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Delayed Reactions: Super Meat Boy – Love Thy Meat, Dr. Fetus will hate you for it!

For People who like:
Bit.Trip Runner, Mega Man, Super Mario Bros., 2d games, games that are really hard

+ Insanely Hard
+ Stuffed with extras and unlockables
+ Precise controls
+ Wildly varied levels
+ Production quality is top notch
+ Retro Music/Visuals kick ass

+ Insanely hard
+ Limited life zones not as fun as other content
+ Will cause “A” button to break…or your thumb

It takes a certain type of player to love a game that hates you.  I mean HATES you to the point where it laughs in your face, kicks you when your down, steals your lunch money, beats you until you’re black and blue, and gives you the finger, all before high five’ing its closest buddy and heading off to repeat the action on the next unsuspecting victim.  I, however, must be that kind of player.  For despite Super Meat Boy’s total disregard for my blood pressure, it is, without a doubt, one of the most satisfying, enjoyable, and hardest games ever to be released on any platform.  Not only will it eat up the hours in your day faster than a fat man eats cake, it will challenge you like no other game you’ve ever played.  Every level is designed with the sinister goal of making you really work for the carrot on the end of that stick.

There’s more than a good chance that every level will require tens, if not hundreds, of attempts in order to complete it.  In fact, expect it.  This game is going to stress you out, frustrate you, annoy you, and drive you crazy!  But never, in the entire time that I’ve played SMB, have I felt like I couldn’t beat a level.  Nor have I felt like I was going to give up and throw the controller down in anger or defeat.  I always picked myself up and tried again in order to rescue Bandage girl.  I’ll get it this time, I have to get it this time, I’M GOING TO GET IT THIS TIME! Even after all of that, I still loved every bit of it the experience.  Why, you ask?  Simply put, this game has a layer of polish about it that would make most triple AAA games cower in shame.

For those who don’t know, Super Meat Boy’s premise is extremely straightforward.  You’re Meat Boy: a well-intentioned piece of meat with a lady friend named Bandage Girl and an arch-enemy named Dr. Fetus who is always stealing your girlfriend away…mostly because he can’t stand Meat Boy’s existence.  You’re tasked with getting her back by any means necessary, which usually consists of traversing 2d levels designed with the primary goal of slicing Meat Boy’s gooey trappings into as many little squishy bits as possible.  You’ll jump precariously between multiple rotating saw blades, hop over piles of deadly glass, needles, ultra-hot lasers, high speed rockets, floating baddies, and attempt to outrun gigantic bosses of every kind.  Worst of all, a mere touch from any of these things is enough to send you packing.

Meat Boy, however, is nothing if not fearless.  As soon as you take control of him, you’ll notice that his controls are super precise.  You can run at two different speeds: fast and very fast.  You can jump at different rates: short, long, and really long.  You can control your velocity in the air and speed up or slow down as needed, as well as change directions on a dime.  And best of all, you can jump up walls, slide down walls, and even jump-slide into walls, a technique that sends you sliding up a wall and is essential to finishing some levels in one piece.  This is what makes this game so utterly approachable: all the tools you need to beat the game are there.  Whether or not you get through it is all up to you.  When you fail (and you will)…it’s 100% your fault.

Dr. Fetus: He hates Meat Boy

But in this game, the disappointment of failure is completely offset by the elation of success.  Unlike other games death, trial and error, and experimentation are the only way to make it to Bandage Girl.  In fact, taking risks in order to shave off a half second, grab a previously unreachable bandage (Super Meat Boy’s unlockable currency), or enter a hidden level is always rewarded.  Think of it like Parkour meets Super Mario Bros. meets a shot of adrenaline to the face.   In fact, the times I did the best in a level was when, usually after multiple attempts, I began to see the shortest continuous pathway from where I was to where I needed to go.  It’s a clear example of learning by doing (over and over again).  And the tricks you learn in one level can always help you in another.

Speaking of levels, this game comes with no shortage of them.  In fact, this is one of the most packed-with-replay-value titles you will see on any console…bar none.  If you only played the five main worlds, each with 20 levels and a boss battle, that’s a total of 100 levels right there.  And those levels vary in style, creation, color palette, dangers, and environmental tools and hazards.  But then each zone has something called a “Dark World”: zones inspired by the light world, but that are even harder to complete.  These worlds are my personal favorite.  While they are certainly an even greater challenge, the added difficulty is just a joy.  I can’t remember the last time I ever said that about a game.

But wait, there’s more.  Some levels contain warp zones that transport you to retro worlds or strange, broken style “zero worlds” that look like something out of an NES cartridge that’s on the fritz.  Each world is comprised of three stages and you’re limited to only three lives while in each ‘bonus’ world.  These worlds, in my opinion, are the hardest levels in the game.  While very inspired and a real treat to unlock, I found myself spending very little time in them because of the reduced number of lives.  On the whole, it’s a small gripe, but after having an infinite number of lives, being reduced to only three lives seems like an impossible hurdle to overcome.

Think we’re done with the extras yet?  Well, you thought wrong, sir (or madam).  In addition to the bonus stages, there are also bonus characters to be unlocked either by playing through the main game or by using the bandages you collect from certain stages.  And you’ve probably seen more than a few of them from other indie games like Bit.Trip Runner, Castle Crashers, and Alien Hominid.  Each extra character has a special ability and some, like Commander Video, even have their own stages.  Stuff like this takes a game that already has a ton of replay value and multiplies it beyond the level of most full priced games.  I have to give Team Meat so much credit here, because no one makes games this way anymore.  In fact I’m not sure they ever did.

While I’m gushing about this game, allow me to address one purely cosmetic feature that may be the thing that makes me smile more than any other feature in the game: the replay camera. Since coming back from death is an almost instantaneous affair anyway, dying over and over again in SMB is far less taxing than in most games.  With the addition of the replay camera, die away as you will.  By the time you finish the level, you’ll have the pleasure of watching your attempts (and one success) back all at the same time.  You heard me, every death superimposed over the others.  It’s the kind of dark, macabre humor that fits this game like a glove.

Super Meat Boy is a completionist’s wet dream with all the kind of extras that will keep you playing the game far after you beat the last boss.  It’s just an insane amount of content that you’d be crazy not to pick up, whether you’re a fan of old school games or not.  In fact it’s better than old school 2d platformers for the very reason that it’s a game that takes advantage of the refined controls, HD graphics, and super-fast systems we have today.  It’s the 2d game we wish we had when 2d games where huge.  While I may not love the three-life levels, I’d be out of my mind to call those out as a “flaw” or “problem” with the game.  The basic fact is this: if you’re willing to accept a game that’s going to challenge you, is unforgiving in its difficulty, and is an insane treat from top to bottom, you owe it to yourself to pick up this game.  Do it, or Dr. Fetus will steal your girlfriend, too.


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