A Platformer That Makes You Care
A game that I've been enjoying for the past week or so is Dustforce, which is made by the small-scale developer, Hitbox Team. On one hand, yes this is another platformer that has a unique art style and is made (not advertised) to be difficult to progress in and is probably just going to be looked at as Super Meat Boy byproduct or something. The game is based around ninja janitors that beat up the evil forces of dirt and grime and yeah you can just watch the trailer whatever
However, in contrast to SMB's short levels that you can keep just mashing your way through without much thought, Dustforce embraces longer levels that make you think out your route of reaching the bottom. This is done via the game's namesake of having you dust/sweep/blow your way through. As you collect dust/defeat enemies, a combo counter will build up, but if you go for like 10 seconds without collecting dust or if you are hit by an enemy, it goes back to zero (why am I explaining this). At the end the level the game will grade you for your ability for both "Completion" and "Finesse" with a scale from S to D, which is odd since they could have just have done A to F, but hey whatever. Completion is fairly self-explanatory, but to get an S rank in Finesse, you must maintain a combo from start to finish, without any fault at all.
Now I'm not explaining mechanics of the game at random (not yet anyway), this all has to do with the great difficulty of the game. But first let me go over why the game is also insanely easy when you first pick it up. Most of the levels are not especially difficult to pass based solely on their own structure, as there are checkpoints throughout the levels, and unlimited lives on top of that. In fact, aforementioned enemies don't even have any attacks that are fatal, all they do is break your combo and cause a quick hitstun animation. The only thing in this game that can kill is an environment hazard, like spikes or a bottomless pit or whatever. A fair amount of them don't even have an attack that they can use against you, they just just kind of linger in the air, waiting for you to hit them so you can your jump reset, which I'll explain when I go more in depth with the combat and jumping and movement mechanics.
As you go through Nexus, a hub world that mysteriously HATES your FPS at times for no good reason at all, you'll find that most of the worlds are locked off to you, and if you happen to run into the correct forest sprite palette swaps, you'll be told that you NEED to get an SS rank on a basic level so that you may unlock a silver level key, and if you beat a silver level, you naturally get access to a gold level key (there are also red keys that you get from gold levels but that's a secret shhh). So rather than creating difficulty through level design itself, Hitbox Team is making you follow the level design as per the trail they provide you, while retaining a decent pace. Those former enemies that seemed worthless are still honestly pretty trash, but if you aren't paying attention and they lay a stray hit, it may as well be a one-hit kill.
I figure now is probably as good a time as any to explain the main mechanics behind both movement, combat and of course dust collecting. I don't know if the movement mechanics that are present in Dustforce are widely used for the most part or anything so I'm just going to explain them to drag this rant on as much as I'm able. The left and right buttons do their expected jobs in platformer, while down is used for sliding down slopes, and up is the all purpose "ninja" button, which allows you to briefly climb wall, and run on ceilings. It takes a bit to get used to ceiling running, as you lose momentum very quickly and your character will just kind linger awkwardly for a second, before actually falling. Other than that, the pacing and momentum of your character feels "right", or consistent at least. While airborne, you can't redirect your inertia to significant degree, without the assist of a dash or a double jump.
Of the 4 buttons the game gives you, 2 are for movement, one for jumping (no shit) and one for dashing. You can either dash left or right, as well as downwards if you're in the air. While you're airborne, you have the option for either a mid-air jump or dash, and then you are unable to do another until hit the ground, or hit a conveniently placed enemy. Wall jumping/dashing/running are still fair game obviously, but only flat(read: not sloped) ground will actually replenish your aerial stock. It should be noted, however, that you CAN dash downwards as often as you want, regardless if you have already used up your double-jump/airdash. So I guess I flat out lied when I said you couldn't change your inertia oh well moving on.
2 buttons you get are also for combat, this one for light attacks and one for heavy attacks. Light attacks are quick and let you keep your momentum while flying, while heavy attacks interrupts it a bit (OK I'M WRONG SORRY), have retarded reach, and have the power of 3 light hits. Also, any enemy expunged by a heavy attack will spread it's respective area's dust spread across any clean surface that it is adjacent to, so if you're near spikes or something and the enemy is next to an out of reach wall, hitting with a heavy is likely going to FUCK YOU OVER. Most enemies that you encounter in the air will take either 1 or 3 hits to polish off, and usually cannot attack you. Like I said earlier, their main purpose is to just kind of exist for you to extend your airtime, which is fine and it's honestly pretty fun to do as long as they're not stuffed in awkward places. Then you got your big bad powerhouse enemies, who have obvious, telegraphed attacks that you can avoid pretty easily. Most of these guys have around 9 or 12 hits worth of life, and will probably hit you if get with in the light attack range anyway, so you'll just whale on with heavy attacks a few times before move on. Your combo counter increases for every "hit" you inflict on an enemy, so you don't have to worry about rushing your way through these guys unless you're fine with NOT MATTERING AT ALL AND HAVING A SCRUB TIME. Also I just want to add that hits feel god damn good and I love it and I don't give a shit I'm being nondescript they just feel like they have real weight to them and kind of just leave my dick hard. OH and I almost forgot that below your combo meter you have SUPER METER from STREET FIGHTER that you activate by hitting light + heavy, then your character does some ninja shit around the screen which cause all dust/enemies within a certain radius of you to be eliminated. This is the way you're going to finish about 95% of the levels.
Alright so let's just cover dust and get it over with already. There are 3 types of ways dust is scattered throughout levels, which are through dust spots, dust blocks, and dust enemies. I've already covered enemies so fuck you. Go read that. Dust spots are pretty simple, they're just attached to floors, walls and ceilings you run on them to clean them. While they usually lead you in a pretty linear fashion, certain rooms are a little more open-ended, leaving you to choose the most efficient way to clean (or to just look up the best way on youtube). You CAN actually use attacks to clear spots, which is very nice if there's a stray patch on a ceiling that's just out of reach or something. Dust blocks are different. Basically, they're sizable blocks of dust that you can run on, and will disappear as you touch them. Additionally, if you hit them while in the air, you get a double back in return, but I'm too lazy to go back and change what I said earlier so OH WELL. If your character has enough momentum, you charge through block like a knife through a metaphor (SEE I'M FUNNY).
You get 4 janitorial-based ninjas at your disposal: Dustman(Blue), Dustgirl(Red), Dustkid(Purple), and Dustgeezer(Green)*. Dustman and Dustgirl are more or less the same, arguably Dustman has a bit more weight on him over Dustgirl, but really the differences are negligible. Dustkid has a low jump arc, but a TRIPLE JUMP to make up for it, and his attacks have shit range but are the fastest in the game. Dustgeezer has floatier jumps, and slower attacks with a lot of range and is kind of ass most of the time.
*as far as I know there are no official names but I'm not going to refer to them by color so fuck you
I'm not an art person but I like the art style and the music is well done, though I usually end up listening to my own tunes while playing the game anyway. THERE ARE GRAPHICAL AND FPS PROBLEMS STILL BEING WORKED OUT. I DON'T KNOW HOW THEY MISSED THIS. THE GAME IS TOO SIMPLE FOR THIS SHIT. OPTIMIZE YOUR ENGINE HOLY FUCK. Also it's worth noting that there's eventually going to be a level editor, but until then you got LOCAL MULTIPLAYER YEAHHHH. The two options for playing are King of the Hill and just brawl mode with lives. They seem kind of lackluster but I don't have any friend so I can't try them anyway.
99% of people compare Dustforce to Super Meat Boy (try finding a single review that doesn't) and it kind of makes me sad. I mean like I understand why they do it, but it's just dumb to me because they don't really play the same at all, outside of being in the same genre. Whatever, I guess I'm just a biased fuckhead but I like this game a lot and I recommend it. fully.