip up, and your combo is history. Should you make it to the end though, and defeat the final boss-like creature you will be rewarded with a noteworthy score on the game's leaderboards.
Aside from combo scoring you'll also find that your character in Dustforce carries with them a combo meter that builds up as you maintain your combo sweep. When this combo meter is filled you will be able to unleash your screen clearing cleaning fury by pressing both of the attack buttons at the same time. This comes in handy when facing an unavoidable creature that takes multiple hits to defeat as well as when you reach certain areas that are covered with multiple patches of debris. In essence this "Cleaning Fury" (as I'm going to call it) is a time saver that helps the player to make better playthrough times.
About the Multiplayer ...
While singleplayer is this Dustforce's core feature you'll find that the guys, and gals over at HitBox added a couple of multiplayer mini-game options for those looking to take their acquired skills online. In an odd turn this multiplayer is an online versus mode that pits you, and three other players against a set of four other gamers from across the globe. Along with the usual selectable Dustforce team members you'll find an opposing, less environmentally friendly team who is also selectable should you want to turn to the dark side. As it stands though these vile villains are only playable in multiplayer, and can only be enjoyed in the "King of the Hill", and "Survival" modes there.
The goal of "King of the Hill", and "Survival" are basically the same in the respect that you have to out perform your opponent/opponents. In "KOTH", for example you will be trying to maintain your position at the arena's central area where a colorless crystal is placed. In order to score you must maintain your ground, and change the crystal to your color by doing so. It is always a good idea to distance yourself from any opposition via your attack buttons during your attempts. To add an edge to attacks the chosen Dustforce character can build combo meter by sweeping up the debris left behind by the villainous characters. The villains on the other hand can build meter by laying down debris.This action of course will enable you to use the all powerful attack, and will give the player delivering the devastating blow a proper advantage. When a player reaches the designated score mark the player with that highest score will win, and earn points.
Survival mode is just as competitive, if not more so than it's "KOTH" counterpart. At the beginning of a "Survival" match up the player/s will have a certain amount of lives in stock. The lives for each player are displayed as the chosen characters' head, and are depleted as you, or your opponent gets hit by an environmental hazard. Like a Smash Bros. battle you will be trying your hardest to force the other players into the hazards. This will cost them a life, and get you one step closer to victory. Keep in mind though that the opposing player can return the favor, and that a simple slip up on your own behalf can also cost you lives. In the end the player that's still alive wins the match, and the points.
Like any multiplayer experience Dustforce offers the gamer different matchmaking options. You can join in a quick match, join a custom match (KOTH / Survival), or create a match for others to join in. Level, and character selection options also come into play as you are looking for your next online versus experience. At the end of the day though you'll find that Dustforce's multiplayer is merely a quick time waster for those seeking out mini-game fun after the main singleplayer mode has been mastered. It's not as grand as the singleplayer offerings by any means, but is innovative enough to attract some attention from the gaming community.
About the Graphics & Sound ...
In Dustforce you'll find a pleasant collection of visual, and audio features. The game itself is a cell-shaded creation that is similar to games like "The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker". The characters being the main focal point that they are are captured in greater yet simplistic detail giving them proper life through the accompanying, and expertly crafted animations. The characters' movements are a lot more articulate in nature, and add to the beautifully rendered, and layered 2D settings that make up the environments that they move about in. While HitBox did keep things simple the art style of Dustforce is a pleasing thing to look at. The added fact that the fluid animations, and special effects compliment the gameplay in the most impressive way makes this game worthy of the Capcom name.
When it comes to sound Dustforce also wows it's audience with it's impressive offerings. The soundtrack which is an odd mixture of whimsical instrumentals, and soothing jazz-like tunes makes the intense gameplay a little less so. Having a zen style soundtrack definitely helps to relieve any unwanted frustration, and makes repeating a stage multiple times a lot less troublesome.
Now for the verdict ...
Dustforce hits greatness on all the right notes. It's innovative, fun, and challenging. While the game does steal some slight thunder from other retro game titles it still does it's own thing, and does it well enough to be recommended. The singlplayer mode is without a doubt this game's shining star. The competitive features, and gameplay within it will have gamers trying to outperform others from the online gaming community for quite some time. It is truly a leaderboard worthy experience in that regard. As far as visuals go it is an impressive feat of artistic prowess. I loved the cell-shaded art style, the subtle yet impressive special effects, and the metroidvania constructed stages. It will no doubt be a gameplay experience that both oldschool veterans, and newcomers will enjoy. Even the soundtrack which was more zen-like offered the right ambiance for the in-game tasks at hand. Collectively, as a whole this game is definitely worth adding to your PS3/PS Vita collection if you haven't done so already. I suggest you go out, and get it right now. If you are a PS+ subscriber you can pick up this bad boy for $7.99 on the PS Vita. It's not a bad deal if I do say so myself!