« First Impressions - Fable III | Main | First Impressions - Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II »

Super Meat Boy Review

I love Super Meat Boy. I want to hug it and give it awards and then hit it with something large and heavy until its lifeless body stops twitching and then throw it into a river with cement shoes on. Then I shall dive in after it screaming “I’m sorry!” at the top of my lungs while weeping slightly.

This is the somewhat confusing relationship I have with this brutally difficult platformer. I both love it and hate it. I’m absolutely addicted to an experience that should rightfully have me in tears, not of joy, but of pain and sorrow. Instead, I’m finding that I can’t put it down and don’t quite know why.

Traditionally, a review of a difficult game is supposed to start with a warning. Something along the lines of, “this game isn’t for the faint of heart” or “this game isn’t for the easily frustrated. But therein lies the beauty of Super Meat Boy. Lines like these are not necessary. I am, in fact, “the easily frustrated” and I am smitten by Meat Boy’s masochistic charms.

Through a brilliant combination of precise control, superb level design, and forgiving game mechanics that do not punish death but instead reward skill, Super Meat Boy takes what could have been one of the most maddening games ever to be released upon the gaming public and turns it into a sublime example of pure gaming at its best.

Super Meat Boy removes all of the fluff, but none of the polish. It removes most of the frustration, but none of the challenge. It is gaming at its purest, simplest, and most addictive. Not to mention its most difficult

The gameplay itself is dead simple. You are Meat Boy. You are trying to rescue Bandage Girl. She has been kidnapped by Dr. Fetus. Yes, it’s wacky, but it’s your classic save the girl story and its perfectly appropriate for the retro stylings of this outing. To save her, you have to navigate some of the most nightmarish levels ever concocted by game designers. You do this by running, jumping, and wall sliding. That’s it. 

So how does Super Meat Boy manage this amazing feat of avoiding frustration with a game design that has my death count (yes, there is a death counter) at a staggering 3,500 with my completion percentage at just over 50%? 

The answer is relatively simple, actually. Death doesn’t matter. You die constantly, but spend no time being dead. You restart nearly instantaneously after any screwup. Levels are short enough that you rarely have to replay more than ten or fifteen seconds. There’s no penalty for death at all. You can simply keep trying again and again until you succeed.

In fact, in another brilliant touch, once you finally do complete a level, you will see a replay, which you can save if you so choose, of all of your attempts played back simultaneously. Seeing twenty Meat Boys sprinting through the level at the same time, most of them to their doom, is the greatest end-of-level reward since the enthusiastic blaring of “Ode to Joy” at the end of a Peggle stage. It actually works to encourage you to keep trying and not give up.

What could have been a game full of mindless repetition and unfair difficulty is instead a showcase for some of the most creative and consistently interesting level designs seen in the platformer genre in years.

Every level is a slightly different twist on what has come before. The challenge at the end of the game comes not from throwing new concepts at you, but from demanding the utmost precision in execution while performing actions and evading obstacles that were introduced to you far earlier in the game. Almost never do you feel like you’re doing the same thing twice. Considering there are well over 300 different levels in Super Meat Boy, this is quite an accomplishment.

But Super Meat Boy has charms beyond its simple gameplay. The main draw may be the perfected platforming, but the charming presentation sells the overall package with aplomb. The humor value of a small blob of meat bounding all over the place and leaving blood trails on the walls with an adorably disgusting squishy sound never seems to go away. Despite the many buzzsaws and deathtraps, the graphical style is cute, and pretty in a supercharged SNES sort of way. The warp zones in particular, which feature a deliberately retro graphical style, capture the vibe of that bygone era perfectly. The music must easily go down as one of the best soundtracks of this year. In transitiional moments you even get the occasional short, usually funny cutscene. 

All of this is in addition to how great a value the package is. Super Meat Boy positively drowns you in stuff to do and challenges to overcome. There are plenty of reasons to come back to levels you’ve played before, such as to play them with one of the many different characters, to get the A+ rating and unlock the harder, Dark World version of the level, or to find hidden secrets like bandages or warp zones. All of this is not to mention the free downloadable levels that the developers have promised to deliver through the unlockable “Teh Internets” world. Super Meat Boy is selling for only $10 for its first month. There is no question that at this price, or even the full price of $15, that this is one of the most value-packed downloadable games ever to hit Xbox Live Arcade.

The game does admittedly have a few moments of questionable design that let a little potential for frustration seep into the mix. All of these moments come when the game deviates from its core philosophy of making death unimportant. The warp zones in particular limit you to a small number of lives per stage. Since there are three stages in every warp zone, this forces a lot of unnecessary repetition of earlier stages to even get a try at the later levels. Throw in the fact that the game kicks you back to the level select menu after failure and forces you to watch a short but unskippable intro every time you reload and you have the one place in Super Meat Boy where death actually matters. Not conincidentally, these are the only places where I came close to feeling frustrated with the game, and matters certainly aren’t helped by the fact that these troubling warp zones are some of the hardest stages in the entire game.

There are few games indeed that I would call perfect, but I truly believe that Super Meat Boy has nearly achieved perfection in what it is trying to accoplish. It isn’t original, it isn’t for everyone, but the pure platforming on display here has been polished to an absolute sheen and the sense of accomplishment it manages to create with a minimum of frustration when you finally manage to overcome its hellish obstacles is unparalleled. 

Super Meat Boy has come out of nowhere to become one of my favorite platformers of all time, which is an accolade I don’t hand out lightly. I encourge anyone who calls himself a “hardcore” gamer to test his mettle against Super Meat Boy and see if you can’t start a wonderful love/hate relationship of your own.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>