While the calendar for major game releases at the beginning of the year is rather barren, small independent games are still coming out at a regular clip to make up for it. “Dustforce,” a downloadable 2-D platformer that came out this month, is one such game.


Hitbox Team

“Dustforce” has an odd premise. Players control a cleaner tasked with gathering leaves scattered about a level. This is accomplished by simply going to where the leaves are and running over them. Instead of merely moving from point A to point B as in most platformers, “Dustforce” has the player move all over the level while trying to clean as many leaves as quickly as possible. The leaves in the level are laid out in such a way that players with enough skill can clear them in one, smooth run. It’s essentially a game of finding the most efficient path to run over all the leaves.

Each level tends to be on the shorter side, encouraging players to make repeat attempts to get the perfect run. At the end of each level players are graded on how many leaves they cleaned up and how quickly they did it without dying or messing up. Earning a high grade in both categories yields keys to unlock more difficult levels. There is also a leaderboard for each level to compare how well (or terribly) you did against others who have played the same level.

This premise sounds like it could get pretty boring if the platforming was cut and dry, in the “Mario” vein of only running and jumping. However, the platforming controls are complex, incorporating double jumps, wall jumps, running on the ceiling, dash moves to get across spike pits and more. Naturally, the developers can create some challenging courses for such a wide variety of moves, and some of the level design is downright devilish. Completing a particularly difficult section smoothly is satisfying, but every level requires a high degree of dexterity, which will undoubtedly prove frustrating for those trying to relax while gaming.

For a game that hinges on this type of gameplay hook, “Dustforce” holds up well, in that the levels remain challenging, though it does tend to get tedious after a while. It would have been nice of the developers to figure out a way for less skilled players to reach all of the content. It takes the players a great deal of skill and dedication necessary to earn the keys to unlock higher levels, which means that many won’t be able to experience all of the game’s content.

What elevates “Dustforce” into something memorable is its charming presentation. While it’s easy to tell this game was developed by a few individuals on a tight budget, the art style is surprisingly nice. Characters move with hand-drawn animation that looks terrific, and the entire color scheme uses soft, appealing hues. The soundtrack is also excellent, incorporating ambient electronic music that’s much better than one would expect from a small team.

With a gameplay hook and a slick presentation entirely its own, “Dustforce” is a neat little package for just $10. Its brief, challenging levels are perfect for short play sessions and will undoubtedly give feelings of satisfaction or frustration, depending on how dexterous one is with a keyboard. While its difficulty certainly isn’t for everyone, those looking for a challenge of skill in their games will find plenty to enjoy.

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