Super Meat Boy – Indie Game Review

Games like: Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Megaman, Super Mario Bros. 2 (Japan)

TL;DR

Get your thumbs ready for a masterwork of smash, jumping, sliding and meat leaving. To most, this game has gone on through the hollows of indie game developers as the one that really brought home the bacon. Being a huge part of the documentary “Indie Game: the Movie”, Team Meat strived from the depths of Newgrounds underworld to the cultural superstar it is today.

Created as a small flash game that was programmed in three weeks, Super Meat Boy finally saw its grand opening on Xbox Live Arcade in October 2010. Later gracing the Steam players of all OS versions some months (even years for Mac) later, Super Meat Boy quickly rose to being one of the greatest, although one of most difficult games, ever released by an independent gaming developer to the mass consumer. Receiving many awards including Most Challenging Game of 2010 by IGN and Best Downloadable Game by GameTrailers and GameSpot.

I waited eagerly for Super Meat Boy to go on sale during Steam’s Summer sale and was happy to receive the email citing that a game on my wishlist had done so. I logged in, paid my couple of bucks and waited patiently for the game to download and install. Upon starting the game, I was honored with the following screen.

super meast boy screen cap8

#respect

I know I said it before with Fist Puncher, but seeing screens like this, instructing players to use a controller and not a keyboard, always brings a smile to my face. It makes me feel like the developers understand our fight to get off of corporate gaming consoles and search for an alternative that will still dazzle and amaze.

The controls are not different than any other platformer; you have your run button and your jump button. You can use the control stick or the directional pad to move your character around the screen. No need to fix or change. Just pick up and play. With a game that is all about speed and pixel perfect jump precision, the Xbox 360 controller works wonderfully in executing the very means of getting you there. Making it happen, well, that’s on you. Your thumbs will be in pain after a Super Meat Boy session. I promise.

Meat Boy, unlike the other unlockable characters in the game, has the ability of great speed. Holding down the run button allows him to speed through areas and making long jumps by pressing the jump button when the run button is held. Many times, these long jumps will be required to scale over large areas of death that wait to take the life of Meat Boy. Other times, areas will be in close quarters where a typical long jump will drop you in a spot awarding you an untimely death. Knowing when and where to do each type of jump will be part of the learning curve.

After completing a level, you get a replay of all your deaths on a level and a chance to save the best.

After completing a level, you get a replay of all your deaths on a level and a chance to save the best.

Another feature of the characters in Super Meat Boy is wall jumping. Meat Boy himself leaves a trail of, what I would guess is “meat juice”, that sticks around even after you’ve died. This can be used as a nice indicator of where you’ve been and what worked to get you there. If there’s a very particular spot that you need to jump to, this will give you the chance to shoot for that same spot time and time again. Another fun aspect is, when (not if) you die, the meat of Meat Boy will be shot into pieces along what every artifact that killed you leaving pieces of your body strewed about. If you suck at videogames like me, every stage will be painted in red.

Super Meat Boy’s soundtrack was composed entirely by Danny Baranowsky, a name you may be familiar with if you travel this blog often to the Binding of Isaac. The tracks are a mix of high intense guitar and bass tracks with a hint of chiptune mix in. The beat that is constant throughout the game gives a sense of keeping track of the dangers of gameplay. There were times where I felt like the music was trying to help me keep a beat to any dropping saws or the timing of impending death lasers. A very fitting soundtrack for Super Meat Boy and one that I will urge you to listen to as your fight your way to Bandage Girl.

Who doesn't love Meat Boy?

Who doesn’t love Meat Boy?

The story of Super Meat Boy is a simple one that plays out after the first initial loading screens. You are Meat Boy. Meat Boy loves Bandage Girl and visa versa. Then suddenly, Bandage Girl is kidnapped in a fit of rage by Dr. Fetus who looks exactly as his name sounds. A small fetus in a large robot body complete with top hat and monocle. It is your job as Meat Boy to run from danger, buzz saws and floating entities to save Bandage Girl only to have Dr. Fetus appear out of nowhere and disappear with her. Driving you to the next level to try again. A very “Your Princess is in another castle” feeling. Always coming up a second too late before she disappears again.

The game is separated into six different chapters, a “dark world” within each, warp zones and a special chapter where you play as Bandage Girl trying to rescue Meat Boy giving you a total of 307 different levels. Each with their unique quirks and deadly pitfalls. Each level is typically short, being only a screen or two, and consists of only one objection: rescue Bandage Girl.

WARP ZONE!

WARP ZONE!

Hidden through some of the levels are warp zones. These warp zones will throw Meat Boy into an alternate dimension which pays faithfulness to other gaming platforms. These include the Nintendo Gameboy and its iterations (Gameboy Color, GBA), a Meat Boy version for the Atari 2600 and others. In these warp zones, you do have a limited number of lives to use. Depleting these will kick you out of the warp zone back to the chapter’s over world. Once these are discovered, you can go back to them at anytime. With each chapter having a specific theme playing throughout, these areas demake the soundtrack as well. It’s a nice change after getting beat down by the normal gameplay. But make no mistake, these warp zone levels are also extremely difficult.

Warp zones in the vain of the SNES.

Warp zones in the vain of the SNES.

Scattered throughout the chapters are tiny bandages you can collect along the way. Collect enough of these bandages will unlock new characters to play as. To achieve the bandage, you have to collect it and get to Bandage Girl. Simply collecting the bandage will not award it to you without also completing the level. In simple text, this seems easy enough, but let me assure you that these bandages are sometimes hard to see due to the fact that they are small and usually well hidden. Each chapter has a total of 20 bandages to collect.

How about a Gameboy version of Super Meat Boy?

How about a Gameboy version of Super Meat Boy?

The unlockable characters are a homage to popular indie games at the time. Each character has an ability that the other does not. As you progress through Super Meat Boy, you notice that some levels are going to be easier to pass with certain characters other than Meat Boy himself. Popular characters include Commander Video from the Bit.Trip series who has the ability to glide in the air the for a short time much like Princess Toadstool from Super Mario Bros. 2 (NA). Jill of Mighty Jill Off who, by pressing the jump button continuously, will allow her to fall slowly. There’s also the headcrab, the facesucker from the Half Life series that can hang onto the walls and creep down. You can select the different characters on the fly if you are sitting in the overworld or during a level itself, by hitting the start button and bringing up the character select menu.

You can select a different character on the fly.

You can select a different character on the fly.

Not every unlockable character is available across all the different versions of the game (XBLA, Steam and PC). Some versions have characters that the other does not. With the Steam version, there are 20 different characters to play as. Most of the characters are unlocked by collecting the bandages I mentioned early where others are only playable by completing one of the warp zones that feature them or by a code input in the during the character select screen. Just one more great feature to relate back to the days of old. A nice plus one for me.

If that isn’t enough, each chapter has a “dark world”. After completing a level with an A+ rating, which requires you to beat the level in a particular time frame, you can now play that level in the dark world. This version of the chapter is closely tied to it’s light world sister, but much, much more difficult. This doubles every chapter’s levels. In the dark world, there are also bandages and warp zones throughout that will need to be collected for you to achieve 100% on each chapter.

Commander Video, one of the unlockable characters, gliding across the sky.

Commander Video, one of the unlockable characters, gliding across the sky.

At the end of each chapter you will be faced with a boss fight. These boss fights are set to patterns that will require you to memorize to be able to beat them. With the one hit deaths, these battles proved to be the hardest to me. The bosses are larger than life and finding that one spot that keeps you out of harms way is never obvious. To defeat these bosses is usually a test of endurance. Staying out of the way long enough for the boss to kill itself.

Before starting a new chapter, you will be greeted by a fun cinematic pushing the plot of the story. Each entry is also a tribute to other popular games. One involving the characters of Super Meat Boy in the same style of the intro to Street Fighter II. Or the beginning of Castlevania, displaying Meat Boy journeying through the front gates to the castle ahead much like Simon Belmont except without the whip. This brings a strange comedy aspect that is right up my alley. With no voice overs, all the emotions are expressed through the faces of the characters. Team Meat has a tendency to have a twisted sense of humor that shines through all of their work. Super Meat Boy is no different.

That there... is a bandage... try not to die getting it.

That there… is a bandage… try not to die getting it.

If 307 different levels, bandages, the dark world and warp zones aren’t enough for you, there is also available a user created arena called Super Meat World. These user created levels consist of single painstaking adventures and entire chapters that vary from using the same tiles as the main game to some of the unique tile sets used in the warp zones. Another is an entire chapter set to recreate I Wanna Be the Guy’s, most popular levels using Super Meat Boy’s engine  playing as its protagonist the Kid (which is also an unlockable character). These levels are created using an unsupported devkit that is available in the Super Meat Boy Steam version. If you are feeling froggy, make some levels. The system is also set up to allow other users to rate them and make suggestions to make them every harder. Yah…

Super Meat World is a user created chapter where you can play brand new levels!

Super Meat World is a user created chapter where you can play brand new levels!

Super Meat Boy is an amazing display of endurance, platforming and comical story telling. The idea is simple enough, not to take about from the awe of Super Meat Boy. But there really isn’t anything new to the game. Team Meat took an idea and made it extremely polished to the point of perfection. If you die, it’s your own fault.

This game is addicting while still allowing new players to jump in head first. The levels are designed much like the Megaman series in which it teaches the players a new aspect without the use of long winded tutorials. The difficulty level is on par and/or much above those golden unicorns like Ghost ‘n Goblins and Super Mario Bros. 2 (Japan). You will be aching to try again and again to conquer a level or boss battle by giving you just enough to want to try again. Bring on the pain and punishment.

Games like Super Meat Boy are getting harder and harder to compare to those in the past mainstream. This style of overly impossible platformers were designed within the indie game spectrum with titles such as “I Wanna Be the Guy” and homebrews like “Battle Kid”. Even though I am no good at these titles, it shows that this type of bloodline is still pouring into the gaming universe. This is a true test of passion for the videogame community. I will continue to support such indie devs and will strive to complete Super Meat Boy. But I don’t want to get my hopes up for the later.

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