Super Meat Boy is remake/pseudo-sequel to Meat Boy, an indie-game that was featured on Newgrounds and gained enough of a following to get the XBLA and WiiWare game. It’s also one hell of a game.
Super Meat Boy is the story of Meat Boy, Bandage Girl, and Doctor Fetus. Bandage Girl loves Meat Boy. But Doctor Fetus, no one likes him, and he hates you. Not just you as Meat Boy, but you, the player. And so he beats Meat Boy up and steals Bandage Girl, so it’s up to Meat Boy, and you controlling him, to save her from Doctor Fetus’ clutches, and remember that Doctor Fetus hates you. That’s the story in a nutshell, it doesn’t get anymore complicated because it doesn’t need to.
To put it simply, Super Meat Boy is a 2d side-scrolling platformer. But that’s selling the game short. Super Meat Boy isn’t simply a platformer, rather, it’s a throwback to the old days of hardcore, hard as balls NES platforming games of the ‘80s. This is a game that is pure platforming at its core, and nothing gets in the way of it.
So what does a platformer need to be successful? Controls and level design. Controls are the most important part of games of this type. If it doesn’t control well, the entire thing falls apart. If the levels are dull, then it doesn’t matter how well it controls, since the game wouldn’t be making good use of them. Well, I’m pleased to say, SMB has them both in spades. Meat Boy controls perfectly, running, jumping, wall-jumping. He can run, stop on a dime, and bounce back and forth between walls with absolute precision. That’s where the stages come in.
After a few stages to help the player learn the controls, the difficultly starts ramping up, each stage giving the player a new challenge with which to test their skills. From buzz saws to moving grinders and beds of spikes. And that’s just the first world, the second brings in cascades of spikes, allowing them the developers to put them anywhere, and the third world has missile launchers. And that is just the kinds of things in the stages, not how the stages are actually set up to challenge you.
What makes it interesting is how those things are used. I know its hard to imagine with just words (indeed, it might be better to watch a youtube video of SMB in action), but imagine a stage where you have to run to the edge of a platform and long jump onto a wall, wall-jump between two walls several times, followed by a jump between two close set saw blades onto another wall and time your wall-jumps so as to not hit the saw blade that’s moving along the now opposite wall. And consider that all of that will probably happen over the course of maybe 5 seconds, and that is, within this game, a very simple challenge.
The controls let you get through this, and many harder challenges with precision. To put it simply, this game is pure skill, and if you fail (and you will), then it’s entirely your fault (or maybe the sweaty controller), and the game gets you back in the action very quickly, usually within one or two seconds. One of the fun little features at the end of each stage is that it shows a replay of the stage with every single life you used up on it, all playing at once, and is pretty wild. Each world also has a “boss” stage, which typically presents a unique challenge in itself.
Stylistically, keeping true to the 8-bit and 16-bit inspiration, SMB was definitely made in very clean, very simple style that almost looks like it could be played on an NES or SNES. Meat Boy himself is a simple red block with eyes and a mouth, kicking up meaty blood as he runs, and leaving trails of meaty blood on on any surfaces he touches. ll the stages seem to have a bit of a tile-set set look, but again, its in service to the throwback style.
As well, each world has its own visual style, from earthy in the first world, to industrial in the third. Some of the persistant obstacles (the ones that aren’t world specific) have world specific visual styles. The basic spike trap looks like saws, hypodermic needles, salt, and actual spikes, depending on the world. As well, some stages change the style and present them in monochrome, its very striking.
Music is good also as each world has its own general theme, with variations of volume and tempo to keep it from getting too repetitive. Sound effects, well, Meat Boy is made of meat, and he’s pretty squishy, and it sounds like it when he runs and jumps.
One of the big things about Super Meat Boy though, is the non required, and bonus content. Each of the seven worlds has 20 stages plus a boss stage, which must be played to complete the main game. But each world has more than that, if you look for them.
Completing any stage under the target time earns the A+ rank, and opens up a “Dark World” version of the stage, which is harder. Each world also has several warp zones that lead to sets of stages that are supposedly easier than the main stages, but you only have 3 lives to complete each of the three stages in the set. All of these special stages has their own style as well, going further into homage territory by going complete 16-bit SNES, 8-bit NES, or even full on monochrome Gameboy style with the visuals and sound.
Some of these warps take you to a special set of stages where completion unlocks a new character. Each world (spread between all Light, Dark, and Warp stages) contains 20 bandages, which are collected to also unlock bonus characters. That’s the big thing, all of the unlockable characters are from other indie-games out there, including, but not limited to, Commander Video (of bit.trip series), Tim (of Braid), and The Guy (of I Wanna Be The Guy), each with their own speed and jump power, as well as special ability. And they need to be used for any of those people going for 100% completion. Meat Boy can complete every stage in the game, but he can’t obtain every bandage or make it to every warp by himself.
Final recommendation, buy it, with a caveat. Super Meat Boy is not for everyone. Not everyone can handle the difficulty of a game like this, which I’ve heard described as “masocore” (combination of masochist and hardcore). So try the demo before buying. If you don’t like it, don’t buy. If you do, then Super Meat Boy is a hardcore platformer that will make you throw a fit, shout expletives, and make you want to throw your controller, until you then successfully complete a stage and will be thanking god for it. Then you will move onto the next stage and the challenge it offers, and happily start the cycle again.