GAME REVIEW: Super Meat Boy

Super Meat Boy is an unforgiving fast-paced platform-jumper game published by Team Meat in 2010.

Meat Boy is the name of our protagonist. No, it’ s not a lewd stage name. Meat Boy is literally a cube of raw red meat with arms, legs, and a face. The love of his life is Bandage Girl who, as you might guess, is an anthropomorphic Band-Aid. If you’re confused, so am I. I feel like I’m missing a joke. Are these two paired because Meat Boy is literally dripping blood and Bandage Girl is an item meant to absorb blood? I don’t know.

Anyway, there’s trouble in paradise when the evil Dr. Fetus kidnaps Bandage Girl because nobody loves him. Yes, Dr. Fetus is apparently a human fetus who gets around by piloting a mechsuit wearing a monocle (the mechsuit has an oversized monocle on its helmet bubble, not the fetus inside it). Okay, I admit, the monocled mechsuit image is kind of funny, as you long as you don’t dwell too much on why Dr. Fetus isn’t living in a uterus. Especially combined with Dr. Fetus’s characteristic of being unloved. I’m assuming a silly action game isn’t aiming to take a serious stance on abortion.

So your goal is to rescue Bandage Girl in every level before Dr. Fetus snatches her away again. The levels are strewn with dangers like spike pits, fire, and buzz saws. Many of the levels are extremely unforgiving where the slightest misstep will result in a quick death. Even an experienced gamer will probably die multiple times in most levels. The controls are simple, movement and jump keys, wall jumps are an important component.

I got through the levels in the first world without too much trouble. I mean, I died half a dozen times in some of them, but failing is quick and after a few more tries I’d get it. I found the controls when playing as Meat Boy rather unforgiving–beating a level would consist of having to keep track of exactly what spot I need to jump from to clear this buzzsaw without hitting the next one, that kind of thing. I wouldn’t say that kind of memorization is really fun, but I could get through it.

A few levels later I was able to unlock another playable character, Commander Video (from his own game Bit.Trip Runner, apparently) who has the major benefit of being able to hover Princess Peach style, so if you don’t hit a jump just perfectly you can have the hover as a kind of safety net. He looks like a ninja, but leaves a rainbow trail when he hovers which I thought was funny. Using Commander Video was more fun to me, and I figured I could play this game after all.

But then I got to the end of the first world to the first boss match, in which Dr. Fetus is piloting a gigantic chainsaw wielding mech and is trying to kill you with it. You have to jump through a densely packed set of buzzsaws while simultaneously fleeing the mech. The rest of the levels I took a half-dozen tries and got through the whole world in twenty minutes or so. Unfortunately with the boss battle Meat Boy was the only character option so I couldn’t use the more playable Commander Console during this most difficult of levels. I tried the level a few dozen times and generally died in about the same place. I could see what I was supposed to do but to time it just perfectly without any time to try it a second time without dying proved frustrating and extremely tedious. Certain kinds of challenges would keep me coming back to prove myself, but at this point, after playing the game for an hour and a half or so, the only reaction I have when I think about trying the boss battle again is tedium. The game hadn’t been good enough before that point to convince me that pushing past this is worth the effort. And if the first boss battle is like that, I suspect the later ones are even worse.

Visuals
Kind of a fun cartoon look though there are creepy components, like the forest animals that flee from you into buzzsaws.

Challenge
Plenty of challenge, but of the “die on the same jump two-thirds of the way through a level dozens of times until you’d rather hit yourself in the head with a hammer than try that level again” variety. Not the kind of challenge that I find appealing.

Story
Not much of it. Not every game has to have a story, of course, but if would’ve been nice if a token plot had been chosen that wasn’t rescuing helpless damsel.

Playability
Playing the game is straightforward–movement and jumping, an extra jump to hover if you’re Commander Console. Each of the levels is quick whether you succeed or fail, which does make it easy to play even if you only have a few minutes at a time.

Replayability
Not much incentive to replay, it seems.

Originality
High, I suppose, though it does feel a little bit like choosing character traits by Mad Libs.

Playtime
Not sure, I couldn’t stand to play it more than a couple of hours, so not sure what it takes to get through the whole game.

Overall
I wouldn’t recommend this game. There are better platform jumpers out there, no matter what you’re looking for, and it seems to base most of its challenge on forced repetition on hard jumps that quickly just become tedious. It’s list price on Steam is $15.

6 thoughts on “GAME REVIEW: Super Meat Boy”

  1. Super Meat Boy is meant to be a super-hard platformer, and it’s meant to be creepy. It’s okay to not understand it, but this review seems to criticise Super Meat Boy by listing everything it is as a flaw. That’s fine, you can’t like everything, but I feel like you ~really~ should have researched the two-man team behind this game before, or at least taken it into account. I don’t know how you can recommend people to not buy a super-hard platformer title based on the fact it’s super-hard. It’s doing exactly what it was intended to do.

    Personally? I find Super Meat Boy extremely hard too. I really cannot do it. I don’t have the reflexes nor the patience to sit and try every level. But it’s a fixture of speedrunning competitions and it’s extremely popular (over 1m copies sold as of Jan 2012 – it’s easily a couple of times that now). It was also one of the titles that the excellent Indie Game: The Movie focused on to tell the story of (I highly recommend that documentary).

    I feel it’s worth stating that basically everything Edmund McMillen designs (he’s the artist for this game) has some level of meaning. I seriously suggest you don’t try any of his other games (or his upcoming game with Tommy Refenes, the other ‘half’ of Team Meat, Mewgenics), because Edmund *does* create a lot of visually controversial things. His Binding of Isaac is extremely creepy on every level (which is its exact point).

  2. I guess I’ve never researched game makers before I played their games, just as I don’t research writers before I read their books. I generally feel that the content should stand for itself–if it doesn’t stand for itself, then the content could use some work. In any case, this one had some good reviews, looked weird and fun, and I saw it on sale on Steam, so I laid down some money to play.

    I didn’t list creepiness as a flaw–I generally like creepy especially when it’s simultaneously funny–I just thought I’d mention it. I did feel that there were major elements that were meant to be humorous that just flew under my humor radar. Humor is tricky that way in any case, but this isn’t my personal kind of humor I guess.

    I wouldn’t say I recommended against the game because it’s super-hard, but rather that it’s the kind of challenge that quickly turns to tedium.

    I wasn’t sure if I should edit the review to note this, but since I wrote this review I have played the game a bit more and pushed through the boss battle that had been stymying me, into the second world–the hospital where the biggest obstacle is heaps of deadly medical waste.

    I didn’t realize this as I was playing through the first world, but the “run” button can be used intermittently even while in midair to adjust the trajectory of a landing–that has helped me figure out how to maneuver more effectively.

    By the time I reached this point I’d already submitted the article to SF Signal and I thought it might be a waste of their time to revise it after it’s already submitted.

    I still wouldn’t say that I love the game, or that I would recommend the game necessarily, but it has drawn me back to play it more so it may be growing on me. You have to be doggedly persistent and resistant to repetition in a particular sort of way to find the gameplay appealing, I think. I hadn’t realized it had gotten under my skin, but the fact that I picked the game up again at all means that it must have.

    Anyway, since I have felt compelled to play further after writing up the review, I might ask our hardworking editor if he wouldn’t mind me writing up a followup review when I’ve played some more hours on the game. If anything the followup would at least be based on a larger portion of the game.

  3. I would consider trying out other things by the creators, especially if it’s a different KIND of game. I don’t have anything against creepiness whatsoever. Some of my favorite short stories, like Teddy Bears and Tea Parties by S. Boyd Taylor for instance, are extremely creepy.

    The Binding of Isaac is actually on my Steam wishlist already, though I hadn’t realized it was the same creators I can see the similarity in style. I put that on my list in large part because it looked creepy.

  4. I’m so confused by this tendency you guys have to review years old games. It’s honestly stumping me. Braid, Limbo, Machinarium, this…. I don’t get it.

  5. Adam,
    No big mystery, really. In this case, the “you guys” that are reviewing older games is just me.

    Why am I playing older games:
    1. Because I only recently started getting into indie games. I’ve usually gotten most of my games from the big game publishers.
    2. Because I am getting recommendations from friends on what to play for at least some of the games (Braid, Limbo, Machinarium among them)–games that will get recommended are going to tend to be older because they’ve had more time to get a following.
    3. Because I am more likely to buy a game if it’s reasonably priced, doesn’t always mean that it’s old but it may be more likely. At this point I am paying retail prices for these games out of my own pocket.

    All the games I’m reviewing are brand new to me, but not necessarily to the world in general. I hope they’ll be of some value to readers who may not have kept up with everything over the years.

    If game developers (especially indie developers) were interested in providing me review copies of games to play I would happily play them and review them here. I have pursued this a little bit, but then got distracted by all the shiny stuff on the Steam summer sale so I’ve got a bunch queued up to play. I’ll pursue it again sometime in the near future.

    I do have some games released this year in the stack, including:
    One Finger Death Punch
    Platformines

  6. This is one of those games that I ended up getting as part of a Humble Bundle sale but haven’t actually played yet, largely because it wasn’t one of the games in the bundle that I really had my eye on. No doubt I’ll play it eventually, though learning that it’s an intentionally hard platformer will probably just have me screaming obscenities at my laptop for a while.

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