Super Meat Boy is going to knock you on your ass and you're going to love it. This tightly controlled platforming oddity is the definition of frustrating, but the sheer amount of content combined with an outrageous sense of humor will have you playing for hours on end. At the very least you'll play until Super Meat Boy defeats your will to continue - and oh yes it will defeat you.
Then, a day or week later, you'll start playing again and you'll rediscover just how amazing Super Meat Boy is. Right before you break your controller and take another day or week off.
Meat Boy isn't meant for everyone; Meat Boy isn't designed for everyone. Many gamers will pick up Super Meat Boy and become overly frustrated with the game without due consideration. This isn't the sort of game where you can chat about the ending with your buddies by the water cooler. This is the kind of game where you ask for tips and tricks, compare times and soothe your ego by discussing which levels you just can't beat after work at the bar. Playing is borderline masochism made from borderline sadists.
The hook is Super Meat Boy's charming personality. The music, sound work, clean level design, retro references, and an assortment of other Super Meat Boy aspects, make the game so much more than just a platformer. Meat Boy does an amazing job of wrapping you into the experience. It's a very defined, specific experience, but it's near perfect in everything it tries to be.
Read on for my full review of Super Meat Boy.
The standard campaign in Super Meat Boy is broken into five chapters of intense platforming fun. Each chapter includes twenty different levels, though you only need to complete seventeen of them to unlock each chapter's boss. If you complete a level under a certain time, you score an 'A+' for it and unlock the 'Dark World' version of that same level. There are Dark World versions of each standard level and each is more or less twice as difficult as its normal counterpart. Add on top of that certain 'Warp Zones,' hidden levels spread throughout the chapters, as well as what looks like two unlockable bonus chapters and Super Meat Boy approaches what's estimated to be 300 levels.
After that staggering number soaks in, here's the next punch: Super Meat Boy also includes twelve unlockable characters from random indie games such as Tim from Braid and a Pink Knight from Castle Crashers. Each of the unlocked characters handles completely different from Meat Boy, say providing a double jump or rewinding time. You'll need these varied new abilities to find Super Meat Boy's collectibles - bandages hidden sporadically in a large number of levels. Consider just how much content that is and be awed.
With all of that work to do, it's kind of Team Meat to make the controls in their game amazingly tight and responsive. Meat Boy has a running ability that the other characters don't have, making him the fastest, and arguably best, character in the game. Hold one button to run, press another to jump, and then move in the appropriate direction until you win. Sounds easy right? It is, until you add in wall jumping, then wall sliding, locked doors and keys, sawblades, flying sawblades, salt, lava, elevators, fans that push in a specific direction, gravitational points that push in all directions, and boss fights... oh the boss fights.
It's such a simple, basic idea: run to the right until you reach Bandage Girl and finish the level. You press only a few buttons and use only one analog stick. Yet Team Meat has taken such a simple and clean concept and done such horribly impressive things with it. The sheer variety of obstacles in front of Meat Boy is both daunting and enthralling. There's just you, Meat Boy, and the machine designed to test and inevitably destroy you. Super Meat Boy is such an appropriate name, because you're put through the grinder over and over again. What a ride though!
The icing on the meat, if you can stand the analogy, is what makes Super Meat Boy such a great game for so many gamers. What could have potentially become the hardcore and niche platformer I Wanna Be The Guy avoids mediocrity by painting the game in thick retro reverie.
Music from the amazingly talented dB Soundworks is what you'll notice first. The heavy chiptune soundtrack ranks up there with those classic franchise tunes from your childhood. They're frantic and intense, raw and meaty, and unforgettable. The soundtrack sets the mood and pace of the game in ways gameplay alone never could.
A similar attitude was definitely kept in creating Super Meat Boy's visual style. The pixelated graphics scream of classic Mario titles or similar platformers - where textures were often recycled and reused. In motion though, animations are beautifully smooth and crisp. Warpzones take this a step further, transporting players to literal retro levels which are often inspired from other works. The HD textures are replaced by their blocky single-colored counterparts and the music track drops a few bits. Instant rush of nostalgia and automatic two thumbs up.
Super Meat Boy is filled to the brim with other incredible bits and pieces. The cinematics that play at the start and end of each chapter are typically direct references to different Nintendo classics like Mega Man and Ninja Gaiden. There's also a great feature that replays all of your attempts on a level at once, after you've beaten it. You get to watch ten, twenty or more little Meat Boys climb over each other in an effort to reach Bandage Girl, but only one will survive. It's a little disturbing to watch, knowing each Meat Boy was a failed attempt.
Combining the music, the art style, and the retro sensibilities create an atmosphere of unhampered fun. It's remarkably easy to just relax and take what you get from Super Meat Boy, be that death after death or glorious success. It's a testament to the how much Team Meat must have enjoyed creating this game, because nothing seems excessive or forced. It's all just pure, creative fun.
Despite its simplicity and the sheer amount of content in Super Meat Boy, there's still the annoying fact that this game is unforgivingly difficult at times. There have been moments, and there will continue to be moments, where the game is so frustrating and rage-inducing that you have to walk away. Without days of free time or an online guide, you'll likely never get close to finishing all of the content in Super Meat Boy. The collectibles are hidden so well it will likely take even the mighty internet to catalogue each of their locations. Those details are design choices Team Meat had to make, and they did so willingly, but in the end it's a flawed experience at its core.
That said, Team Meat has taken that flawed experience and built what must be the best platforming experience available. It's fun just to jump and slide and climb on walls, and even better when you're doing it over an assortment of deadly traps. Meat Boy is made of meat, Bandage Girl is made of bandages, Dr. Fetus is a fetus in a robotic suit - though probably not a doctor. None of it is meant to make any sense - it's all just random, weird yet fun things wrapped around a perfected gameplay mechanic. Super Meat Boy is also something you'd be sad to miss out on.
Whether you manage to reach level 50 or 300+, if you love references to indie or retro gaming or neither, Super Meat Boy a great game. It's challenging and funny, it will make you sigh in relief and then throw your controller, it's as simple as moving in a direction and pressing the jump button, but also much more. Do yourself a favor and pick up Super Meat Boy!
Super Meat Boy releases October 20, 2010 on XBLA for the Xbox 360, and then in November for the PC, Mac and Wii. If you purchase the game on the 360 before November, you get a 33% discount.