[To celebrate Dustforce’s release on PSN, this week’s Endless Playlist will highlight the game’s album]
Dustforce is a platformer in which you play one member of a team of incredibly acrobatic janitors. As a humorous take on Mario’s occupational persona, the team from Dustforce seem to actually be janitors while Mario, a plumber in name only, seems to be more of a professional stomper. But if Dustforce was intent on ribbing the most famous of working class heroes, that’s where the similarities end. The rest of the game, is incredibly different from the Mario franchise and it is immediately apparent through Dustforce‘s soundtrack.
Dustforce is an interesting platformer. It’s also one of my favorites (I listed it as one of my games of the year back in 2012). Favoring dexterity just as much as precision; Dustforce required the player to string together a chain of increasingly difficult combos to create levels that felt like they were completed in a single brushstrokes rather than overcoming individual obstacles. With stages that featured such a warm, pastel color palette and cast of interesting characters I wondered, why then, the team at Hitbox set a musical score that was so melancholic?
The soundtrack, composed by Lifeformed, is interesting in that it both compliments and contrasts with the actual game of Dustforce. For instance take audio cues from any recent high-profile platformer, Super Meat Boy, Rayman, even as far back as older Super Mario games and you’ll find a majority of the tracks to be up-tempo musical scored that highlight the action rather than the adventure. Yet in Dustforce, the entire album feels muted even as tracks like “The Magnetic Tree” reach the same level of excitement as other platformer soundtracks.
But Dustforce’s music isn’t like other platformer soundtracks. Dustforce isn’t even like other platformers. There’s a reason why this soundtrack is one of my favorites; it’s precisely because it’s so immediately apparent as something unique in and of itself. A soundtrack that can stand perfectly strong on its own, but also in unison with a world that’s more free-flowing than obtrusive. “Swimming While It Rains” is a good example for this sort of tone that the game sets. Constantly in flux and melodic, I feel Lifeformed’s soundtrack captures Dustforce’s unique sensibilities.
Honestly I wish I could just talk about Dustforce‘s soundtrack all day. Oh wait, I can. This is my feature. I love it. I really do. I suggest it to my friends whenever they ask for music recommendations, which is all the time (why they would ask a guy who describes music along the “It’s great!/It’s kinda shit” binary is beyond me however). It helps that the music is, I wouldn’t say easily accessible, but complimentary to moods and feelings (How hippie-like did that sentence sound? Because it sounded super hippie to me.). It’s around this part of the feature where I tell you my favorite track, but when the whole album ebbs and flows from one song to another it’s hard to decide where it ends and another begins (that’s a Radiohead reference done poorly).
Still, I want to get back to the muted quality of the soundtrack. It’s a really funny thing for me to suggest even as the opening tracks, “Cider Time,” is rhythm heavy, percussive track. Maybe it’s because the overworld theme (“A Safe Place to Sleep”) is so omnipresent that I get this feeling. Still, a single track shouldn’t be able to determine the tone of the entire album. Just because there are powerful songs throughout such “Fifty fps Forest” or “Frozen Hot Sauce” doesn’t mean that the album overall can’t be an example of tonal ambience. Just like how Dustforce, for all its combo-heavy, platformer richness, can’t be an exercise in fluidity. It’s appropriate then, that the always quietly in motion album bookends with the minimalist piano melody, “Dream Salvage.”