Some people just take their jobs too seriously, like that barista that has no problem making you wait an extra three minutes so she can froth your latte to her satisfaction. Or maybe that pizza guy who triple counts the number of pepperoni before you get your slices. Well, there’s a team of janitors that have them beat: the cast of Dustforce. Equal parts ninja and Dick Van Dyke from Mary Poppins, your protagonists abolish dirt and dust with extreme prejudice and acrobatic grace. If there is rubbish on your floor, wall, or ceiling, they will stop at nothing to clean it, even if it means causing you to launch your Vita into orbit out of frustration.
Charged with cleaning up a world that has been over run with dirt and grime, your nameless heroes take the fight to trash wherever it may hide, be it in a corner on top of a building, or on the skin of a witless bear (that its possessed and transformed into a junk monster.) A platformer with N+ and Splosion Man as its strongest contemporary influence, precision and finesse is the name of the game. You will use your wall/ceiling running/jumping skills aggressively to navigate this hostile world, and you will fail in ways you can’t even imagine. A lot.
For those familiar with the game on PC from 2012, it remains mostly the same exercise in maintaining a sort of freerunning “flow.” Each of the dozens of levels that are separated over 4 worlds can be divided in sort of sequences of movements that will help your traverse a particular set of obstacles. A lot of times you have to think of levels this way, because each new obstacle usually involves using momentum gained from nailing the previous ones. Especially when getting the highest rank in each level involves both gathering every speck of dust and doing so without getting hit or breaking your combos. Getting high scores unlock new levels, so just getting by will almost never be good enough to play more than a couple levels into each world. You have to try and retry levels in order to get better. You have to practice each sequence and really invest in this game in order to progress with it. Dustforce demands perfection from you, which is ironic because it isn’t exactly perfect itself.
The game gives you little tips in order to ease the pain, like holding up before you hit a wall to run up it immediately, or to dash out of a slide to get more distance. But I find that these inputs work very unreliably, which may be partially the Vita’s fault, as I did have a better time playing through on my PS3. But the bite-sized levels and super quick moment to moment gameplay is a match made for the Vita, so the entire package becomes a struggle against both your own lack of skills, and the little voice in the back of your head thats content with blaming all of your failures on this mechanical anomaly. When one misstep can be the difference between a higher grade and utter failure, though, this problem will become a rather major one.
There’s something charming about this purism, though. This game isn’t for the weak. There is no hard mode – it is hard mode. Even though rogue-likes and general digital brutality is making a comeback, there’s still a welcome spot in the industry for games that don’t make sure every grabbable ledge blinks conspicuously, or lets a long camera pan show you how to solve a puzzle. Every single time I’ve picked the game up, I’ve learned something about it. I’ve traversed a new set of obstacles, or found a new wall to run to get to new doors to unlock. It’s this gradual learning that keeps me coming back.
The super simple, yet clean and sleek art style helps me put hours into as well. I love watching this game move, and listening to its old-school adventure inspired soundtrack lead me through the next challenge. Leaderboards are nice, but in a “look at all those scores i’ll never get” sort of way. The multiplayer sounds fun in theory, but I haven’t been able to find people to play it with. Replays can be quite educational, though, if you can handle watching your own failures.
Playing a game about the Foot Clan equivalent of dust busters may sound odd at first, but it only proves to empower this games already strong sense of presence and purpose. If you can stomach this game’s demand for excellence in the form of highly precise and difficult gameplay, you’ll be in for a real treat. If rage quitting is something you’ve done in the past, than the mixture of perfection and patience needed to work through the games technical triumphs and stumbles will probably be enough to take you back to those dark places.
Dustforce was reviewed using a copy purchased by the reviewer and played on the Vita.