Super Meat Boy splices ninja-like platform action with massive quantities of high-quality level design and retro game in-jokes. It hearkens back to a time when games focused more on action than plot, but amps up that action further than most classic games ever dared to. In a word, it's invigorating.
- Riveting platforming action
- Smooth, near-flawless control
- Lots of levels, secrets and delights
- Conspicuous lack of level editor
- Small graphics are a little hard to see
- 8-bit parodies a bit simplistic
Many modern games seek to offer an “experience”—the feeling of living through an adventurous story, for example—that’s merely punctuated by the nuts-and-bolts gameplay. The plot, not the game mechanics, drives the player, and once they reach the end of the storyline there’s little incentive to return. Super Meat Boy is the opposite, a videogame driven almost solely by its gameplay. I wanted to beat each level, thoroughly, simply because it was fun as hell to do so.
Practice Makes ... a Bloody Mess
Super Meat Boy is Team Meat’s follow-up to its popular Flash platformer, and one of the best games on Xbox 360, downloadable or otherwise. It’s also brain-meltingly difficult. But it’s a good difficult, a fair difficult. Every time the game upped the ante I’d go, “I can’t do that!” But soon enough I did, albeit after much cursing, hand sweat (seriously, gross), and a training montage. At its best, Super Meat Boy is equal parts addictive and exhilarating.
The game’s a series of over 300 short platforming challenges, your goal in each being to reach Meat’s girlfriend, Bandage Girl, so that she can be kidnapped into the next level. It’s simple, to the point, and consistently challenging. Meat Boy’s up to the task, though, with speed and agility that puts most heroes to shame. He looks like a meat-based version of Domo-kun but make no mistake, dude’s a freakin’ ninja.
That’s appropriate, since Super Meat Boy feels very much like a spiritual successor to previous indie platformer darling N+. Super Meat Boy puts the same strong emphasis on environmental dangers, to the point that you’ll fear whirring buzz saws and pits full of spikes more than the handful of ambulatory foes.
And fear them you will, as Super Meat Boy’s designers are masters of their craft. It’s hard to name another game with such exquisitely clever, challenging, and consistently fun level design. Some bits look impossible, but practice brings mastery. It’s a beautiful thing, weaving through a perilous obstacle course on autopilot. I was stuck on the second-to-last regular level (“Omega”) for over an hour, but after all that training I could practically fly through its first two-thirds. Good work, primitive lizard brain! Oftentimes I was so engrossed that I’d discover my mouth hanging open. Luckily, only my partner noticed.
Super Meat Boy asks a lot of you, so it’s a good thing the controls are so tight. Meat Boy responds to your slightest twitch, enabling the subtle jukes and carefully curved jumps you’ll need to pass the trickiest bits. The only real control issue is that the tiny graphics make it difficult to gauge short distances, such as the amount you need to move before you fall off an edge (which turns out to be a frequent pastime of heroic meat-folk). Hit detection on spikes is a bit overzealous, too.
Super Meat Boy screams for a level editor. Sadly, only the forthcoming PC and Mac versions will get one. The XBLA game attempts to address this with a special channel called Teh Internets, which will offer additional levels as time goes on. That’s very cool, but not a level editor. While I’m complaining, I also would have liked a little more sophistication to Super Meat Boy’s many parodies of classic games. Many of the cinematics are merely shot-for-shot cut-scene recreations. Cute, but not quite comedy gold. That aside, the game has humor and charm to spare.
Meat Your New Master
Nitpicks aside, Super Meat Boy is a superior platforming experience, and its seemingly endless procession of levels and surprises gives it one of the best dollar-to-fun ratios around. It takes a lot of chutzpah to give a platformer the same initials as Super Mario Bros., but Super Meat Boy goes a long way toward justifying it.