The lights are on
Super Meat Boy is not a game that’s hard to describe. It is charming. It is retro. It is hard. It has tight controls. Super Meat Boy is an indie game that was made with the care and finesse of any game you can find today, and it’s also one of the most content-packed single player experiences you can get on Xbox Live Arcade. I enjoy playing Super Meat Boy more than I ever thought I would – especially given its brutal challenge. What Team Meat has created is perhaps the best downloadable game I’ve played all year, combining dark humor, old-school sensibilities, and rapid-fire levels into an addictive platforming package.
AT A GLANCE:
WHAT IT IS: A retro, indie platformer where a boy made of meat must traverse tons of challenging platforming levels with the aid of dark humor, tight controls, and a bunch of unlockable indie friends. WHAT
YOU'LL LIKE: Perfectly tight controls; simple yet captivating graphics; amazing soundtrack; tons of content (plus more being added); quick respawns
WHAT YOU WON'T LIKE: Warp zones can be really frustrating
WHAT YOU MIGHT LIKE: The challenge
SCORE: 9.25 out of 10
I did not grow up with the notoriously difficult platformers of yesteryear – I’ve never played a Mega Man game, nor something like Ninja Gaiden. The easier platformers like Super Mario World are the ones that made me fall in love with the simplicity of the platforming genre, and so I did not think I would enjoy something that was as hard as I heard Super Meat Boy would be. Surprisingly, the fact that Super Meat Boy is so ridiculously and blatantly hard is part of its hilarious charm.
You will die more in this game than in any other game you have ever played, and that is pretty much a guarantee. There are tons of levels in the game, but each level is compact so there’s rarely a time where you feel cheated because you past so much and then died at the very end. The shortness of the levels combines with the lightning fast respawn after your death, meaning you’re never waiting for your chance to try again. As you progress, the levels become nothing more than tests of reflexes and pattern memorization, rather than the freedom of traversal that platformers like Mario exemplify.
Some may not like this, but I ended up enjoying the tests of skill despite the fact that I’ve never been a fan of that style before. Two things make your repeated deaths worth fighting through. The first is the acclaimed replay system that shows every single attempt you made at a level at the same time, so tons of meatboys jump out in every angle and die in a giant mass, as you try and pick out the meatboy that finally made it through the death course and to the end of the level. The second is the satisfaction that comes with beating levels. I felt better when finally beating a level in this game than I ever did in any other platformer, and that could be because of the aforementioned deaths which shows you how far you came from your first try to your last, or because the controls are so tight that you never once feel a death was cheap.
The biggest achievement of the game is how amazingly responsive and balanced your jumps are, which massively reduces the frustration most platformer deaths create. There are tons of bottomless pits in the game, which is usually a big reason to groan in these games, but the perfect controls mean if you fall in, it was your fault and not the game’s. The game also excels in just how much content there is. For each level in the game, there is a much harder dark version that is unlocked after beating the original version in a short amount of time. This automatically doubles the amount of levels. Plus, beating the game gives you the hardest world of all (which taunts you with the most cheerful music in the game). Then you have the challenging “beat three mini-levels with three lives or start all over” warp zones, which have 8-bit style (and sometimes monochromes) graphics and sometimes contain secret characters.
There is actually a pretty large amount of unlockable characters, either unlocked through warp zones or by getting a certain amount of bandages, which are scattered throughout the game and become more and more challenging to reach. Each new character has a special ability, rather than just being a reskinned version of Meatboy, and each is from another indie game, which is a fantastic touch. Each and every piece of content is polished to the max, accompanied by some absolutely amazing retro-style music and unique, retro visuals. The 8-bit levels do a great job of emulating that era not only in feel but in look and sound, which creates a nostalgia effect for the game, even though it never even existed before.
The look of the game is simplistic, as to make it easier to see where you need to go and what you need to avoid in the levels. However, the game looks great, even when it turns towards the minimalistic. All surfaces you touch leave behind a trail of blood, and some levels have a silhouette style that is stunning. The cutscenes that play before and after each world are humorous (as any story where a glob of meat must save a girl made of bandages from a fetus in a jar), but they are hand drawn and don’t look nearly as professional as the gameplay itself.
The great thing about the story is that it may or may not be a commentary on game storytelling. Perhaps they are saying that most game characters are, at their core, nothing more than a blob of meat disguised as a real character. Perhaps Team Meat is trying to say that it doesn’t matter who your character is as long as the gameplay is fun enough to keep people captivated. Even if you think that perhaps there was a motive behind their characters being what they are, the great thing is that the game doesn’t preoccupy itself or the player with it – it’s the gameplay that. Super Meat Boy is an amazing indie accomplishment, and its surprisingly high quality means that perhaps the line between indie and company games are starting to blur.
If you are not a patient gamer, then Super Meat Boy is not for you. You need to want to test your skills, not just to be taken along for a ride, as many games these days do. Also, the creepy, sinister humor that evolves the farther into the game as you (you visit a hospital full of toxic needles, Hell, and The Rapture) may not be for everyone (the faces that mark each world are actually quite scary looking). If you grew up in the 8/16 bit generations, get this game, and even if you didn’t, like me, you may just be in the market for an incredibly tight, incredibly humorous platformer.
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