Posted: February 2, 2014
there’s a softness, an altogether pureness, in dustforce. it is a starkly wholesome game beyond its surface. the magnitude of how pure is even idealistic and immovable. it’s something that is hard to find in a video game that seeks new horizons. relations, though. the most amazing part about dustforce is the result of its softness. even if you lack the ability to play it - and nearly everyone does - it holds wide appeal. the art and music match the gameplay to a refined elegance. it’s a pacifist game and a performance game without being tailored to either, because it’s still clearly a platformer with all of the philosophy behind it. in motion, it’s wickedly cool and aesthetically moving. skill and display meet innocence and whimsy.
dustforce is ludicrously difficult. it belongs to an elite faction of games I’d describe as harder than hard. the way it’s presented, that fact lays dormant. though loss is common in dustforce, there is no mean-spirit. nothing is out for your blood and none of the platforming is dishonest. what you need to do is nearly always set clearly ahead and it’s all up to your fingers. consequently, and not in a bad meaning, the stages end up feeling more like race tracks than levels. mind you, very stylized race tracks, or race track stages, but very laid-out and bare compared to genre tradition. this feel is accented, arguably engineered, by dustforce’s mode of progression. it doesn’t matter if you only get to the end of a stage in dustforce. you will, it’s always fun to clear a stage, it just won’t let you fully continue.
dustforce’s inspiration and idiosyncrasy is speed running. platformers have always been a speed running favorite. converting art into performance and display, manifesting game and human potential. speed runs are incredible, but there’s an equally incredible entry barrier. the time expenditure needed to participate means that few will experience the overwhelming play. dustforce acts as a bridge. its ranking system enforces perfection. it does not simply weigh down your time a ranking. clear time is not relevant. to unlock levels, you need SS. to get SS, you need a perfect combo with full completion. dustforce’s ranking deals with links. dust you collect on the stage builds up links. hitting dust covered enemies continues links. they are lost when you are hit, go out of bounds, or have about a five second pause since your last link. there cannot be mistakes. speed runs contain no mistakes. though complete perfection is not required, dustforce is unforgiving to even the smallest mistake. finishing a long level from beginning to end, allowed only stylistic mistakes, puts dustforce above a precision platformer to a speed run simulator.
dustforce isn’t the first platformer to demand perfection. I personally love contra for its sheer display and skill or die gameplay. dustforce’s pacifist aura and dedication to a track indeed separate it from any other perfection platformer, but what is most important is dustforce’s fluidity and sense of speed. though in plain movement it is slower than a mario game, a speed run never stops and dustforce doesn’t want you to stop. borrowing two key elements from other very fluid series - mega man X’s dash and modern sonic’s magnetlike fast-fall - and adding their own radical innovations with air dashing, wall runs, and jump refreshes, dustforce has constant varied movement. the combinations and radical changes in input keep you more than engaged, with the coolness of each character’s movement drilling in your performance. the rhythm, intensity, and constant movement translate to feeling unstoppable speed. dustforce’s core is an incredible renovation of tried mechanics with unbelievable vision in its additions. it has its idyllic goal of speed running and it refused accepted conditions. it contributes altogether on its own making both its direction and its core individual and fantastic.
dustforce has a special presentation with a unique goal and altogether new gameplay, so I would be skeptic to ask: how are the levels? by my language, well, this is pretty easy to anticipate. dustforce’s levels are masterful. they allow for all kinds of different and often new naturalizations, realizations, and combinations of their gameplay. the tracks have clear and differing focuses, requiring techniques, hopefully building your repertoire while it remixes its challenges, playing on your expectations. there are huge clearings to cross, towers to climb, ceilings and floors to repel, narrow spiked corridors to squeeze through, enemies to chain your airtime, small platforms to caustically land on, expansive hills to slide through, beautiful spirals to loop around. dustforce isn’t just a very personal and unique idea, it’s a masterpiece of level design. I have qualms for the lack of linear pacing, there isn’t a way to know how difficult a level is going to be, but that’s a very small criticism, and the game still builds from easy stages to hard stages, it’s just done in blocks.
plain to say, combat is not dustforce’s strong suit, and it feels relatively forced. so it is with an absolute lack of understanding that there are four small and constrained levels dedicated to fighting masses of around twenty enemies. to compensate for keyboard controls, for better and worse, dustforce ques moves. when platforming, it gives the game a sort of rhythmic and planned feel based on anticipation and expectation. in the heat of combat, it is awkward. you’ll find yourself locked into quick strikes and unable to dodge obvious enemy attacks, which is frustrating and unrewarding.
another actually affecting flaw is how much singular input influences the character. slight adjustments are impossible. this again compensates for the difficulty to make smalls presses on a keyboard, however it removes from dustforce’s most important aspect: its fluidity. an obvious expression of this is a single block-wide hole with ground on either side of it. pressing right or left will walk over the hole and onto the terrain on the other side. there is no possible way to enter the hole from the ground, you must jump and make the adjustment. yet even if there is slightly more control in the air, it still involves much too large movements, and makes landing on small blocks or falling down in a specific direction imprecise and very much out of your own control, which is somewhat of a deathblow. the hideout is an infamous stage that brings this flaw to light but also serves as a great way to learn how to make the flaw work for you. the keyboard-tailored control is impossible to ignore, and while it is a noble effort, it sadly stains a perfect formula.
dustforce is performance art. the fluidity feels like a dance. the speed feels like superimposed mastery. unlike a rhythm game, there is pure and awesome actualized design depth existing in-addition to the performance. unlike a perfection platformer, dustforce is rarely stressful, instead being meditative, being conductive, being pointed, being beautiful. it doesn’t demand perfection, it encourages it. as dustforce opens up, grows and evolves, so do you as the player. it shows that difficulty can be symbiotic to achieve fully wholesome results. dustforce isn’t do or die. it’s be or don’t be. there’s nothing more desirable than success.