‘Super Meat Boy’ Review – It Builds Character

It takes a special kind of person to like a game like “Super Meat Boy,” the upcoming 2D platformer from indie developer Team Meat. The kind of person who, despite having years of honed video game reflexes, also has a tremendous amount of patience and precision. Being able to no-scope someone in “Halo Reach” is no help in “Super Meat Boy,” nor is having a gamerscore well over 100,000. This game will kick your ass, and if you’re the right sort of person, you’ll keep coming back for more.

The Basics

“Super Meat Boy” is a 2D platformer in the vein of “Super Mario Bros.” You play the titular hero, whose girlfriend has been swiped by the nefarious Dr. Fetus (literally an evil fetus in a jar…but the jar is wearing a tuxedo), and it’s up to you to save her. Standing in your way are hundreds of devious platforming levels filled with saw-blades, homing rockets and undead meat boy demon spawn. There’s no health bar, no armor. One wrong move and you’re back at the beginning of the level. And you will make many wrong moves. In the course of reviewing the game, I made 7,982 wrong moves.

The Highs

A Precise Platformer
The worst thing you can do as a developer is to release a really hard game and then make it even harder by bunking the controls. Thankfully the controls in “Super Meat Boy” are tight as a drum, giving you full control over Meat Boy and friends (who I’ll get to in a moment). By having spot-on controls, the fault is never placed on the game. Instead, it’s the players skill that’s determining success or failure, leaving all the onus on them. This makes for a more addictive and less frustrating experience.

An Ode To Another Age
“Super Meat Boy” may play like an old school platformer, but the similarities don’t end there. Each chapter of “Super Meat Boy” begins with a hand-drawn animated short which bares more than a passing resemblance to a classic video game intro. Simon Belmont’s march up to Dracula’s castle has been replaced by Meat Boy marching up to a creepy hospital, for example. Fans of “Mega Man,” “Ghost n’ Goblins” and “Double Dragon” (to name a few) will catch some hilarious references.

Art For Meat’s Sake
For a game which has you watching the demise of a small boy made of meat over and over again, “Super Meat Boy” is visually charming, with bright, memorable levels and characters. There’s an attention to detail here which is rarely seen in 2D games of this ilk, with cutscenes and tiny 2D animations hiding references and nods. Each of the games chapters have a totally different visual feel, as well, from the fiery bowels of hell to the mechanized steel of a salt factory. These levels are backed by an excellent chip-tunes-style soundtrack that feels ripped right from the bowels of your SNES.

Big Bang For Your Buck
For $15, “Super Meat Boy” has a staggering amount of content. The game’s standard levels, of which there are around 130, are matched by an equal number of deviously twisted “Dark World” levels, which can only be unlocked after achieving perfection in the “Light World.” On top of that, you’ve got retro bonus levels which have NES, Game Boy or even Atari 2600-style graphics.

And then there are the unlockable characters, including such indie favs as the alien from “Alien Hominid,” Tim from “Braid” and a Spelunky from, well, “Spelunky.” Most of the unlockable characters (more than 15 in total) have different abilities and stats than standard Meat Boy, making each character selection an important one. Tim, for example, can rewind time, while Spelunky can rocket himself forward using his handy bomb. Certain levels that are near-impossible with Meat Boy can be completed in seconds with the right character, so unlocking them all is crucial.

Oh, and speaking of value, Team Meat will be adding free level packs to the game in the months after release. At launch there’s at least 10-12 hours of content to dig through, and more is definitely on the way.

The Lows

Everyone Need Not Apply
This “low” is really dependent on whether you’re the sort of person who doesn’t mind dying 50 times on the same level. Despite its often fast pace, “Super Meat Boy” takes a certain amount of patience and thought which is often not required in 2D platformers. Its closest analog, “N+,” turned some people off with its insane difficulty. “Meat Boy” offers a little more mercy by not requiring you to finish every level in the game, it’s still going to drive many people nuts. Thankfully the demo is a great indication of what to expect from the full game, so make sure you spend some time with that before plunking down the $15.

The Verdict

“Super Meat Boy” is easily one of the best games available on Xbox Live Arcade and should be considered one of the finest 2D platformers ever made. If you think you can handle its often insane difficulty, you’ll be rewarded with an artful blast of a game; one that will undoubtedly cause you to break at least one controller in despair, triumph or a mix of both.