Super Meat Boy – Review

Title   Super Meat Boy
Developer  Team Meat
Publisher  Team Meat, Microsoft (Xbox LIVE Only)
Platform  XBLA, PC, Mac, Linux
Genre  Platformer
Release Date  20th October 2012
Official Site

Fuck. Fuck it. Jump you little red asshole, jump! No, the other way! Whoa the blades, watch the blades. Faster, faster, look out! Move! Shit! God damn lasers, move, move! Jump! Jump! RUN! JUMP! What the hell is that black thing? It’s got teeth! Duck! Slide! Get out of the way! Move, you red bitch, move! Not that way. Stop! Look out! Faster faster, faster! Phew. Finished.

This not only an excerpt from Ste’s escapades during a typical dirty bondage weekend in Amsterdam, it’s also a rant I’d regularly find myself yelling at the monitor during one of my many sessions with Super Meat Boy. This is not a forgiving game by any means, and it has literally pushed me to the edge of my sanity, but in an utterly excellent way. A strange statement to make, perhaps, but this game made me its bitch.

The setting for the destruction of my mental well-being takes place over several 2D worlds where you take control of the lovable, grinning Meat Boy. That little red bastard has been the conduit for many a breakdown these past couple of weeks. How I loathe his stupid smug face and his squelchy, bloody feet. Yet at the same time, I love that little dude. He may have the self preservation of a recently-jilted emo lemming, but his facial expressions make him as cute as they do clueless.

Meat Boy’s only task through the hundreds of different levels is to reach Bandage Girl – the Princess Peach to his Mario. Unfortunately she has been kidnapped by Doctor Foetus; essentially a jealous foetus in a robotic suit, because if you’re going to live out your existence as a foetus you may as well be in a robotic suit, right? The characters are morally black-and-white with no grey area, making them fairly simplistic yet original nonetheless. Doctor Foetus is as funny as he is evil, and makes for a great foil to Meat Boy’s innocent and slightly-moronic schoolboy charm.

When you’re ready to play, a rocking soundtrack kicks in, and it’s time to go save the girl. To begin with, it’s all fairly straight forward – run here, jump there; grab the girl and, like dried-on dirt sprayed with Cillit Bang, she’s rescued. Wait, what? She’s GONE?? I got to the girl. Why am I not being rewarded? Where has she gone?  Great, it’s Doctor Douche again; he’s snatched Bandage Bitch! Come back here, you unborn asshole! This is how each level plays out and, with the exception of any boss fights, you go to grab the girl just as she gets snatched away again by Doctor Foetus, to the point where you begin to question why Meat Boy doesn’t just smack that bastard in the face and be done with it. He’s probably coming off the same adrenaline high that you are, after avoiding more lasers in the last thirty seconds than were in all six Star Wars films.

Super Meat Boy has a rapidly-increasing difficulty spike, and what a spike it is too. Good god, it’s tough in places and is incredibly unforgiving, as there isn’t much room for error. Actually, the previous statement is fairly generous, as there is no room for error at all. You absolutely cannot get anything wrong. A bad move means death, plain and simple. This will infuriate and divide plenty of people as some will accept that you’re going to ridiculous lengths in order to finish a level, nevermind the hidden collectibles or gaining entry to other secret areas, while others will see it as far too great a challenge for their abilities.

Even if you manage to complete the ‘Light World’ levels which are (allegedly) the easier ones, you still have the ‘Dark World’ areas to conquer – a vindictive and merciless quest through some of the most challenging levels I’ve ever experienced, taking themes from the Light World and twisting them into something undeniably… evil. I’ve managed only a handful of these levels and, even then, it was with some of the easier levels.

Super Meat Boy’s influences are clear to see no matter which area you’re playing; Team Meat have nailed the controls so they’re just as tight and responsive as those you’d expect to find in a Mario platformer, a crucial element in something this brutal. Getting that aspect wrong or unbalanced could have destroyed this experience, because tough can only be fun if it’s a fair fight. There are plenty of nods to other games as you play, with some areas resembling Super Mario Brothers, as well as the entrance themes to titles like Mega Man and Castlevania. It’s all here in a celebration of the excellence that has preceded Super Meat Boy.

Visually, this title isn’t raising the bar and it’s not going to stress your graphics card. The simplistic retro feel and style complement the gameplay and allow you to focus on the bloody stumps hitting the keyboard where your fingers used to be. Every level has a very different theme, each more deadly to Meat Boy than the one before, adding more meaning to gameplay while raising it above similar titles like N+. The music works in the same way and is perhaps one of my favourite aspects of Super Meat Boy – you have a fairly rocking tune pumping out when playing through the Light World, but as you enter the Dark World everything takes on a heavier, more industrial feel.

I’ve commented on the difficulty of this release a few times now and also mentioned how it pushed me to the edge of my mental capabilities as a human being. It has been frustratingly difficult at times, racking up hundreds of deaths in a matter of hours, and my death total is just shy of a thousand after completing only some of the Light World levels. It’s easy to see that things could get really ugly from this point forward, and I’ve often wondered why I haven’t yet smashed my keyboard against the desk and thrown my mouse through the window.

The beautiful truth is that it’s only my limitations as a player that prevent me from progressing. Super Meat Boy is so polished and well-made that if I an error is made, it can only be mine. It’s never the game failing to respond or that stupid offal cuboid going the wrong way – it’s literally because I made an error. You come to realise this fairly early on when, on completing a level, your last hundred or so attempts are replayed, showing where you went wrong while you laugh (and wince) at how you managed to fail one particular area so many times only to conquer it some hours later.

You become addicted, knowing that you can do this; that you can succeed. It may take an extra fifty deaths but goddamn you can do it. You can’t always do it and you will move on to other challenges, with the hefty weight of failure hanging around your neck, but for every challenge you fail, there will be one you can quickly overcome and Super Meat Boy has plenty to keep you coming back for, even if you manage to complete its ridiculous list of challenges.

  • Beautiful retro style
  • Rewarding gameplay
  • Fun from start to finish
  • Difficulty will put off plenty of people
  • No, really, the difficulty will end you
  • Please see above.

I'd heard good things about Super Meat Boy prior to playing it, and I'm glad to say that I wasn't disappointed. It's an incredibly addictive title that is full of fun and frustration, yet it's the frustration that keeps me coming back. The ability to wind you up and still drive you to continue is a testament to the design and gameplay. The difficulty will ultimately piss plenty of people off, but I guarantee that the feeling behind actually beating those levels is worth the hours you'll lose playing it.

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