Super Meat Boy Review: Full of Fuzzy Animals and Cotton Candy

XBLA box art (cropped)

Super Meat Boy could be described as a platformer, but that wouldn’t be quite accurate; this game is more of a masochism simulator with an indie platformer’s skin. Whatever genre it falls under, SMB is a tightly designed game that rewards precision gameplay similar to Trials or Ninja Gaiden. And although it makes me more frustrated than any game of the past five years, there is a great sense of style and humor that softens the blow of dying 50 times in one level, and the tightly designed levels and control make it a one of a kind.

Super Meat Boy does have a narrative, but in true platformer style it is kept to a minimum: Meat Boy’s girlfriend Bandage Girl has been snatched by Dr. Fetus (literally a fetus in a glass robot suit) and you must get her back. It’s Super Mario Bros. trope to the core, but the game has a weird, dark humor that manifests itself in several cutscenes and boss fights. This is a game where squirrel genocide, talking feces, and a trip to Hell are the norm. This may have been the first time I’ve been delighted and disturbed simultaneously by a video game.

The story and humor are merely the icing on the gameplay cake. You must navigate Meat Boy through hundreds of levels that take both aesthetic and gameplay inspiration from 4, 8, and 16 bit platformers. The end goal is to run into Bandage Girl, who is positioned at an end point in the level, all the while admiring the old school graphics style and jamming to the midi soundtrack. Getting to her is easier said than done though. This game is without a doubt the hardest game I’ve played in recent memory. You will die hundreds upon hundreds of times, but your eventual success gives both a sense of great accomplishment and a replay of all your deaths at once (splashes of meat blasting everywhere all the while). The levels all exhibit a great verticality that isn’t seen in most platformers or games at all. Meat Boy’s speed hinders this slightly since it is very easy to blast off past a platform into a kill pit. The control is tight, but loose which also can lead to some “undeserved” deaths. You can stop on a dime, but jumping onto small platforms is often unwieldy and difficult due to floaty in-air control.

There are also “dark world” versions of all the regular levels which take the difficulty to a whole different plane. Negative worlds and unlockable character levels also do the same (I will never unlock “The Kid” from I Wanna Be the Guy… his level is impossible). Most of the unlockable characters are found by collecting enough bandages that float in hard to reach spots in many levels. These characters consist of Indie All-Stars such as Tim from Braid, Alien Hominid from Alien Hominid, and, as I mentioned, The Kid from I Wanna Be the Guy. My worry is that most gamers will not unlock most of the characters due to the bandage requirement even though certain levels can be beaten with less strain with the extra characters.

Honestly, I feel like recommending this game is almost harmful. Beating each level is an achievement in itself and every triumph is preceded by dozens of deaths. If you are up to the challenge, Super Meat Boy will give you a tight, extreme platforming experience that is unmatched by any. All others (sane human beings) stay far, far away.

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