You may have guessed from the title of this post that I am no fan of Super Meat Boy. I’m familiar with Meat Boy, the flash game, from a long time ago, and I didn’t like it back then. It was an okay game, but the controls were far too floaty for my liking, the game was un-engaging, and I was bored. Second chances are where it’s all at though, right? We’ll find out in the first of my Humble Indie Bundle reviews.
Super Meat Boy Review
A lot has changed since flash game Meat Boy. This is possibly one of the shiniest, prettiest, most entertaining games of its type: the soundtrack is banging; the graphics are simple, but lovingly crafted, varied, and thoughtful; and the game offers depth far beyond what I expected – so why do I hate it?
Super Meat Boy is a hard game – that should be made clear from the start, but it’s not a bad thing. I love hard games: I love Gradius, Ninja Gaiden, Castlevania, Gremlins 2, Kabuki: Quantum Fighter, and F-Zero; I’ve completed Devil May Cry 4 and Lost Planet on pretty much every difficulty setting, and I always try to do my first run of a game on Hard. A game might as well be a bad movie if you can just walk through it.
As I previously stated, the graphics in this game are greatly varied, ranging from drawn-in-flash style cut scenes to highly polished gameplay graphics with features such as dynamic lighting, to stylized Warp Zones reminiscent of old games consoles such as the Gameboy and NES. Some of the regular levels also change-up the visuals in various ways such as silhouetted terrain and characters, and the constantly changing visuals make the game feel truly alive. This is one of the few instances where graphics massively enhance a game, and is probably my favourite aspect of Super Meat Boy.
Did I say the graphics were my favourite part? Oops – I seem to have forgotten the music for a second. The music in this game is top notch, truly magnificent, and varies as much as the graphics do. I’m so glad I got the soundtracks to all these games because I’ll be revisiting that, even if I never touch the game again.
The gameplay in Super Meat Boy is fairly solid and is constantly enlivened by leaping into Warp Zones or facing down new obstacles. Every level is a real challenge, expertly designed, and a real sonofabitch. The cut scenes didn’t do much for me, though I do appreciate their style. What really makes the game is the depth and amount of content supplied. I couldn’t swear by the number of worlds (I’ve only completed three), but each has 21 levels, numerous Warp Zones, and bandages hidden about the place which you can collect to unlock new characters. Visiting Warp Zones continues to be a treat for me as I’ve always been a fan of retro games, and some of these levels are actually better than the main game’s.
What makes me hate Super Meat Boy, despite all that? I’m afraid it’s the way that the magnificent, hardcore level design couples with the damn controls. While these have improved significantly since the flash game – the addition of a run button is nice, allowing you to choose whether you want to move too fast or too slow on the fly – they still feel awfully floaty to me. The best way I can describe it is that it’s like Meat Boy is on a piece of elastic and you’re flinging him around the level. I’m sure there are plenty out there who’ll contradict me on this point but I just cannot handle him, and I’m sure I’m not alone. In some Warp Zone before world three I was required to land meat boy on a single tile, near the end of a level, after a series of difficult jumps with no respite, where falling on any side meant death and a restart from the beginning of the level. This might not be a problem in a regular platformer – one with tight controls – but I found it pretty frustrating in Super Meat Boy.
Still, I managed to crawl through the first few levels on my Xbox 360 pad, and found myself in a Warp Zone where I unlocked a character apparently from BIT.TRIP RUNNER: Commander Video. Joy of joys! Commander Video can float ala Princess Peach – the easy mode of Super Mario Brothers 2 (best Mario game ever, shut your face) – and is markedly slower than Meat Boy. With him in hand I was able to make it through levels I really couldn’t otherwise have done. I later unlocked a character who can even double jump, though his jumps are lower than Meat Boy’s. Having other characters in a game for noobs like me to use as levers is a great idea – one that this game sadly throws away by forcing you to use Meat Boy for bosses. I can see why they did this, but it really left me hating the second boss level, and even caused me to give up altogether on the third.
That is, until I tried the third boss level using my keyboard instead of a joy pad. I wasted no less than forty tries on this level yesterday, only to return today, my first time using the keyboard, and instantly surpass my previous performance, later completing the level. Now I wouldn’t raise this point if it weren’t for the suspiciously playful joypad propaganda I’m forced to endure whenever I start the game. “Thumbs before fingers!” It declares amongst other random captions. Why would you do this Team Meat? Why would you try to alienate a good portion of your audience – especially those to whom, having seen that, it might not occur to try the keyboard, those who might otherwise have gotten further into the game? I can’t describe why the keyboard is better for me, it just feels more precise, and it isn’t up to anyone else how I control my games, okay?
Mixed thoughts then. I do hate this game for its sloppy controls and unnecessary difficulty curve, but I also love it for its expert design, variety, depth, and insanity. I’m almost certain this is a love/hate game for the majority of gamers who try it, but I think Team Meat could have done more to be considerate to newbies and keyboard gamers without compromising it’s integrity. If nothing else I have to end this review by complimenting them for making a game which converted me from a hater to a sceptic. Meat Boy is a solid game, which was clearly loved by its production team. Truly loved.