Review by SSpectre

Reviewed: 01/31/11 | Updated: 09/10/14

Super Meat Boy is fast, brutal, and straight up fun from start to finish.

The Good:
+ Ludicrously fun – especially the challenge
+ Controls are precise down to the pixel
+ Expertly designed levels that never run out of ideas
+ Lots of expertly designed levels

The Bad:
- “Nostalgia” means “innovation” to the developers, apparently

I probably use the phrase “the most fun I’ve had with a game in years” a little too lightly. But as of this review, I won’t be doing so for a while, because Super Meat Boy is, without a doubt, the most entertaining game I’ve played all generation, and I can’t see anything dethroning it in the next few years. And if you’re old enough to remember them, its parodies of older games (such as a near-perfect replication of the original Gameboy’s opening and colour scheme) will put a smile on your face.

I can’t remember the last time a game was so enjoyable despite or even because of the fact that its main selling point is that it constantly murders you. It’s a little light on the gameplay originality, as nostalgic homages always seem to be, but you’ll quickly forget that when you’re running through the game’s unprecedented 200+ skilfully-crafted levels, straight into your 1000th saw blade.

A major component of Super Meat Boy is its almost absurd challenge level. On paper, it’s simple. Meat Boy is on one side of the level, his girlfriend Bandage Girl is trapped on the other side, and you have to run, slide, and wall-jump your way over to her. Except that there are hundreds of saw blades, missiles, spikes, pits, syringes, lasers, and enemies in your path. If any of this sounds like a criticism, it’s not. The difficulty is the most entertaining part of the game. It’s not like most difficult games where the struggle is more often to overcome an unfair advantage given to the computer or a purely luck-based trial (read: cheapness). Super Meat Boy is hard by design, and brilliant design at that.

The game’s outrageous number of levels can be attributed to the way the game constantly twists its previously established mechanics into whole new challenges. There are over 100 regular levels, by the end of which you’ll have explored seemingly every possible facet of the gameplay. Said gameplay ranges from simply dodging obstacles, to fast-paced puzzle-like tests involving keys, portals, and devices that repel Meat Boy when he approaches as if he’s a like-poled magnet. And then, if you complete a level within a time limit, you’ll unlock its Dark World equivalent, which has the same layout but with new hazards, often making it several times harder, but also offering a hundred inventive new ways to play with every feature of the game.

There are also hidden Warp Zones, where the worlds get especially retro-styled and difficult. However, the Warp Zones are also where the game makes its one mistake regarding challenge. In normal gameplay, Super Meat Boy relishes player death but doesn’t dwell on it; respawning happens in a flash, instantly eliminating any instinctual frustration. But strangely, you’re only given a limited number of lives for Warp Zones, which is an obsolete form of fake difficulty that the other 98% of the game is quite above.

The other 98% is a much more legitimate difficulty, because the controls and level design are masterful. The controls are precise, fluid, and intuitive, and while the levels may look intimidating, they’re never anything more than tests of pattern recognition, risk assessment, and reflexes. This means that every death can be attributed to your own lack of timing or practice, rather than some fault of the developers.

The pixel-perfect controls and level designs are also perfectly complemented by the game’s art style, which is no less stylish for its simplicity. It is, like everything else in the game, a throwback to the glory days of 8-bit gaming, but goes well beyond the necessary stylized pixielation. It’s full of little touches like blood coating surfaces you’ve run on, vivid silhouette-only levels, and light lines bursting through holes in the walls to soak an area with colour. Rounding out the production values are a soundtrack that’s catchy as hell, if a little simplistic, and some great sound effects, notably the comically gruesome squish of Meat Boy’s every death.

It’s a shame that despite going several steps beyond what’s expected of an old-school gaming tribute in regards to graphics, when it comes to gameplay, Super Meat Boy doesn’t have quite as much ambition. I understand that the line between being nostalgic and being rehashed is a pretty blurry one, and Super Meat Boy is by no means entirely unoriginal, as the varied and ingenious level designs will attest to. But this has become a recurring trend that I’m not too fond of. Touch screens, motion controls, and now nostalgia are all being seen as “get out of innovation free” cards. I complain about modern AAA gaming’s lack of creativity a lot, so it’s especially depressing when I play an indie celebration of retro gaming...only to find it just as lacking.

But I’ve dwelled on that fault long enough. My original, most important point still stands: Super Meat Boy is outrageously fun. And not in a way that needs to be justified by ignoring parts of it or overcoming technical problems. It’s sleek, huge, and hilarious, and it’s probably the best way to celebrate one of the finest eras of gaming history.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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

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