Super Meat Boy Review

It looks like N+. That was my initial reaction to seeing Super Meat Boy in motion for the first time. The long, flat jumps, the wall sliding, the constant death; it all seemed very familiar. And this was no bad thing necessarily; I very much enjoyed Slick Entertainment’s 2008 downloadable title.

Team Meat’s game was certainly pretty enough, it’s 16-bit stylings representative of the retro-vogue which has defined indie games of late. The challenge, by all accounts, was also considerable, befitting of a title rooted in the days of old-school platformers. These elements were all well and good but I needed something more to convince me that Super Meat Boy was worth my time, a beefier (ahem) overall package to go along with the running and jumping. After all, I could easily purchase 200 new N+ levels for a fraction of the price.

I’m happy to say then, that Super Meat Boy provides that package. It’s a wonderfully well-rounded platformer which caters to multiple play styles with considerable aplomb. The story mode can be beaten in a day or so, but that belies the game’s real longevity. Speedrunners will want to gain the A+ rank on every level, whilst collectors will take their time in seeking out all the hidden bandages (no mean feat despite the compact layout of each stage). Then for the masochists, there is the real challenge that is the Dark World. Each stage in Super Meat Boy has a sick and twisted twin, with added buzz-saws, enemies and spike-filled pits. Beating the game once is a severe challenge, beating its dark alter-ego is preposterously difficult.

But then that’s the appeal of a game like this really, the swiftness of each respawn nurtures that ‘one more go’ mentality. Playing Super Meat Boy is often an exercise in frustration, not at the game design or character control (both are harsh but fair), but at the player’s own ability. It callously exposes and punishes any mistakes, and demands perfection in the later levels, but the sense of satisfaction upon conquering a level is undeniable, albeit fleeting.

As a deep, difficult and multifaceted platformer then, Super Meat Boy excels, but what differentiates it from its contemporaries are its unique presentational aspects, and reverence to fellow independent game studios. The game packs an absurd amount of references to other indie titles from Bit.Trip Runner, to Canabalt, to Braid. These come in the form of anything from level design to unlockable characters, and Team Meat’s charm and humour ensures that it never comes across as smug, but rather as a light-hearted celebration of all things indie. Other welcome additions include a trail of blood, showing the route the player has taken previously through a stage, and a great update to the replay facility. Here, players can watch each of their unsuccessful attempts play out at the same time as their completed effort, a witty reminder of the work put in to reach the ultimate goal.

The alternate characters actually present the game’s most interesting and original aspect. Playing through as Meat Boy himself, SMB is a fast and frantic experience, filled with lightning quick wall jumps and stage-spanning glides. Unlock, for example, Jill from Mighty Jill Off however, and play inherently becomes much slower, and more careful. The variety of play styles offered increases exponentially with each new unlock, allowing players to see individual levels, as well as the game as a whole, in a new light.

Super Meat Boy then, is a game of real quality. I haven’t even touched on the really genuinely quite funny story underpinning the game, or the bonus 8-bit levels to be found in each world, or the wonderful chiptune soundtrack. For such a mechanically simple game, the amount of content here is staggering, and it’s as a package where Super Meat Boy really shines. Its excellent components combining to create one of the year’s most endearing and enjoyable titles.


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