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[GAME REVIEW] Super Meat Boy (Revisited)

Super Meat Boy is an unforgiving fast-paced platform-jumper game published by Team Meat in 2010.  I reviewed the game in June 2014, which you can read here.  Short version: I ended up giving up on the game in the first world because I found the level of challenge pretty much impossible and found that very irritating.

2015-09-20_00002After I wrote that review, the game was still sticking in my head.  It bothered me a great deal that I’d had to give up on a platformer for being too hard–usually I don’t put that much personal pride in my gaming, I didn’t think.  But for some reason this one got under my skin.  So I ended up revisiting it, and ended up liking it after all.  It is still an incredibly frustrating game, the vast majority of the time.  I still end up dying the vast majority of times I play any given level.  It’s not a game I play when I want to relax and unwind because I usually just end more tense from playing it.  But I have found it fun in the long run.

What’s changed?  Two things:

  1. I remembered that there is a “sprint” key in the game.  For most of the levels in the first world of the game, I didn’t actually need the sprint key.  Meat Boy already moves fast without the sprint.  While I was learning to handle the controls, I knew about the sprint key, but didn’t really end up using it because he is so fast already.  And then I just forgot about it.  But it makes  a BIG difference in the first world’s boss fight.  That boss fight is just a chase scene, trying to stay ahead of a big killer machine while avoiding buzzsaws and other obstacles in your path.  Without sprinting, Meat Boy runs at exactly the same speed as the machine runs–which means that any moment I got held up on an obstacle would be a little bit of ground gained by the boss that I could not recover.  I think that it might be possible to beat that boss without sprinting but because of some crumbling wall obstacles, it would be an extremely fine margin.  But, with the sprint key Meat Boy can run faster than the machine, gain some distance so that the obstacles won’t be fatal.
  2. I had to change my mindset for what “success” in the game looked like.  I’m used to platformers more like Super Mario Bros where dying is a larger penalty, where you might have a limited number of lives to expend and then game over.  To succeed at Super Mario Bros you have to be able to consistently survive most of the time.  To succeed at Super Meat Boy, that’s not the case.  You don’t have to consistently not die, you just have to occasionally make it through the level.  There are no lives and you can replay the level immediately from the start–most levels don’t take more than a minute or so to play successfully, so even if you only have five minutes to play, you can boot the game up, play through the level a few times, maybe you’ll pass that level and move on; if not, come back later.

As I played I also discovered that the sprint key is also invaluable for adjusting jumping trajectory on the fly.  If you push or release the sprint key in midair it will adjust the speed at which you fly through the air, very handy for trying to time a long jump onto a small platform or that sort of thing.

Visuals
Kind of a fun cartoon look though there are creepy components.  I especially like the boss in the medical wasteland–so grotesquely cute!

Challenge
Incredibly challenging.  I would only recommend this for hardcore platformer players who are willing to work through repitition to get better.  If there were any penalty for dying other than starting the level over, the game would be unplayable, but as-is you can learn to just see death as a slight setback and push through.  As I noted above, I found the level of challenge both maddening and, eventually, compelling.

Story
Not much of it. Not every game has to have a story, of course.  Would’ve been nice if the plot hadn’t been the good old “rescue damsel” variety.

Playability
Playing the game is straightforward–movement and jumping, slightly different controls if you play as other characters.  Do NOT forget about the “sprint” button like I did.  You can get through most of the world without it, so you might forget about it, but you won’t beat the game without it.  Mastering mid-air speed adjustments using the “sprint” button was crucial to my getting better at the game.

Replayability
Some incentive.  If you collect bandaids in the levels you can unlock game features.  Some levels have retro-portals that let you unlock playable characters.

Originality
Good level of originality, I especially liked the boss characters.  The challenges vary and feel very different from other games as the worlds progress.

Playtime
Wildly varying depending on how quickly you pick it up.  I’m sure that if you beat every level on the first try you could finish it it an hour or two.  Probably an average level took me 10-20 tries.  The really grueling ones where you have to perfectly space a jump between two spinning sawblades while angling to the side to grab a wall before plummeting from the screen, etc…  probably 100.  So it’s hard to estimate what the overall time for any given player would be.

Overall
I would recommend this game only to players who love platformers and love a tough challenge.  Just remember the “sprint” key and don’t worry if you die a lot–you beat the game if you can get through levels once, not if you get through them consistently. It’s list price on Steam is $15.

About David Steffen (64 Articles)
David Steffen is a writer and editor and software engineer and a voracious consumer of podcast fiction. The first piece of fiction he's edited is now available, "Taste the Whip" by Andy Dudak on Diabolical Plots(http://www.diabolicalplots.com/dp-fiction-1-taste-the-whip-by-andy-dudak/). David is also the co-founder and administrator of the The Submission Grinder(http://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com/), a tool for writers.
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