Picture this: you're a cleaner. The world you inhabit is filled to the brim with grime and dirt. The floors, the walls, even the ceilings are filthy.
Rather conveniently, though, you happen to have ninja-like abilities, meaning scrubbing those hard-to-reach places isn't a chore. In fact, it's an excuse to gracefully explore a vibrant world of obstacles, pitfalls, traps, all the while looking remarkably stylish.
Australian developer Hitbox Team presents Japanese samurai folklore here through the prism of a cel-shaded anime platformer. Hitbox replaces swords with brooms and vacuums, and substitutes samurai for janitors.
It's the kind of surreal creativity so synonymous with the indie PC game scene. So, to have something so bizarre-yet-captivating on a handheld console makes for a refreshing change of pace.Substance over style
Hitbox isn't afraid to show you Dustforce's true platforming colours. The dev team wants you to succeed, sure, but it's also happy to see you suffer. The tutorial itself is as brutal as it is satisfying, for example.
In Dustforce, every surface is a platform to be used. Your character can jump off walls, run up walls, slide down paths, and even run along ceilings. This familiar-but-unfamiliar style of play is reminiscent of early platformers but also feels innovative.
When it all comes together (run up a wall, jump diagonally onto a ceiling, then land in a big pile of dust to continue a long combo), Dustforce is like no other. And it's in these exhilarating moments where it sparkles brightest.
If you factor in the four uniquely skilled playable characters - Flexibility, Speed, Agility, and Power - Dustforce is sure to keep you engrossed for some time after release.
That is, of course, if it's all working. The road from PC indie game to Vita hasn't been without its fair share of bumps. There's an issue here with music occasionally cutting out, for instance.
And for a game all about precision, it doesn't feel all that precise.Style over substance
In one section, I have to dash off a ledge, over some spikes, then jump in mid-air onto a high platform. It sounds like child's play. In practice, however, it's the stuff of nightmares. Characters shift like they're ice skating in concrete shoes - they feel heavy to move yet somehow glide with the slightest of input.
It's also occasionally problematic to perform ceiling runs. On a number of occasions, my pressing of 'Up' hasn't been registered properly. I assume this is because the Vita's input interface isn't up to the job.
It's a shame, and completely maddening at times. Yet, I kept going back for more. Kept on trying until the time when it all worked without any hitches and I'm back to sweeping up dust again, attempting a perfect run.Style and substance
Dustforce's scoring system is split in two. With the end score, known as Judgement, you're graded on how much dust (or leaves, or slime) you've cleaned up and on your finesse (i.e. how "stylish" your run was).
Given you can also re-play runs to improve your score and climb the online leaderboards, there's a mountain of replayability in Dustforce, making it a perfect fit for Vita.
At its best, Dustforce is a spectacle in which dedication and perseverance are duly rewarded. The experience is undeniably enriched by a gloriously divine art style.
At its worst, though, it's a callous unforgiving beast of infuriatingly difficulty in which the flaws in the Vita's hardware are unfortunately highlighted.
When it works, scrubbing those tricky-to-reach places is both rewarding and joyous. When it all falls apart, however, there's a temptation to just sweep it under the rug.