Time for some spring clea… oh wait, it's winter.
Dustforce epitomizes cleanliness. Its characters are all janitors who wish to rid the world of, well, dust. Naturally this means sweeping floors and ceilings, like M-O from Wall-E, with spectacularly acrobatic moves. Cleanliness also applies to the game's design—players want to perform “clean” runs (har har) in an effort to save precious seconds and climb the leaderboards. Dustforce asks a lot of its players in this department, and progressing through much of the game requires genuine skill. But who said sweeping all of the world's dust would be an easy task?
Dustforce originally came out in early 2012 on PC and impressed audiences with its abundance of levels and unrelenting challenge. Two years later and the game remains largely unchanged on the Vita, but for good reason. The indie platformer's greatest strength is the push and pull dynamic of its difficulty—sure, I wanted to throw my Vita out the window a few… dozen times, but the sense of accomplishment that comes from achieving double S-ranks always thrills me. And make no mistake, this is a game in which Cs and Ds won't cut it. In simple terms: better grades = more keys = more levels. Obtaining large numbers of keys in Dustforce requires some truly wonderful performances from the player, and this may be polarizing for some. With each passing year I appreciate the challenge of difficult games more and more, but not everyone shares that opinion.
But one area in which the Vita version of Dustforce excels is its adaptability to a handheld platform. There were times in which I'd bang my head against the proverbial wall, trying to achieve a higher rank on a particular level to no avail. But then I realized I could play for a few minutes, calm my nerves, and come back to the Vita later in the day. It emphasizes Dustforce's strength as a portable experience—it can be addicting at times, but it's also the perfect pick-up-and-play kind of game. Levels are short, restarts are quick, and touchscreen functionality allows for easy menu navigation. The one downside is traversing the various hub-worlds; actually reaching each new level can be a challenge in itself.
The Vita release also benefits from the handheld's controls, namely the symbiotic relationship between Dustforce's precise platforming and the Vita's fantastic d-pad. I played for a bit using the analog stick (mostly because the tutorial messages reference it), but the switch to the d-pad clearly improved my performance. Not only does it make for a more satisfying mechanical experience, but it improves the visual experience as well. Dustforce is not a fast-paced game, and it can be significantly slow when the player struggles. When everything clicks, the pace picks up and impressive feats are displayed on screen. Things can get downright hectic during multiplayer matches, which includes online play and two modes: king of the hill and survival. I was surprised by how well the core design mechanics transition to multiplayer, though finding matches was often a struggle.
Another problem is the framerate, which proves troublesome in spots. I noticed quite a bit of slowdown when a lot was happening on the screen. It's not game-breaking but certainly noticeable. Outside of that, Dustforce is an audio-visual delight. The beautiful art style pops on the Vita's OLED display, and that music… there's just something about listening to catchy tunes while performing seemingly impossible jumps that's immediately appealing. It helps that Dustforce contains one of the best video game soundtracks in recent memory too.
Vita owners looking for another standout indie title for their collections should definitely give Dustforce a shot. The difficulty can be intimidating at first, but that also means it's just as rewarding. Some people may play it for hours on end, while others will load it up for brief sessions here and there. The game caters to both play-styles, and that's how a portable experience should be.