Reviewed on PC, also available on Xbox Live and PS3
Super Meat Boy is a 2D platform game which was birthed out of the wildly successful Meat Boy flash game on Newgrounds. The game is still up and acts as a neat demo for Super Meat Boy. Whilst the base concept is the same, the controls have been tightened up for Meat Boy’s commercial debut on XBLA and PC.
The story goes that Meat Boy (made of meat) and his girlfriend, Bandage Girl, (made of bandages) are plagued by the hateful Dr. Fetus (a tuxedo wearing fetus in a jar). Dr. Fetus kidnaps bandage girl and it’s up to Meat Boy and an assortment of his cohorts to rescue her. The ridiculous nature of the story has been described by the developers (Team Meat) as “a mash-up of every videogame story from the early 90s.”
The story is neither here nor there, as the gameplay is the heart of the title, but after just a mere few levels, one becomes rather involved with the characters and rescuing bandage girl is a matter of pride and self-respect.
Let it be known that the gameplay is brutal. If you are looking for a game that will calmly guide you up a gentle difficulty slope and whisper soothing congratulatory praises after each level is completed, you’re chewing on the wrong meat.
The controls are basic – left and right movement and a jump button – but the way in which they are implemented is subtle, requiring a deft touch and a demanding level of precision. The PC version of the game can be played on a keyboard, but it really is not recommended. A gamepad provides far more accuracy.
Super Meat Boy starts players out slowly, giving them a few basic levels in which to familiarise themselves with the controls. The classic platforming elements of timed jumps and hazardous environments are present, but Meat Boy will also be taking his moves to vertical surfaces, spending a lot of time sliding up and down walls, and making treacherous leaps from them. The controls are tweaked to perfection, and when one becomes one with the Meat, some spectacular moves can be achieved.
Soon enough, the difficulty ramps up and the levels become rather complex. As one delves further into the game the beauty of the level design becomes apparent. As far as 2D platforming games go, this one is designed as near to perfection as a mortal can achieve. I personally haven’t felt this sort of challenge and reward when playing a platforming game since the heyday of brutal 1990s Nintendo titles.
Levels feature all sorts of nasty hazards – lava, saw blades, projectiles, floating nasties, salt, hypodermic needles – this list goes on. One quickly gets the feeling that there is a ‘perfect’ way to run through the level. The various hazards have timing associated with them, and as one begins to discern the layout of each level, the perfect run can be figured out.
Death is inevitable, and indeed it is even required to learn the complexities of a level, but Super Meat Boy does a fantastic job of removing most of the frustration associated with failure. The level resets almost instantly and the player is given little time to dwell on their mistake as they dive right into the next run. The levels are short and sweet, so dying really won’t set one back more than 20 seconds. Of course, dying multiple times begins to add up – but it wouldn’t be any fun if it were easy.
Once a level is completed, a neat replay mode begins, showing an overlay of each run made. There is something grimly satisfying about watching hundreds of Meat Boy’s dying in a spray of meaty goodness, until the lone hero makes his way to the end of the level to rescue Bandage Girl. Of course, Dr. Fetus is waiting, and whisks her off to the next death trap. The game is divided into worlds of 20 core levels each, with an insane boss battle at the end – a boss which will have to be defeated in order to progress. One will typically have to complete 17 of 20 levels in order to access the boss, so there is a slight reprieve for those who find some levels too daunting.
Each level challenges players to earn a ‘Grade A+’ rating by beating a preset time. Having earned the Grade A+ rating, an alternate version of the level is unlocked, referred to as a ‘dark world.’ These levels are even more brutal than their original ‘light world’ version, throwing in additional hazards. They also have their own Grade A+ challenge for the compulsive types.
Throughout the levels, collectible bandages will appear, usually located in some insanely obscure location that requires an extra degree of skill to reach. Having collected enough bandages, unlockable and playable characters can be accessed. Characters are also unlocked by completing special ‘Warp Zone’ levels. The characters include a few tributes to popular indie games, depending on which version you are playing (XBLA or Steam). These additional characters each have unique attributes, and they will be needed to complete certain levels, as meat boy isn’t up to completing them all himself. Learning the nuances of these characters is all part of the game.
Super Meat Boy does not lack in level content either. There are over 300 levels to discover through regular gameplay and secrets. Team Meat intends to further update the XBLA version with selections of maps, and the PC version will benefit from a level editor, which is still in the pipeline for release. All in all, that’s a whole lot of meat to beat.
Visually, Super Meat Boy is a triumph due to its simplicity. The graphics are reminiscent of the original Flash title, and do good job of conjuring some 8-bit and 16-bit nostalgia. Things never become boring and repetitive – the developers have done a great job of creating numerous unique environments and artistic touches. A number of the levels pay homage to classic gaming titles, as do the humorous cut scenes.
The audio is top notch, and the soundtrack really stands out, giving a tip of the musical hat to platforming games of yore. The musical score is upbeat and well-paced, setting a perfect background to the relentless platforming action. Some gamers might find themselves substituting the music with something from their own collection, as even the best soundtrack can become a bit boring after extended periods of play.
It is really extremely difficult to find anything wrong at all with Super Meat Boy. A game developed by an independent developer selling for an entirely reasonable price and crammed full of gameplay content – it cannot come any more highly recommended. Aside from a few teething problems on the PC platform (which have mostly be rectified at the time of writing) the game achieves exactly what it set out to do. The gameplay is brutally challenging at times and this could perhaps be construed as a negative by those who miss the point of Super Meat Boy.
Super Meat Boy is something quite special, and it should go down in gaming history as a legendary title worthy of sharing a space with the classics video games to which is so cleverly pays homage.
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Super Meat Boy was reviewed on PC.