Super Meat Boy is a monument to my gaming inadequacies. A testament to fingers that no longer move across the game pad quite so rapidly, of skills long lost and of reflexes that have atrophied. Its levels are, quite literally, littered with bloody pieces of the game’s protagonist, who due to my shortcomings as a gamer, got crushed, squished, eaten up, cut into a million tiny pieces, etc etc. Sometimes all that brutality happened in the space of a minute. But despite all my failures, it is also without a doubt the most addictive game I have played this year.
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It’s a 2D platformer very reminiscent of N+. It even controls in a fashion that is almost identical to N+; running and wall jumping will feel instantly familiar and your speed and momentum dictate how you move through the levels. The levels themselves are small in size and you run through a variety of obstacles to get to the goal on the other end. The goal in this case being Meat Boy’s girlfriend (Meat Girl?), who in typical 2D Mario tradition, manages to get kidnapped and can’t be rescued until the end. The story is told in charming little animated cut scenes with no voiceovers. You run through six worlds, each one typically has about 20 levels in it and a boss battle at the end.
On the surface that seems to be the gist of it, but dig deeper and its so, so much more. Each level is designed intricately, where each component seems to be in rhythm with something else. You only notice this when you attempt a speed run and realize that the way all your jumps and obstacles have aligned themselves can’t just be a coincidence. It’s a genius bit of level designing that’s almost invisible on the surface. The game is rife with hidden collectibles, alternate worlds and warp portals. You can use the collectibles (bandages) to unlock other playable characters, each with their own unique abilities. Once you get 20 collectibles, you can unlock the “The Interwebz”. There is new DLC (free from the sounds of it) on its way and a map editor scheduled for release in January. A normal run through the game will take you about 6-7 hours. If you start looking for secrets or try speed-runs you can double that time, all depending on skill level.
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But regardless of skill level, the game is difficult; never unfairly difficult though. The controls are spot-on and precise. Since you can see where you are supposed to go, you never have to make any leaps of faith. Whenever you do end up running into the wrong end of a saw-blade (is there a right end of a saw-blade?) the respawn is instant. In-fact, you respawn so fast that on some levels, the bloody chunks of your corpse are still raining down on you when you begin your new life.
The visuals are pleasant enough, even if nothing about them is noteworthy. The levels look very Spartan in nature. There isn’t a lot going on in the background, and at times it almost feels like the game wants you to just focus on what you will be doing, and everything else that might be a distraction has been removed on purpose. Observe everything, admire nothing.
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Super Meat Boy isn’t a great game because it requires a lot of skill, or because it’s very difficult, or even because it’s difficult without being unfair. There are a lot of games that can stake a claim to some or all of those things. Super Meat Boy is great because no matter how often you fail, no matter how obscenely tough the situation looks, it always seems doable. Success always seems within touching distance. If you could try one more time, if you could just get past that one tiny obstacle, if you could nail that jump, maybe you could succeed. Its genius lies in the fact that it manages to convince you that despite everything else, you can still do it. And that is a very rare thing indeed.