Equal parts homage and genre-redefining platformer, Super Meat Boy is a brutally difficult game that you can’t help but fall in love with.
How far would you be willing to go if your significant other was kidnapped by one of your enemies? Would you traverse dangerous environments filled with saws, rocket launchers, seemingly impossible jumps, fierce enemies and other hazards? Platformers have encouraged us to think about these questions ever since Mario jumped on goombas to rescue princess Peach from evil Bowser. Like the original Super Mario Bros., Super Meat Boy is a challenging platformer with precise controls, a terrific soundtrack and appealing visuals. Equal parts homage and genre-redefining title, Super Meat Boy is a brutally difficult game that you can’t help but fall in love with.
As usual, the story is simple enough. In this case, cube-shaped character Meat Boy is in love with Bandage Girl, but when his girlfriend is kidnapped by evil Dr. Fetus, our hero sets out on a dangerous journey to save the love of his life. Right from the get go, you’ll notice that Super Meat Boy is an homage to classic platformers, since there are references to NES classics such as Super Mario Bros, Castlevania and Mega Man, among many others.
In the game, each level involves the same objective: you need to do everything you can to reach Bandage Girl. This includes jumping over platforms, dodging deadly obstacles, hiding underneath blocks, avoiding hazards and so on. Should you die, it takes less than a second for your character to reappear at the beginning of the level and this is one of the details that makes Super Meat Boy one of the best platformers in recent memory.
Levels are beautifully animated: your character moves fluidly, leaving a trail of blood in his path, Dr. Fetus recaptures Bandage Girl as soon as you reach the level, some of the hidden levels try to emulate the visual aspect of consoles of yesteryear (such as the original Game Boy) and so on. One of my favorite features is that as soon as you clear the level, the replay mode starts showing each playthrough you attempted. This means that not only can you see that one single successful attempt, but also all the Super Meat Boys that were crushed, shot, blown to pieces and impaled.
But levels aren’t just pretty to look at. Their design is absolutely fantastic as well. No two levels are the same and if you follow the order in which they are supposed to be played, you’ll notice a linear progression in the sense that new hazards are introduced gradually so that you don’t get frustrated right off the bat.
But since Meat Boy has to be agile and fast to overcome the hazards that plague the levels (read: fans, spikes, lasers, evil clones, rockets and so on,) he can perform a variety of moves, including wall jumping, climbing, bouncing and so on. But mastering one mechanic doesn’t guarantee anything. Still, the game never becomes impossible and the pacing is absolutely fantastic. But it isn’t a walk in the park either. Little by little, the difficulty starts ramping up and before you know it, you’ll be facing dozens of rotating saws at the same time, gargantuan bosses and evil clones, to name but a few.
Every level has its own bag of tricks, but this isn’t an unfair game. On the contrary, it feels like the levels are increasingly difficult so that you never feel unprepared for what’s ahead. Additionally, when Super Meat Boy asks you to do something, it provides the tools for success. So the levels are beautifully constructed, the controls respond precisely to your input and death is yet another tool that’s useful to learn from your mistakes. And die you will. Every death is necessary. After all, every saw that slashes your fragile body, every spike that pierces through your flesh and every bottomless pit you fall into, is a step closer to victory. The game doesn’t use death to hinder your progress, it uses it as a learning experience.
Super Meat Boy encourages the use of a trial-and-error approach, but at no point does the platformer become tedious. The game knows its heritage and avoids some of the most common problems with the genre. When you die, it takes less than a second for your character to reappear on the level, which makes replaying levels a fast and painless process. As a consequence, you’ll be so hooked that once you start playing, you won’t be able to stop.
Super Meat Boy is certainly not for everybody and even though I tried to convince myself I was going to finish every level the game has to offer, deep down I know that’s not true. Still, you don’t have to finish this game to enjoy it or appreciate what it does for the genre. You can play some of the first worlds and have a blast before the game becomes obscenely hard. If you enjoy the challenge though, Super Meat Boy will have you glued to the screen for hours: there are hundreds of regular levels, hidden scrolls that unlock new characters, dowloadable levels released by the developer, a parallel dark world and so on. Super Meat Boy has a lot to offer in terms of content and just when you think you’re running out of levels to play, you’ll unlock a batch of new ones.
Super Meat Boy is more than a platformer. This is a celebration of video games and one of those revolutionary experiences that occurs only once every few years. At the same time, Super Meat Boy transports you to simpler times: a time when you didn’t need convoluted stories, fancy CGI or immaculate graphic engines to have a fantastic time. Apparently, you only need a PC, some free space on your hard drive and an Xbox controller. Oh, and some patience. Don’t forget that patience.