Review by AK_the_Twilight

"You've Seen the Butcher"

There came a point when I was playing Super Meat Boy where I looked at a level's design and dropped the controller in my lap. Jaw dropped, the only word I could use to describe the level was “impossible.” And that's what Super Meat Boy can be summed up in: it's an impossible game. Reluctantly, though, I tried the level and expectedly died. I tried once more, and died again and again, but each time I died, I got closer and closer to the goal. A couple of hours passed, and lo and behold, I reached the end of the stage. I had never felt more accomplished in completing a single level.

This is the feeling that you receive after you complete a stage in Super Meat Boy. The game is unquestionably challenging, but this rewarding sensation erases all of the frustration that you feel after playing Super Meat Boy. It's a fantastic game with a huge amount of content and a cleverly designed presentation, but above all else, it shows a progressive sense of reward that no other game this generation has been able to create.

Super Meat Boy follows the quest of Meat Boy, a red block of meat whose pink, adhesive-composed girlfriend Bandage Girl is captured by Dr. Fetus, a fetus in a robotic suit whose jealousy is the least of his issues. It's up to Meat Boy to rise up and save Bandage Girl. It's a simple narrative, almost reminiscently simple, harking back to the day of “damsels in distress” in games like Super Mario Bros. There's a clever, almost self-aware nature in Super Meat Boy. The game constantly parodies games like Castlevania, Ninja Gaiden, and Pokemon in blissfully funny ways. The animated cutscenes are absolutely hilarious, giving the game a uniquely composed character and distinctive vibe. With so many other platformers simply slapping on a soulless protagonist, Super Meat Boy is refreshing and thoroughly inventive in its humor. This is a game that knows it's a game, but instead of collapsing under its own takes on humor, Super Meat Boy successfully pays homage to past platformer legends in superbly parodic ways.

Once you dive into Super Meat Boy, you're associated to the tight, but floaty controls. Meat Boy has two main abilities, running and jumping. He can leap across gaps and wall-jump through corridors as well, but his running and jumping skills are the core elements that are used throughout Super Meat Boy. Very much like the near-perfect controls of Super Mario Bros., the controls in Super Meat Boy are focused. The little guy has plenty of airtime in his jump, offering the player multiple ways to navigate mid-air. Many of the trickier acrobatics are downright required in many, if not all of the later levels. Still, Meat Boy is a nimble hero and thanks to some nostalgically refined controls, trekking through the many, many levels is a fun experience…

…that is, if you can handle it. The phrase “challenging” is tossed around like a rag doll in games a lot. We've seen difficulty in games like Ninja Gaiden and Demon's Souls, and much more recently in revivals like Mega Man 9, but Super Meat Boy sets the bar. This is hands-down the most difficult game I've ever played. The game demands pinpoint accuracy in jumps, extreme timing in wall-jumps, and even some thought in finding the best method in crossing a challenging level. The level design is borderline sadistic, but despite all its intricacies and almost absurd stage construction, the game is addictive and will keep committed gamers coming back. In a tongue-in-cheek form of reward, upon completing a stage, the game actually replays all of your failed attempts simultaneously, so you'll see dozens of Meat Boys meet their doom with one rising to the top to victory. It's hilarious and shows just how far you've come since that first failed attempt. Super Meat Boy's difficulty may seem like a losing battle after dying upwards to a hundred times in a single stage, but it offers the player infinite chances to revise their tactics and try again. The game demands skill and more importantly perseverance, but completing a difficult stage is even more rewarding than it is frustrating when dying hundreds of times.

Super Meat Boy is simply jam-packed with content. Progressing through each stage on the map is simple enough, taking on challenge after challenge to defeat Dr. Fetus, but Super Meat Boy goes much deeper than that. The main quest can be completed within 10-12 hours, even for newcomers, thanks to a good learning curve. Platformer masters, however, will find even more challenges to play through. Bandages are scattered throughout certain levels (usually in locations that are extremely difficult to reach), and when obtained in enough quantity, unlock secret characters from other independently developed titles like BitTrip Runner or Alien Hominid. Even cooler is each character's special abilities which change the game up immensely. Also, warp zones are hidden throughout levels, offering ultra-challenging stages with limited lives that cleverly poke fun at other video game media like the Game Boy's graphics or Super NES beat-em-ups. Next, completing levels in a par time open up the Dark World stages, which are brand new stages for those looking for a serious amount of tough-as-nails platforming. Finally, downloadable content is offered in the unlockable Internets, where challenges are uploaded, many of which already will offer a considerable battle to complete. A level editor would've been amazing, but was sadly cut from the XBLA edition of the game. Still, as you can tell, Super Meat Boy is a massive title, well worth the 1200 Microsoft Points. There really isn't any reason to not get Super Meat Boy. With an enormous amount of stages and challenges, this is one of the most content-packed games on the XBLA, and shouldn't be missed by anyone who has access to the Marketplace.

The presentation in Super Meat Boy is retro in every sense. Gameplay exists in an 8-bit-esque aesthetic, but animations are fluid and some of the more subtle inclusions like the red meat that permeates where Meat Boy runs, jumps, and dies are very clever. After dying, Meat Boy respawns extremely rapidly. You won't find many load times in Super Meat Boy at all. The cutscenes are just plain cute; seeing Meat Boy's shocked appearance when something big happens is charming. The music is a chip-tune paradise, with plenty of catchy themes that you'll hear repeatedly as you die and respawn over and over, but never get bored of. The art design is pretty minimalistic, but it holds the charm of both old-school platformers and modern online flash games. Super Meat Boy just shines.

Pros
+ Thoroughly difficult levels will keep even the most experienced gamers on their toes
+ Enormous amount of stages and collectibles
+ Brilliantly stylized and cleverly reminiscent of famed platformers
+ Charming presentation

Cons
- Difficulty will definitely turn some gamers off
- No level editor

Super Meat Boy is a testament to the mercilessly challenging game design of the NES era, but with every spike trap and bottomless pit that Meat Boy falls into, he comes back better than ever. The learning curve, despite being filled to the brim with near-sadistic challenge, is never cheap. Super Meat Boy's reward is only amplified by the tough level design; it's a game that you die literally thousands of times in, but you'll always get back up. The content count rivals even some of the biggest blockbusters in the game industry; there's literally hundreds of reasons to return to Meat Boy's world, whether to unlock hidden characters, nail a speed run for the leaderboards, or tackle the immensely difficult Dark World levels or Warp Zones.

I'll admit: there were times that I was frustrated to no end with Super Meat Boy, or rather I was frustrated with myself that I couldn't nail that perfect jump or dodge those huge spinning buzzsaws. But that's par for the course. You WILL get frustrated with yourself when playing Super Meat Boy. That's a given. But taking the punishment is well worth it. Just think of it as a flesh wound.

In all seriousness, however, Super Meat Boy is easily one of the best games released in 2010. Thanks to a light-hearted presentation, enormous amount of content, and challenging gameplay that isn't afraid to test you to your breaking point, Super Meat Boy is one of XBLA's best, and puts all other original downloadable titles on the service to shame.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/01/10

Game Release: Super Meat Boy (US, 10/20/10)


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