Super Meat Boy Xbox 360, PC, Playstation 4, Vita, Switch, and Wii U Developed by Team Meat Released in 2010
The worst games to write reviews about are the ones you feel absolutely nothing for. The 5/10’s, the games that are merely competent, and, in the case of Super Meat Boy, the games that just feel utterly insignificant. I remember when this game came out and there was a lot of hype around it, it really served to give indie gaming a major boost in popularity, visibility and recognition. This is an award-winning video game and a large part of Indie Game: The Movie focuses on it, but anytime I try to play it my interest withers down fast.
Not so super
This is a tale all about love, a love between Meat Boy and Bandage Girl. However, as video game plots demand, a villain (Dr. Fetus) soon appears and kidnaps Bandage Girl, forcing Meat Boy to give chase in order to free her.
The game plays out like a 2D platformer where each zone is a series of numbered levels with a boss-fight at the end, which remains locked until you have beaten all the stages before it. These stages are brief platforming challenges you are asked to complete with the end-goal being reaching Bandage Girl who is standing somewhere in the stage. Between Meat Boy and her is whatever crazy death traps the stage may provide; buzzsaws, lava, deathly creatures, lasers, the game has a large supply of stuff to kill you with and Meat Boy will die from one hit, regardless of whether that is a saw straight through his face or gently touching a spike with his toe.
The controls are… interesting. Meat Boy doesn’t so much run as he slides along and compared to the size of the levels he can actually move at a really quick pace. You can either move normally or have him sprint by holding down a button, though to be fair you’ll be running so much it wouldn’t have been weird to reverse this setup. The better stages in this game are the ones where you get to dash along, avoid obstacles, and maintain a nice sense of speed. The first boss-fight is a great example of this, as you are tasked with dashing through a gauntlet of spinning blades while the boss gives chase.
The controls are less ideal when the game demands precision platforming, which becomes a lot more common from world 2 and onward. Meat Boy’s jumps are too unpredictable and frantic, especially since they can be affected by whether you hold down the sprint button too. You can make a jump whilst sprinting and stop holding down the button to suddenly lose all the momentum of your prior movement, or jump from a standstill and suddenly launch yourself in a direction by pressing sprint. It’s really obnoxious trying not to overshoot or undershoot tiny platforms and getting the timing right is further worsened by Meat Boy’s tendency not let go of walls. I actually like how he slides along walls when you make contact, but why do you have to steer away from a wall for literal seconds before he’ll finally release it?
On top of the controls being iffy I just found the game grow dull quickly. The stages are short and try to keep up variety by introducing new elements like keys or enemies, but these do little to keep gameplay feeling fresh. It’s just running and jumping through a ton of levels with controls that aren’t really refined and glitches abound; I often had the game freeze up on me and then immediately kill me, the game was prone to crashing or becoming unresponsive, and it kept giving me SQL errors at random moments. There are a lot of interesting platformers out there, both in the indie scene and from traditional development studios, and I don’t really see how Super Meat Boy is supposed to compete with them. It might be a good challenge and I can commend it for how quickly you respawn, but it’s just a simple platformer. Maybe there is some brilliance to it that I’m not seeing, all I know is that I have played better 2D platformers before and since.
Gameplay score: 3.5/10
Blob o’ meat
Super Meat Boy deliberately evokes a sense of nostalgia for the 2D platformers of old, as not only does it feature plenty of references to classic NES games, it also uses a simple pixelart style. The main character is little more than a block with 4 additional blocks serving as appendages, but stages actually enjoy a lot of details and convey much atmosphere with their color palettes. This can be best seen in the various extra stages, which feature a lot of cool, alternate art-styles that make it worth seeking these out. Even the normal stages are pretty good, though many end up using the same general look or having no specific theme to them, while a few rare ones actually feature a lot of creativity. There is some disparity there and it felt a tad random, like the few stages that take place in nighttime settings where all the obstacles and platforms are entirely black didn’t feel like there was any thematic or gameplay reason for that specific level to be dark when compared to the rest of the stages.
One really nice detail are the cutscenes. Even if you don’t like playing retro platformers I can wholeheartedly recommend checking out a Let’s Play just to see all the whacky clips that serve as introductions to stages and herald the start and end of boss-fights. They are really well put together and often serve as bizarre references to other games. The music is also really neat, owing to the work of electronic music composer Danny Baranowsky, who’d later go on to do the mind-blowing soundtrack of Crypt of the NecroDancer.
It’s not a game I started playing for the visuals, so it ended up being a pleasant surprise when it turned out that Super Meat Boy is a pretty good-looking game with a kick-ass soundtrack.
Presentation score: 8/10
For the mad people
Super Meat Boy too easy for ya? Well plenty of stages feature bandages you can gather that can be exchanged for unlockable, alternate characters. These characters can also have special movesets, such as an early one that can press the jump button a second time to float and maintain a specific altitude. Now the bandages are generally placed so that you need to put yourself in even more danger to acquire them or at least go pretty far out of your way, and even after you get one you still need to finish the stage normally. Each stage also has a par time to beat to get an A+ ranking, which is a nice challenge to try for stages you particularly enjoy, even if 100% completing the game isn’t on your agenda.
You can also hit a button to switch the game over to “dark” mode, wherein you play the same levels as before, but with even more obstacles added to them, that can also have their own bandages and par times. It’s really quite mad and even towards the end the game has a few surprises for players. I was also informed the game has user-made levels that are curated by the developer, but going into the menu for that generates a lot of errors and then crashes back to the world select screen. Bit of a shame that.
Extras score: 7/10
I feel that Super Meat Boy did a lot of good for indie gaming as a whole, but looking back on the game itself, it really doesn’t have much to it. People who are really into 2D platformers, particularly the ones that are really hard, will find that there is a lot of content for them to enjoy here. If you just want to play a fun platforming game, you may find SMB a little too unrefined, repetitive, and obnoxious.