In: Reviews by Nick "Alsop Live" Dinicola20 Oct 2010
You play as a block of meat for one. Also your girlfriend is a bandage, and your nemesis is a fetus in a jar wearing a tuxedo and monocle (just for clarification, the jar is in the suit, not the fetus). It all sounds disgusting, but the art is so cartoonish that everything becomes so damn adorable, and it just makes you smile and say, “Awwww.” It’s actually the perfect counterbalance to the brutal, unforgiving, and merciless platforming. Super Meat Boy is hard, and cute, and fun.
Dr. Fetus kidnaps Bandage Girl (yes, that’s really their names) and Meat Boy must chase them through several worlds to rescue his love. The amount of content is staggering. There are five worlds to begin with and three more that you can unlock. Each world contains about 15 to 20 levels, as well as some secret warp zones, but if you get an A-rank on a level you can play a more difficult alternate version of it in the Dark World.
So there’s actually double the content. There are also a ton of secret characters you can unlock by collecting hidden Band-Aids, and these new guys are more than just palette swaps of Meat Boy. They’re entirely new characters with unique abilities that radically change how you move through a level.
While the normal art style is cartoonish, the warp zones are a throwback to old-school gaming. Some of these levels look like you’re playing on a GameBoy, others look like a Super Nintendo game, and yet others like an Atari game. There’s a reverence for such old-school gaming all throughout Super Meat Boy, and you get the sense that it’s no accident the game’s initials are S.M.B.
Like the other famous S.M.B game, Super Meat Boy is all about the platforming, and Meat Boy can jump with the best of them. The controls are simple and precise: The A button jumps, holding it down makes you jump higher and farther, the left trigger runs, and a running jump will send you even farther but at a lower angle. Running also has an effect when you’re in midair since holding the trigger makes you fly faster. Don’t want to overshoot a platform? Let go of the trigger and Meat Boy immediately slows down. You have total control over his speed and direction at all times.
Levels are incredibly short; the par time for many is less than 10 seconds, and that’s not just for levels in the first world, either. Despite their length, you will die many times on even the shortest of levels thanks to an assortment of destructive obstacles: Buzz saws, piles of nails, rockets, fan blades, salt, and more. You’ll rarely beat a level on your first try because you won’t know the layout. It takes many deaths to learn the proper timing, but as you do the challenge becomes easier. Eventually you’ll be able to fly through the beginning of a level like a professional acrobat because you’ve done it so many times it’s become muscle memory. Your eventual flawless run looks so beautiful you’ll want to save the replay — which you can also do. I predict there will be some truly awe-inspiring YouTube videos for this game.
Such high difficulty could easily get frustrating, but Super Meat Boy does all it can to makes the challenge satisfying instead. The tight controls ensure that it never feels like the game’s fault that I died, I just wasn’t skilled enough to jump over that saw. The short levels mean you’re never far from the end, so you always have a goal in sight. The combination of Dark World and Light World means there’s always at least two different levels you could be playing, and you can always go back to previous levels looking for Band-Aids or that A rank. That’s also the only rank you can get — no B, C, D, or F — so the game encourages you to go for a perfect run by rewarding you with a special rank and more content but doesn’t demean you with a bad rank if you take your time.
The most unique reward you get for beating a level is the video replay that shows all of your attempts at once. It’s fun watching 50 or more Meat Boys start a level only for half of them to die at the first jump. Then a quarter more die at the next obstacle, and the rest are whittled away until only one remains. It’s a creative way to show your learning progress.
Super Meat Boy is addictive and deceptively simple, so it’ll surely cause you to suffer from the “just one more” syndrome. A 30-second level can easily suck away 30 minutes of your time, and then you’ll move on to a 40-second level. This is the kind of game that leaves you with sore hands because you don’t realize how hard you’re gripping the controller. It’s also the only game ever made that will make you want to punch a fetus. Don’t let its cute exterior fool you — this game will mess you up. But if you’re looking for something to seriously challenge your skills as a gamer, Super Meat Boy beckons you.
Super Meat Boy
Reviewed for the Xbox Live Arcade (also available for Windows, Mac, and Wii)
Available October 19