Review – Super Meat Boy
An N+ by any other name is just as meaty.
Ah, Meat Boy. Those were good times weren’t they? No? You never played Meat Boy? The Flash game? No? Me neither. But Super Meat Boy (SMB for short, not to be confused with the little known Super Mario Bros.) is a sequel and now they have the audacity to charge for it. It’s been released on XBLA and will be coming to PC, Mac and WiiWare soon-ish, but should you care?
Yep. Review over. Priced at 1200 MSP, if you buy it before November you can get it for 800 and it is definitely worth it. Not that this game is for everybody. In SMB you control Meat Boy. The evil Dr. Fetus has kidnapped your girlfriend, Bandage Girl, and you have to rescue her. This is achieved by completing short levels in as quick a time as possible before unlocking a boss level and moving on to the next world. SMB is strictly a platforming game, requiring you to traverse stages of increasing difficulty by leaping, wall jumping and avoiding deadly obstacles on your way to Bandage Girl.
Things start off simple enough with some wall jumping to get you warmed up, but before long you’ll be introduced to buzz saws, homing missiles and frickin’ laser beams. SMB does a good job of introducing these things slowly but you’ll be dying plenty from the off and it’s only going to get harder from there. Dying in SMB is as much a part of the game as jumping. You have infinite lives, and when you die the game fades out and back in again instantly allowing you to get straight back into the action. This keeps the pace of the game high whilst the punishment for dying is low. Most levels can be completed in under twenty seconds so when you die, learn from it and move on. If the levels were larger or the game was slightly slower to respawn you then dying would be a massive hindrance, but as it is it’s pitched perfectly.
In fact the whole game is crafted brilliantly. The level design is superb throughout, forcing you to become better to overcome the obstacles in front of you whilst never being unfair or impossible. The amount of times I’ve played a level and thought to myself, â€œThat is so cleverâ€¦â€ as I’ve found what seems to be the only way through a rather complex level is untrue. Like an expertly crafted machine everything fits together perfectly, and when there a moving parts even more so. Timing becomes incredibly important and hesitating for even a second can make things much more troublesome.
The controls are tight and predictable, rewarding speed and accuracy as platformers should. The music also deserves a mention. When you start a level the music starts, when you die it continues without stopping, and when you progress to the next level it doesn’t stop either. You’ll be hearing a lot of the same tunes throughout the game, looped over and over as you die for the hundredth time, yet they never get irritating or old, in fact the opposite is true. The fact that the music never stops helps with the pacing of the game as well.
The visuals probably deserve the least praise. They’re Flash based, have charm and are simple enough so that you don’t get confused when moving at high speeds but they aren’t brilliant by any means. No reason to mark the game down, but I feel I should cover it for the sake of being thorough. The animated cutscenes can be quite amusing however, with their references to 8-bit gaming and they add an extra layer of personality to the game.
Not only is SMB a well crafted game, but it’s also a generous one. You get five full sized worlds to progress through before a smaller sixth one for the finale. Completing levels in a par time will unlock a Dark World version of that level. Basically a harder version of that level. Every level has a Dark World variant which effectively doubles the game size.
Why do indie developers insist on bringing up the past for their games? It seems that whenever there is a new big release for XBLA its either a top down shooter with a screen full of enemies or, like Super Meat Boy its a side scrolling platformer with charming graphics, colourful characters and a shit ton of levels you will never likely see unless you are able to complete the early Mega Man games with nothing but your cock.
I don’t normally take the bait with games like these. Difficulty for difficulties sake is most definitely not my bag, and some of the levels in SMB are simply over the threshold of fairness. Early on you are greeted with the simple how to play mechanics which seem fine, but later on you will be dodging razorblades, monsters and just about everything else that the game has in store for you, which is fine of course if you(r autistic.) like this sort of challenge.
There is a fair amount of content in Super Meat Boy but unless you’re skilled enough you will only see a third of it. The animations are sound and offer a good incentive to carry on. But when you finish the main story you will most probably be just shutting the game off as there is only more frustration that awaits you.
Secondary Score: 6/10
On top of that there are hidden levels in each world. Sometimes the game will seem to glitch out as you save Bandage Girl, but you are actually being transported to a hidden stage. Also in certain stages are portals which will teleport you to extra stages. Some of these will give you control of unlockable characters. Complete the stage and you can then use that character in all levels. The unlockable characters have been borrowed from other indie games such as Braid and Alien Hominid and each have a unique ability, such as a double jump. There are also bandages scattered around each world, which usually require a bit more skill to acquire, these also unlock new characters to play with.
There are online leaderboards but already they are filled with people completing levels in 0.00 seconds so are effectively useless. Even without this feature though you can’t deny that there is a lot of game here. There are more levels on top of the ones I’ve mentioned as well, including an area where new, free levels will be released in time. True, most levels can be completed in a matter of seconds, but I believe my record for playing a level was about forty minutes, so depending on your skill level this game could last you a very, very long time.
As I said at the beginning of the review though, this isn’t for everyone. If you liked Trials, N+ or a similar game which is high on difficulty and relies on trial and error then you could find a lot of fun with SMB. If that sounds like hell to you then I’m not going to try and force you to think otherwise. I have personally enjoyed every second I’ve played of SMB, even those seconds where I’ve been squeezing the controller so tight for so long that my hand cramps up and I have imprints on my palms. I haven’t found a level yet that I can’t beat with time and patience and the feeling once you’ve done so is fantastic.
At first glance it is easy to dismiss Super Meat Boy because of its simple gameplay and visuals, but I do honestly believe that a lot of full priced games could learn a thing or two from this well crafted XBLA game. It pays homage to many of the old school classics and time will tell if it truly deserves to be considered among them, but I feel it is a real possibility.