Review by Nafzger
"I don't know what to think, really."
Super Meat Boy is a newer game that is meant to pay homage to those ultrahard platforming games of yesterday. You play as some generic square with a mouth, eyes, and what looks to be arms and legs called Meat Boy, and you're trying to save your girlfriend from an evil fetus in a jar who wears a top hat, tuxedo, and monocle, aptly named Dr. Fetus. While the game is chock full of referential humour, the story itself is pretty uninteresting. Same old, same old. Swap out the meat man with a sock, or a commando, it makes no difference. The point is save the girl, kill the bad guy, celebrate.
Now, I'm a platforming veteran. I think everyone my age is. I grew up in the golden age of controller breaking with games like Mega Man, Ninja Gaiden, and Castlevania. So, it goes without saying that I would be hell of interested in one of these throwback games. I've also played I Wanna Be the Guy, which was one of the first of these platformer homage games. Much like I Wanna Be the Guy, this game is notorious for its difficulty. It's hard. Downright rude at times. The plus side is that you get infinite lives, but it matters very little considering there's no check points mid-level.
But again, the game comes through with no Game Over screen or any of that annoying crap. You die and you immediately respawn at the beginning of the level. This is definitely a plus for me because I hate waiting around after I die to go back to playing. But still, I wish they would have had check points for certain levels because god damn. I think there should have been a "wimp" option for the game that gives you the option to save at any point in the level. Being forced to repeat sections you've already completed again and again just to get back to the part you haven't figured out yet begins to weigh on your sanity, and you'll start screwing up on stuff you already have memorized.
The thing about these kinds of games is that they get it all wrong. It's just like those Doom custom maps where it's just you in a room with 100 cyber demons. It's the same story; some nerds who got pissed off and were like "oh yeah, you think that's tough?! TRY THIS!" But the levels aren't interesting or balanced. It's just hard for the sake of being hard.
To me, this game really started to get overtly ridiculous around World 4. Up until then, the game was pretty well-balanced. There were some crazy levels, but there were some that had that perfect middle ground of challenging and fun. World 4 is a whole different ball park. You're immediately screwed as soon as you start the first level. And don't even think about trying Dark World unless you're a masochist. I mean sometimes, they seriously make stuff up. If you so much look at a saw blade the wrong way, you're liable to explode into a cloud of blood and meaty bits.
Which brings me to my next point: the controls. They honestly suck. I heard all of this raving about how tight the controls are, but they're not. They're loose as hell. First of all, you have to control your character in mid-air, which is stupid. Give me Belmont gravity FFS. Just drop me. I don't want to control where I go. Secondly, everything is so damn small that most of the time you can't tell if you're going to land safely or not. I can't count the number of times I thought I was going to overshoot a jump, only to correct and fall short of the destination, or thought I had a jump nailed only to land on a damn spike. Not only that, but you're constantly gaining momentum. I get the feeling that Meat Boy shoe shops with Luigi, because his feet are slippery as hell. He even slide up walls. If you jump to a wall, there's a good chance you'll slide way beyond where you wanted to land and hit a death trap. And you stick to every wall you touch, even if you don't want to. This is the kind of thing where it seems like holding a button to stick to walls would be better.
Now, Super Meat Boy does manage to get some of this right. It's not entirely bad. Some of the levels are genuinely fun despite being extremely difficult. But a lot of them are just frustrating, and they get boring...fast. The music is sweet, and the characters and cutscenes have a lot of charm to them. I'm quite fond of three cutscenes in particular because they are straight up remakes to intros from three of my favourite games.
In addition to the core levels and plot missions, there are a lot of extras to try to achieve. By beating the levels within a certain amount of time, you can unlock the aforementioned Dark World version, which is basically a much more difficult remix of the same level. Total completion of the Dark World levels is required for the "true" final boss fight and 100% completion, but as I write this review, I will more than likely not even bother with it. There are also hidden bandages scattered throughout the game on various levels, as well as warp zones that take you to a low-bit miniworld where your lives are limited. Completing warp zones and collecting bandages allows you to unlock different characters. Some of them have some pretty unique powers and you kind of get the Mega Man vibe of using a certain character to beat certain levels or get bandages. I like that aspect of it. I also will not bother to get all of the bandages or unlock the final warp zone character because screw it. It's too frustrating.
What these developers seem to be failing to realize is that it wasn't the platforming itself that made the NES platforming games hard, it was the ridiculous enemies like the eagles in Ninja Gaiden or the Medusa Heads in Castlevania. This game has none of these; in fact, there are no enemies at all. They're just a bunch of annoying death traps that require an insane amount of precision. The game is 100% trial and error, and that's not a good thing. That doesn't so much skill as it does endurance.
What I think would have greatly improved the game would be the ability to switch to any of your unlocked characters at any point. Perhaps a certain character would do better on one specific part of the level than your default, but that character would have been crap the rest of the level. I think that would have given the game a tremendous amount of value in that you actually need to come up with clever ways to use your characters/powers to conquer a level. It would be a hell of a lot better than constantly trying and dieing over and over again. Additionally, it would have given you more of a reason to try to unlock all of the characters.
I also think the Wimp option would have greatly improved the game. Anytime character select and Wimp Mode would have made this game perfect...well, except for those bad controls...and everything being really small.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 10/11/11
Game Release: Super Meat Boy (US, 10/20/10)
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