Super Meat Boy is a platformer about a boy without skin named Meat Boy who must save his girlfriend, Bandage Girl, from Dr. Fetus. Aside from having the best story ever it’s also hard. Very, very hard. I’ve died over 3,000 times (which isn’t an exaggeration, the game keeps tracks of deaths) and haven’t completed the game 100% yet. But just because it’s hard doesn’t make it any less fun. The sense of accomplishment that comes with beating some of the harder stages is priceless, especially considering how easy some games are today.
Game play is fairly simple. You navigate Meat Boy to Bandage girl at the end of each level while dodging all kinds of spikes, lava, bottomless pits, rotating/flying saw blades, salt (which instantly kills meat, obviously), rockets, globs of purple goo, lasers, deadly piles of (used?) syringes and about a million other different death traps I can’t remember. Wall jumping is a staple of the game with nearly every level having you jumping up vertical shafts at one point or another. The abundance of instant death obstacles means you’re going to die, a lot. But death isn’t treated so much as a punishment but more as a learning experience. If you die, you instantly restart at the beginning of the level, ready to try again. The key to getting through the game is learning how to precisely control Meat Boy, with levels boiling down to memorization of timing and what path to take.
Super Meat Boy is broken up into roughly 350 stages spread across several different chapters. You start each chapter playing through the light world levels. If you beat the par time (get an “A+”) on a given level you unlock the dark world version of that level which is generally a much more difficult version of the original. Additionally there are tons of warp zones spread throughout the light and dark world. These warp zones each feature 3 different levels and, to make things just a bit more difficult, you only have 3 lives per level in warp zones. Then, there are special warp zones where you can unlock new playable characters. On top of all that, each chapter has a special “glitch” level, unlocked randomly if you reach Bandage Girl and she’s “glitching” like would sometimes happen when trying to play NES games (the blocky textures flashing and displayed in random patterns on the screen). Oh…and there are bandages on some of the levels which you can collect to unlock even more playable characters.
The controls are simple, straight forward and very responsive. You can only control direction, jump and sprint. Everything controls perfectly and you never feel frustrated at the game for not controlling well or being cheap, it’s generally your fault if you die.
The game tends to differ from other platformers in a few different ways. First, the levels are very short. Many can be completed in just a few seconds while others can take over a minute to get through, an average par time seems to be around 30 seconds. Secondly, the gameplay is very fast paced. You’ll have to be very quick and nimble to get par on some of the levels, which is hard considering the fast amounts of death traps spread through the areas.
- Replays – Once you finally beat a level a reply will begin playing showing your victorious run through the stage as well as each previously failed attempt, played simultaneously. It’s really neat (and sad) seeing the 50 different ways you died getting through the level all played at one time.
- Style – I love the simple graphical style used in the game. Each chapter has a distinctive setting but that doesn’t stop the creators from giving each level a distinctive feel. For instance, the salt factory stage is (obviously) set in a salt factory and generally features grey and white colors, but they change things up with shadowed foregrounds or changing the time of day (and color palette along with it), so it doesn’t feel like you’re just playing a very slightly modified stage each time, things never get too boring.
- Music – The soundtrack is composed by Danny Baranowsky, who has also composed the soundtrack for Canabalt. It’s awesome. You can listen to the whole thing (or buy it) here.
- Controls – The controls are really spot on and responsive, which is great because the game requires exacting controls in some of the more fast paced, death trap filled later levels.
- Unlocks – Super Meat Boy features a large number of unlockable playable characters. The cool part is these characters come from other independent games. The list includes some more well known characters such as Tim, from Braid, and the alien from Alien Hominid, as well as a few I had never heard of. Like Jill from Might Jill Off. Each version of the game is getting different character unlocks, which is interesting as well. The Steam version of the game replaces Gish with the headcrab from Half Life. Oh and the PC version gets Tofu Boy, who is completely weak due to iron deficiency, after PETA decided to call them out for some reason.
- Retro tie-ins – Each chapter has a different intro movie, and each of those movies is a throwback to an old NES-era game. The first chapter is a parody of a Street Fighter intro, the second chapter is like Castlevania, the third like the Adventures of Lolo and so on. Growing up on those games it’s cool seeing another developer pay homage to them. Also, many warp zones take on a Gameboy style and color palette, which is cool.
- It’s hard in a good way – I died tens or even hundreds of times on a stage, but for some reason I never got truly mad at the game. I get mad when a game is cheap or the controls suck so I can’t do what I want to do, but Super Meat Boy is different in that I died all of those times because I messed up. It seems like it wouldn’t matter how I died, it would still get frustrating, but it’s truly not that bad. Also, since you respawn instantly on death without having to continue or re-enter the stage, you can get right back into things and try to learn from your mistakes.
- Two guys made the whole thing – This isn’t really a selling point, but it’s amazing that just two people were able to put so much together and are doing so for two different consoles (Wii and Xbox 360), the PC and Macs.
- It’s hard in a bad way – Some people might not enjoy the difficulty of the game. I grew up playing really difficult platformers but many people nowadays might not be used to death, memorizing a bit more, death, memorize style of gameplay. Also, some of the levels are just…unfair. Unlocking the Kid from I Wanna Be The Guy was insanely frustrating and the hardest thing I’ve done in any video game. The 3 levels are just setup in such a way where it’s nearly impossible to navigate the stage, precision jumping and timing is needed…and lots of death. Just watch the deceptively simple video below of the levels if you don’t believe me. He makes it look easy…but it took me hours to do that.
Overall Super Meat Boy is great for fans of older style platform games. You have to be able to handle dying many times before getting through a level. There’s tons of content that will take you many hours to fully complete, so it’s a great price for the amount of time you’ll get out of it. Additionally, the Xbox 360 version has “Teh Internets”, a feature that allows the developers to add new chapters after the games been released, and the PC version getting a level editor for custom map making.
At this point, Super Meat Boy is my game of the year. Not only is it an amazing platformer, the character unlocks have pointed me to a bunch of very well done indie games I would have never known about otherwise (VVVVVV is amazing).
If you’re interested in reading more about the game, be sure to check out the official Super Meat Boy blog which has a ton of behind the scenes information about the game.
How much I played: I went through the whole light world through the end of the game, unlocked The Kid, and did a large number of the dark world stages on the Xbox 360. I could never, for some reason, beat any of the glitch levels. I’m also playing through it again on the PC, mostly because I’m a sucker for the PC specific unlocks (headcrab and the Minecraft guy).