Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
The platforming genre has stagnated. Collecting a ton of knickknacks and progressing through levels effortlessly has gotten stale. Only Super Mario and Super Meat Boy stand tall these days, but now a group of unlikely characters are set to join them:
In Dustforce, players take on the role of a custodian thrust into a world where everything is dirty, dusty, covered in ooze, or just covered with a ton of leaves. Even the creatures inhabiting each level need to be cleaned up before you can consider your mission a success.
Hitbox Team's platformer will give you a grade based on thoroughness and finesse, as well as time. Perfecting these scores is really the bread and butter of the game, and earning the highest grades will give up keys to unlock more difficult levels.
In terms of single-player content, this unlock system is really the only downside in Dustforce. Maybe you'll never obtain the highest grades in some levels. So maybe you'll never see those difficult levels at all. It would have been better to have players earn credits to purchase more level unlocks. As it stands, you might find it too difficult to unlock the second half of the game.
There are leaderboards to motivate you, though, and they constantly fluctuate, so competing with other players around the world is fluid and fun. But enough about all the extras; Dustforce's platforming feels so refreshing, stylish, and smooth that it's difficult to put down.
Each character handles a little differently, some with better range of attack, others with better speed. Levels are littered, ahem, with dust-covered surfaces that allow you to build a combo score as you progress. Pressing up will allow you to climb walls and hang on ceilings. Part of the fun in Dustforce is puzzling out the best possible way to progress through each level.
As you build your score, you'll earn a special move that can clean up every enemy and surface in your immediate area. Learning where to use this move most effectively requires some experimentation.
Dustforce exudes flair and style. It's one of the prettier 2D games in recent memory that doesn't rely on pixelized graphics. The animated sprites move fluidly, with quick frames and neat effects. Even the game's music is utterly brilliant, setting the mood while also being totally enjoyable on its own.
Dustforce also includes a Super Smash Bros.-inspired multiplayer mode for up to four players. You can choose to play as the good guys or the bad guys (you know, the ones who messed everything up to begin with).
There's no online multiplayer, but if you've invested in a couple of game pads for your PC, it can be a ton of fun to grind it out with a buddy or two... or three. With all of this and hopefully more on the horizon, Dustforce offers a ton of value at any price. In fact, the $9.99 asking price is almost too generous.
You could do much worse than Dustforce. In the cold of winter, it's a good time to wrap yourself around a tightly balanced, stylishly presented, hardcore platformer with a ton of replay value. Dustforce fits the bill. It's the best game I've played this year (so far).