Dustforce is a plotless 2D platformer about four different acrobatic janitors taking to cleaning different environments to earn keys that unlock further levels. What the game most resembles is Super Meat Boy, a similarly tight 2D platform game with levels designed to be tackled quickly, but with the added element of a challenging combo system that rewards perfectionists with bonus unlocks stringing together cleaning actions. Each level is designed to be completed in a specific sequence of movements, ranging in difficulty from fairly simple to completely nonsensical, but the game demands that levels are approached with that sequence to unlock more content. Unfortunately, the controls are not as precise or responsive as the agonizing difficulty demands and some mechanics feel frustratingly loose; combos and lives are easily lost, leading to repetitious replays of levels that, unlike Super Meat Boy’s, do not load with haste. This is a major oversight, since the game is otherwise designed with repeated playthrough of levels in mind, as that’s the only way to unlock the harder levels, the vast majority of which non-masochistic players will never see.
Dustforce’s core problem is its unrewarding player experience, as completing a level to earn the maximum combo and unlocks doesn’t lead to anything except more of the same, and given its frustrating difficulty, the repetitive gameplay tires quickly. It isn’t fun, and without the personality, narrative, and sense of humor of something like Super Meat Boy, the game quickly becomes a chore. Why persevere? The atmosphere of Dustforce is incredibly relaxed, with its terrific sound design supplying very relaxing tunes behind the action that conflict with the intense core cutthroat gameplay. In the end, the odd occasion when all the elements of Dustforce come together in a briefly euphoric combination are overwhelmed by the frustrating and thankless experience that comprises the majority of time spent with it.