Super Meat Boy – Review
Review by Lewie Procter
Every single time I died in Super Meat Boy, it was my fault.
That’s not strictly true, there is one boss that bucks the trend, but every other death in Super Meat Boy was entirely my fault. I misjudged the jump, I ran into the spinning death saw, I fell into the lava pit and I got impaled on the spikes. 4,260 deaths I’m up to now, and I’m only part way into the post game, there’s plenty of marrow to suck from this game yet. With all those failed attempts, it’s a bloody good job that Team Meat have stitched some kind of amnesia educing witchcraft into the fabric of the game. My overriding memory is that one time I beat that one difficult level, not the thousands of other times I didn’t make it. I kick ass at Super Meat Boy. I kick ass at video games. Nothing can stop me.
Death isn’t failure, it’s the process of gradually carving out that one perfect run you know you have in you. The levels are almost all under 30 seconds long, so when you’re kicked back to the start, you don’t ever lose a huge amount of progress. You leave a meaty trail of blood everywhere you go, and this stays behind after you die. This not only looks badass, but is useful for working out the best or correct route. It reloads close enough to instantly that I’m happy enough to exaggerate by saying it loads instantly. Before the flayed pieces of mincemeat from your previous attempt have even hit the ground, you’re back at the start of the level, ready to give it another try. There is no lives counter, and it doesn’t even have to ask you if you want to try again (it already knows that you do).
Structurally, the game is bundles of 20 levels, collected into chapters. You only have to complete some of the levels in each chapter to open up the next chapter, but really, you’ll be wanting to complete them all. Each level has a par time too, which are generally fairly forgiving. If you beat a level under par time, you’ll unlock the “dark world” version of that level, a super hard remix with more spinning death saws and a menacing visual makeover. Beyond that though, there are dozens of secrets. Super Meat Boy has a sense of mystery that I’ve not felt in games for a long time. I’ve scratched the surface of some of its secrets, but I know that there is far more hidden than I have been able to find so for. I love it, and I’m going to be unlocking additional stuff for weeks after having “beat” the game.
One such mystery is the retro-inspired Warp Zones. These are gateways to a set of three bonus levels, hidden in the normal ones. Here you have three lives to finish a level, so the paramters for success have changed. There’s also additional playable characters, collectable bandages hidden around the levels, and on the Xbox version “The Internets”, a bonus chapter which will be updated with new levels regularly.
THE BIT ABOUT THE CONTROLS
I made some notes about the controls whilst playing, but it ended up just being a piece of A4 with the word “tight” written on it several hundred times, getting messier as I got onto later levels. That’s probably not good enough, so he is why they are tight.
The running is good:
To move slowly you press either left or right on the stick (or dpad or right stick) and Meat Boy moves to the left or right slowly. I’ve not used this very much so I’m not too familiar with it.
To move fast, same as before, but you press either “X” or the right trigger to run faster. I’ve used this a lot, and it is fun.
Importantly, these buttons have immediate effect. There’s no time wasted waiting for animation to start, you have near instant acceleration and deceleration when you are on the ground. There is a clear and simple audio and visual feedback when you are running instead of walking, and the top running speed is pretty fast
The jumping is good:
A quick tap on “A” makes Meat Boy jump exactly one tile high. This is really useful for getting over small obstacles, or up small steps, without jumping any higher than you need to.
Hold down “A”, and he’ll jump really high. If, you let go of “A” mid jump, he stops going upwards. Very quickly you get a good sense of his maximum jump height.
You have a lot of manoeuvrability in the air, giving you precise control over jumps.
The wall jumping is good:
It’s all about the slide. It’d probably make my GCSE physics teacher cry, but how Super Meat Boy does wall jumping is sublime. Firstly, when you jump in to a wall, you stick to that wall. This means that you have plenty of time to prepare to jump away from the wall, rather than having to time it perfectly. Even though you are stuck to the wall, you still slide up and down it. You conserve vertical momentum, so if you jump upwards into a wall, you’ll slide up, if you are falling when you hit the wall, you’ll slide down it. By about chapter 3 I’d got my head round exactly how it works, and in the latter levels you can use this trick to save lots of time.
There’s a little bit to learn about these controls, but they will be second nature very quickly. They are everything you would want out of a 2D platformer’s controls, and if they weren’t so tight, the game would not work as well at all.
THE END OF THE BIT ABOUT THE CONTROLS
Complaints? That boss I mentioned before. After the entire of the rest of the game being all about how good you are at platforming, there is a boss just after halfway through that will kill you. No matter how good you are at the game, this boss is impossible to beat (outside of pure fluke of randomly standing in the right places) until you have learnt it’s entire attack pattern. It’s impossible to learn it’s entire attack pattern without dieing more than once. It’s a shame because the boss looks fantastic, and no where else in the game is dumb trial and error the solution. Other than that, I’d personally like there to be an instant respawn button for those few moments when it’s not easy to kill yourself and start again, and the fact that you die if you go off any edge of the screen (including the top) has unfairly screwed me over a couple of times.
Beyond those minor niggles, SMB is a platformer that is worthy of that acronym. It’s fantastic looking, challenging and fair. The fiendish level design towards the end holds nothing back, and is rightly demanding of the player. In its head is forward thinking game design, in its heart is reverence for the games that have come before it, and on its face is a huge grin and a focused stare.
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