Super Meat Boy Review
Excellent level design and music make for an incredibly enjoyable platformer, despite its borderline masochistic difficulty
The marketing for Super Meat Boy suggests that it is “hard as nails” but that seems like something of an understatement given the vague connotation of the phrase. No other platformer in recent, or even distant, memory will test your twitch skills like Super Meat boy. Does this extreme difficulty make the game frustrating? Yes, it certainly does, but when you finally manage to complete a particularly troublesome level after many, many deaths the feeling of triumph is oh so sweet. Not many games will have you screaming "YES! FINALLY" at 2 in the morning on a Tuesday; Super Meat Boy, however, is one of them. This game walks a fine line between being so difficult that you can’t derive any enjoyment out of it, and being just easy enough that you can finish most levels if you are tenacious. Once you get past the initially unwieldy controls, you might just fall in love with the little cube of meat and his escapades.
You will literally go through hell to rescue your love, Bandaid girl
The premise of Super Meat boy is classic platformer stuff; the main character, meat boy (a cube of meat) loves bandaid girl, and the fiendish Dr. Fetus is intent on kidnapping bandaid girl and keeping her away from meat boy, presumably because he is lonely and jealous. Each level will have you traversing a series of obstacles in order to rescue bandaid girl. Each time you complete a level the villain, Dr. Fetus, will snatch her away and you are forced to continue your journey. There are five worlds, each of which contain twenty levels, a boss, and a dark-world equivalent. In order to unlock a dark world level, you must complete the light-world level at or faster than a certain ‘par’ time. If you are the competitive type, your time for each level will be posted on a leader board, and you can compete to try and get the best time for each level.
While this structure is nothing new or exciting, it’s in the execution of these ideas that allows Super Meat Boy to flourish and stand out from the crowd. The level design is super tight, and new elements, obstacles and challenges are constantly being introduced. The controls might seem a bit unwieldy at first with only four buttons, two for moving left and right, one for jumping and one for dashing/sprinting. The first few levels are relatively simple and are designed to help you get used to the controls. As you progress, wall jumping, mid-air turns, and precise direction swaps all must be completed at lightning fast times; you don’t have time to think when controlling meat boy; you only have time to act. It is also worth noting that the character you play as for much of the game, meat boy, will slide when he hits a surface with any speed. This means that momentum must be taken into account when landing and jumping. When there are saw blades whirring around and lava pits looming, even the slightest misstep or judgment error will cause meat boy to die.
Dying is something you will have to get used to while playing this game. After completing most of the light world and part of the dark world, putting my total completion at about 30%, I have already died over 2,000 times. Since most of the levels are extremely short, with the longest taking about twenty seconds to complete, it is really easy to just pick up and try again after you die. For the most part you have unlimited lives when trying to complete levels, so when you die you are instantly put back at the beginning of the level with no consequences other than your rage at messing up the timing of jump. When you finally manage to complete a level, you are treated to a replay of all of your attempts running at the same time. It can be really entertaining to see 50 meat boys jumping around at the beginning of the level with only one making it to the end. This humorous replay only adds to the immense sense of accomplishment you get from completing the harder levels in the game.
Every meat boy represents a separate attempt at the level. Only one survived.
While the five light and dark worlds already mean you get good value for your money with Super Meat Boy, the game also happens to be packed with lots of great extras. You will pick up cruelly placed ‘band-aids,’ which will unlock other playable characters as you accumulate more and more. Also scattered throughout various levels in the game are ‘warp zones,’ which are short 3-level bonus worlds that you play through with either a pixilated version of meat boy or another character entirely. Those Warp Zones that feature meat boy will give you only three lives to complete all three levels, meaning that they are incredibly difficult. When you complete a Warp Zone featuring a character other than meat boy, such as Bit-Trip Runner and the head-crab from Half-Life 2, you will unlock that character and gain the option to play as him or her in the main game. The visuals and audio of these warp zones are 8-bit, and serve as an excellent throwback to the era of early gaming where platformers ruled the market. Each character you unlock will have strengths and weaknesses; Meat Boy, for instance, is extremely fast, but will slide when he hits a surface with any momentum. Often that means you go sliding into a saw blade or a pit of lava.
The visuals in the rest of the game are similar to what has been seen in other recent animated titles like World of Goo. There are some liquid physics associated with meat boy and some environments, which include lava, salt and a strange red liquid that is presumably some kind of blood. Whenever meat boy dies, his remains are splattered across a small area of the map, and everywhere he goes a red trail is left behind. These trails and bloody remains stay on each level across multiple attempts, so you can see where you have been, and died, previously. Since Meat Boy is a 2D game, you don’t need a very fast computer to run it, although my laptop with integrated Intel graphics struggled on some of the larger levels, and on those that featured a lot of liquid physics.
The sound design and music of Super Meat Boy are really where the game shines. Sharp, clean sound effects are used to mimic meat-boys movements, and when he dies a satisfying squelch is emitted. The music is absolutely fantastic as well; each world has its own theme music, all of which is excellent, while the main menu, cut scenes and warp zones all feature their own tunes that you might find yourself whistling later on. The great sound design and stylish visuals are executed with near perfection, and help ease the pain of dying over, and over, and over and over again.
So while the borderline masochistic difficulty might turn some people off Super Meat Boy from the get go, those willing to get used to the controls and stick with the game will be rewarded with the immense satisfaction of beating a level that at first might have seemed impossible. The levels are all impeccably designed, and the music and visuals are stylish and energetic. Super Meat Boy has undeniable charm paired with tight controls and varied, hyper-challenging levels that will appeal to platformer veterans and newcomers alike.