A game good enough to die for over 1,000 times
Once upon a time, there was Meat Boy. He lived happily with Bandage Girl, his beautiful sweet girlfriend. Such beauty and sweetness would clearly not go unnoticed by others and, unfortunately, in this case, their relationship attracted the envy of Dr. Fetus. Such an evil man he was, in his wish to tear apart the wonderful couple, he developed a deep dislike for poor Meat Boy. Therefore, Dr. Fetus beat Meat Boy up and took Bandage Girl away from him. Literally beaten down, Meat Boy was down in the dumps until a motivating – and very convincing – inner voice awoke the hero within him, and he set out to rescue his adorable loved one.
Super Meat Boy may only seem like a straightforward platformer whose simplicity and insane difficulty level create a rather unique experience, but beneath the surface there is one of the most powerful love stories ever told, because it undoubtedly takes a lot of love for such a tiny guy to face not only the weirdest meanest assortment of traps ever setup by any level designer, but also death itself. For Bandage Girl, Meat Boy faces dangers beyond human comprehension, but his love gives him motivation to keep going fearlessly; he gazes at all painful challenges ahead that are bound to murder him multiple times and focuses on his goal: the shiny eyes and enchanting smile of his soul mate. In far less poetic and complicated words: Super Meat Boy will possibly be one of the hardest – and occasionally most frustrating – games one will ever play.
Super Meat Boy is divided into six chapters, with five of them being comprised of twenty levels and one boss battle, and the sixth one featuring five levels and one boss. The levels are all extremely short, ranging from ten to fifty seconds in length, but they have so many traps (buzzsaws, cannons, creepy enemies, lava pits, tricky jumps, deadly lasers, crushing blocks, among others) that each millisecond of the experience comes packed with a lot of tension and nervousness. The game always keeps players on their toes, wondering and fearing how tough the next set of traps they will have to face are. As a result, dying comes accompanied with outbursts of frustration; conversely, reaching the goal brings such a genuinely happy feeling that players will not be able to avoid celebrating.
It is rare to come across a level in which death will strike less than a dozen times, but Team Meat did the game a great favor when they tried to strongly mitigate the frustration of dying. The fact levels are short obviously gives a whole lot of support to that cause, and the speed with which Meat Boy is quickly transported to the beginning of the stage a few moments after he dies in a gory explosion of blood and meat also helps. In addition, it is vital that a game that requires so much precision and perfect timing have controls that allow for such perfection and do not – at any times – get in the way of the player. Super Meat Boy basically consists of running, jumping and wall-jumping, and all those commands have fast and precise responses, with the physics being absolutely sensible to the kind of game it is, balancing the character’s speed and weight incredibly well.
Players’ advances through the stages happen in a pace and manner that is similar to that of early Mega Man games: there is a lot of pattern memorization. However, there is the caveat that, here, the stages are far shorter than those tackled by the Blue Bomber. Getting through a course, then, is a matter of being killed by a trap many times, finding a way to regularly go past it, only to be killed many times by the subsequent trap, and so on, until all of the obstacles are learned to a point that gamers rely more on physical button-pressing memory than visual cues.
As a consequence, frustrating moments will be plentiful, but any player that goes into a game like Super Meat Boy should already be expecting that. Knowing how to handle the frustration while enjoying the little seconds of joy that come with finally reaching Bandage Girl at the end of the stage, only to see her taken by Dr. Fetus to the next level, is a must. Super Meat Boy is an endless cycle of a whole lot of pain and hints of pleasure. If players are willful enough to be able to deal with it, they will unquestionably find a ridiculously fun, challenging, and addictive game.
Actually, Super Meat Boy is so utterly aware of the charm and engaging nature of its brutality that its greatest feature might be one that celebrates it. After completing a level, players will be automatically greeted by a replay that will simultaneously show all of their playthroughs on the screen, with dozens (or hundreds) of Meat Boys running around the stage replicating the mistakes and bloody explosions gamers went through on their way to success. It is like a fireworks show where bright colors are replaced by blood and gore, and it is oddly beautiful, funny, and uplifting.
For the bravest among the brave, the fun of Super Meat Boy does not end when all regular levels are completed. All stages are timed, and when finished within a specific, short – but reasonable – time an alternate Dark World version of that level will be unlocked. Hence, the total amount of stages grows to a whopping three hundred. Additionally, there is also the possibility of unlocking characters from other indie games.
Those characters are not just pixelated models that behave just like Meat Boy; they actually have physics of their own and posses certain special skills that can help players get through some of the more grinding situations that will show up on later levels, which is a quite nice twist. Those characters can be unlocked in two ways: some can be acquired by collecting bandages that are dangerously positioned on the courses, and others can be found by going into equally tough-to-reach warp zones that will lead Meat Boy to mini-levels inspired by those indie games. Anyone who thinks a platformer this straightforward could not hold any secrets would be dead wrong, because Super Meat Boy is loaded with extra content.
Super Meat Boy ends up being a glorious homage to the ridiculously hard platformers that were a big part of the gaming industry in the 80s. The game is not ashamed to show its influences, starting from its title with suspiciously familiar initials and its Mega Man stage progression, to the pixel art that its visuals display. It also looks back on the industry’s past via its humorous cutscenes, appropriately lacking any display of technical prowesses, which will make clear references to memorable titles of the past, delighting old-school players with its writing’s incredible humor. When it is all said and done, Super Meat Boy is so fantastic that it ends up being more than a celebration of the past; it is the proof that what is truly great will never die, but will keep being reborn and refreshed through the years, and that those who love the sheer simplicity of the brilliant platformers of gaming’s early years should be thankful for living in an era that loves to produce fresh nods to those simpler, and more brutal, days.