Game: Super Meat Boy
Developer: Team Meat
Available On: Xbox LIVE Arcade and PC (Xbox LIVE Arcade Version Reviewed)
Meat Boy is made of meat, he’s a friendly chap. Bandage Girl loves Meat Boy. Dr Fetus, well, nobody likes Dr Fetus and Dr Fetus hates Meat Boy. Dr Fetus hates Meat Boy so much he’s kidnapped Bandage Girl and will stop at nothing to keep them apart. This sounds like the ramblings of an escaped mental patient, but Super Meat Boy is most definitely a title that has garnered some interest of late, starting as in indie project and eventually being picked up by Microsoft for publishing during their “games feast” promotion.
Is Super Meat Boy worth your time and money? Read on to find out!
This game is crazy. Lets just get that out of the way right now. Super Meat Boy is barking mad, but it’s outrageously fun to play and at times laugh out loud funny. Meat Boy himself comes across as a character bewildered by the world and situations surrounding him. He’ll quite happily grin moronically and wave at the evil Dr Fetus whilst his girlfriend is being kidnapped. It’s that kind of sillyness that makes Super Meat Boy such a joy to behold.
The game itself is fairly simple to play, you play as Meat Boy and have to traverse around lots and lots (300+) of small, self-contained levels using the d-pad or stick to move and utilising the only other buttons used, sprint and jump. Southpaw is supported as you can control Meat Boy with either stick and the controls themselves are absolutely flawless, being incredibly responsive and precise. The most obvious comparison for Super Meat Boy would be to the stellar “N+” released in Febuary 2008 (and on DS and PSP later that same year) and both games even started out their lives as a flash game on the internet. However, Super Meat Boy takes that gameplay idea and adds to it, becoming it’s own unique and wonderful title.
As you progress through the game, the levels get harder and harder (seriously, some of these levels are fiendish) but in Super Meat Boy, even dying 20 times it should never make you angry. I always understood that the error was my fault, be it through rushing or just not concentrating, it was always my fault, not the game’s. Almost as important to the level design though is the respawn time. If you die, you will restart in an instant. There is no loading if you die, you go straight back into the action! In a title where you will die a lot this is vital and Team Meat nailed it. A neat little touch is that when you complete a level it shows a replay containing every attempt you made, it’s funny watching 20+ Meat Boy’s dying then seeing the one that survived.
Along the way you will unlock new characters to play as, and this is where Super Meat Boy eclipses the aforementioned N+ because every new character has his or her own style to them and more importantly they have unique gameplay mechanics applied to them. For example, Commander Video (from the Bit.Trip series) is one of the first you will unlock and he can hover for short periods after jumping. Another example would be Gish (protagonist from his eponymous game, also developed by Edmund McMillen who co-created Super Meat Boy) who, being made of tar can stick to walls. What this does in practice, is change the levels difficulties. Sometimes playing as one of them will make the level a lot easier and other times a lot harder. There are other unlockables (a total of 15) but it’d be a shame to spoil the surprise and list them here, but N+ gets a nod with “Ninja” being one of the unlockables. Super Meat Boy is the fastest moving character, but you’ll find yourself using all of them at some point, the game is designed to promote exploration in this manner.
On the subject of the level design, Super Meat Boy contains some of the best I’ve seen in a game like this, in a long time. Some of the levels are pure evil and you will die countless times, but my goodness, when you nail that final passage and grab Bandage Girl (only for Dr Fetus to steal her away again) the sense of satisfaction is immense. Some levels have hidden “bandaid” collectibles, and collecting certain numbers of them unlocks yet more characters whilst other levels have hidden warp zones.
Yet again, Super Meat Boy’s charm and humour shine through in these warp zone stages. Made up of 3 mini-levels, either character based (where you’ll unlock a new character if you complete them) or retro based (game boy style etc.) they are slightly different in that you have 3 lives per level and if you fail, you lose. The retro levels are a reward in themselves, full of charm but getting to the end and seeing Bandage Girl transfer into a frog and the message “Sorry Meat Boy but Bandage Girl is in another Castle” is simply wonderful.
At the end of every area though, you’ll get to face a boss. Some of the boss levels are extremely challenging, but never frustrating. You don’t exactly face-off against an enemy per-say but they might be chasing you for the entire level, or attacking you in some manner. Most can be solved with concentration as they are usually all about pattern recognition and memory.
Something that needs special mention is the area called “Teh Internets” which is an unlockable area specifically for DLC. The difference here though is that Team Meat have secured the future DLC for free via this route. Because the “area” is already in the game, they can upload new levels via title updates and give users free DLC for as long as they make it. It’s this kind of loop or workaround – made specifically so as not to rip the fans off – that shows how special this title is.
It’d be easy for Team Meat to forget about the narrative given that the game is so gameplay focussed, but you will enjoy the cut-scenes that litter the story. Again though, rather than spoil them (some of them will make you laugh out loud) it’s best just to say that they are funny and some of the things that happen, you won’t see coming.
The audio department isn’t a let down either, with a suitably heavy (yet jovial) soundtrack and wonderful 8-bit music for the retro stages. From the squelching of Meat Boy to the sound of a buzz-saw mashing him up, everything is meticulous in it’s detail.
As well as the 300+ levels and DLC (20 levels are already up!) that is free for the future you will find the standard leaderboards, gamerpic unlocks, avatar awards and achivements. As if you needed more, there is a “Dark World” version of certain levels which unlock after getting an “A+” on the light level version.
Put simply, Super Meat Boy is a must own for almost anyone. The difficulty might put some people off, but the fact that when you die it’s always your fault might ease the difficulty barrier. The inherent humour within will certainly make people want to keep on playing, and as mad as it sounds, you’ll want to see the story through to the end.
VERDICT: Super Meat Boy started out as a small title, but this game is almost certainly going to be remembered as a classic. With a free trial (as with all XBLA titles) you’d be the crazy one if you don’t give this fantastic game a chance to win your heart, then stab it with knives, then burn it to the ground, before you forgive it , realise it was your fault you died and try another 20 times, just to save Bandage Girl.
For what Super Meat Boy sets out to do, it is pretty much flawless. What Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes have achieved here is nothing short of greatness, Super Meat Boy is one of the best games ever to hit XBLA. Get this game now!