Developer: Team Meat
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studio
Rating: T for Teen
Turning heads on the indie scene and abroad for several years now, Super Meat Boy has taken a crack at platforming and mastered the craft. Throw in a simple, slightly odd story premise and enough difficulty to make you want to burn down your house, and you have this wonderful concoction, as long as you are mindful of the content concerns.
Meat Boy is your average anthropomorphic cube of meat who loves life and his girlfriend, Bandage Girl. Unfortunately, a dastardly prenatal adversary in the form of Dr. Fetus is hell-bent on tearing the lovers apart, if for no other reason than out of pure hatred for Meat Boy. In the middle of a bright, sunshiny day, Dr. Fetus assaults and kidnaps Bandage Girl, forcing Meat Boy to churn up some heroic attitude and give chase through an endless parade of saws, spikes, magma, missiles and monsters in order to get his girl back from Dr. Fetus’s evil clutches.
Believe it or not, there’s no foul language in Super Meat Boy. That’s mostly due to the fact that there’s no language at all, with the exception of Dr. Fetus consistently flipping off the player. There’s a little bit of voiceless narration before the main menu, introducing the player to the characters, but after that the story is told entirely through animated cut-scenes.
There are no references to drugs, alcohol, or any related paraphernalia in all of Super Meat Boy.
Violence isn’t graphic so much as it’s simply constant. There’s an endless gallery of ways for Meat Boy to come to an end and it’s not unlikely for the player to die dozens of times per stage by getting ripped apart by a saw or falling into a vat of grotesque creatures. Everywhere Meat Boy goes, a trail of blood is left behind. This blood remains even after death and can be added to with each consecutive run of the stage. When Meat Boy dies, he bursts into a splash of cartoon blood which paints whatever obstacle killed him. Frequently a stage and all of its obstacles will be clean and shiny at the beginning, but coated with the player’s blood by the time they finally reach the end. In addition to this gameplay violence, Dr. Fetus frequently attacks Bandage Girl when you try to save her or somebody else. Dr. Fetus burns down a forest in World 1, killing most of the wildlife. He also leads to the death of multiple other characters and sort of ends the world.
Super Meat Boy has no sexual content within the game. Like Meat Boy, Bandage Girl is a featureless square when depicted in cut-scenes. However, in official art of the series, Bandage Girl is shown to have a bust.
There are two primary details regarding the spiritual content of Super Meat Boy and they both come in the form of late-game worlds. Worlds 4 and 5 are titled “Hell” and “Rapture” respectively, and depicted with traditional features of those places. Hell is full of demon-like creatures, fire, and a lot of things that turn Meat Boy into bloody ribbons. Rapture runs Meat Boy through the dilapidated remains of a city, now crippled with ruin and overrun by maggots. While not a matter of innately spiritual concern, the fact that the antagonist is a crude and violent fetus is also bound to upset some audiences.
Positive appeal for Super Meat Boy comes in terms of feelings of competency, and not much else. There’s no staggering narrative to praise or character behaviors that can stir the soul. Meat Boy himself obviously has a profound loyalty and drive to protect his loved ones, but that is displayed more through the player’s dedication than actions of the character himself. Every character is entirely one-dimensional, so there are no avenues for moral praise outside of this one facet of Meat Boy.
Super Meat Boy is a gauntlet of painstaking, soul-crushing difficulty, but it was clearly crafted with just as much love as the challenge it presents. On the surface, Super Meat Boy is simple in the ways most platformers are simple. The player has only a couple of options: run, sprint, and jump. However, the physics and controls of the game are fluid and demand absolute mastery in order to undertake some of the later stages. My experience had me playing on PC, but using an adaptable Xbox 360 controller. With it I had two different options for sprinting, which I figure was a piece of feedback the developers received in early development, because you hold that puppy down for long spans of time. It’s very easy for your fingers to become sore and irritable, so it’s nice that they allow the player to switch between the two, as each run button requires a different finger.
The sprint feature has a sort of “gliding” application, in which you may move further faster, but also are prone to slipping around on the ground and having a different feel during air maneuvers. It’s easy to get caught in thinking that you must always sprint to tackle obstacles, but sometimes the game demands you move slowly, which strikes me as counterintuitive at first because the game tricks you into believing that everything must be done quickly. You may alternate between the two in mid-air for maximum adaptability.
Jumping has multiple extensions as a skill. Most notably, the player has the ability to wall-jump. That is, jump back-and-forth in narrow shafts, or repel up and down on sheer drops. What’s more is that, combining the principles of jumping with the ability to sprint and Meat Boys natural tendency to slide makes available some advanced techniques where you can sprint at a wall, jump, and slide up its face. This trick and others must be utilized on several occasions for both survival and exploration.
At the end of every “Chapter,” or world of the game, there is a boss fight. Because Meat Boy has no natural offensive abilities, these bosses do not usually require the player to attack them, but rather survive, outrun, or trick their opponents into causing self-harm. As with most other parts of this game, expect yourself to scream a lot. I hope you have understanding neighbors, because the difficulty of Super Meat Boy gets to everybody eventually. At the same time, the difficulty never really makes you hate the game, because it never seems unfair. The developers crafted each challenge exceedingly well, so you know it’s possible to overcome. It’s just sometimes hard to remember that when you’re red in the face from frustration. Rage quitting is a very distinct possibility in Super Meat Boy.
If somehow the circus of weapons and gut-rupturing jumps weren’t enough ways for Meat Boy to die and cause the player anguish, every single stage also has a dark form, which may be unlocked by finding a portal within each level before a certain time elapses and it disappears. These “Dark World” stages are significantly more demanding of skill than their bright counterparts and are not for the faint of heart. Expect death, despair, and anger in spades, yet also a tremendous feeling of accomplishment should you overcome them.
Multiplayer comes in the form of competition in the online leaderboards. In them you may see how quickly other players complete a level and which character they used. Outside of this, there is no cooperative play in any format.
Collectibles are thrown around the game in the form of bandages which the player must often break their backs in order to acquire. Bandages are primarily used in the unlocking of new characters, whom of which must in turn be used to obtain more bandages. Most unlockable characters are tributes to other video game icons, particularly those made by independent developers, such as the Goo from World of Goo, Braid from Braid, and Steve from Minecraft. Aside from these, other in-game characters are unlockable, such as Bandage Girl and Brownie.
If the normal stages and the Dark World levels aren’t beefy enough for your brawn, there’s a portal in the game titled “Super Meat World” which is occupied entirely with custom stages made by other players. Difficulty fluctuates, but some searching can lead to incredibly difficult or fun stages, with some fans devoting large amounts of time in the game’s level editor to make balanced and enjoyable stages for everybody. The level editor may be unlocked with the attainment of twenty bandages and can even support the uploading of entire chapters or series of levels in a row.
Super Meat Boy boasts an impressively clean indie look. Graphically it’s not winning any awards, but it doesn’t need to, because it makes up for any faults in supposed “quality” with an abundance of character. Side scrolling games need a strong, flavorful aesthetic or they are doomed to look the same as many of their contemporaries. Super Meat Boy has no issues with this, and even sets a bar for other games which strive for a retro vibe in their art. A variety of worlds helps to diversify the settings of the game and show a slow progression into destruction as your hunt after Dr. Fetus leads the madman to increasingly desperate measures. A few worlds in the game include a forest, a salt factory, a raptured city, and even Hell itself.
The developers understood their game was going to involve a lot of death. The themes and level designs all point to that one inevitable event. Because of this, they also thought it would be fun to enter a feature into the game where, after completing a level, the player may watch every incarnation of Meat Boy run it simultaneously. This is hands-down my favorite aspect of the entire game. It’s just too much fun.
Super Meat Boy has a high-speed soundtrack that molds itself to the World currently being traversed, but there’s generally always some electric guitar and synth. The soundtrack has done well enough for itself that it was published as an album and even made available as downloadable content on Rock Band 3.
When all is said and done, and you’ve broken your controller, console, and everything else in the room, Super Meat Boy truly is worth the tower of acclaims it stands upon. At popular demand, a sequel, Super Meat Boy Forever, has entered development and will most likely astonish the gaming scene once again as we take control of this adorable bloody cube in his future adventures. With a magically refined gameplay scheme and high-octane platforming, Super Meat Boy is a title that has seen its share of game screens and is still gaining momentum. Here’s to you, Team Meat, on the wonderfully odd little creation you’ve made. I can’t wait to see what you’ve got in store for us in the years to come.
God bless, try not to scream, and always remember to smile.
The Bottom Line
Nearly five years and still Super Meat Boy is at the top of the indie charge, a test of one's own mettle, and a nearly perfect platforming experience. However, if you're easily frustrated by small failures, turn the other way. Super Meat Boy isn't holding anybody's hand and it certainly isn't pulling any punches. Good luck.