Where that time of the month is all the time!
While I do tend to talk a fair share about video games to the people in my life, I try to skew the conversation towards the interests of said person. My macho-would-be-tough-guy friends will hear about the time I diced up three straight dudes in a Gears 2 while chugging a Dew down like a man. The women can learn of my sensitive side as I discuss the charming merits of stitching a plush bear’s cut together in Kirby’s Epic Yarn. The older crowd will be excited to learn about the Tommy pinball machine I discovered in a bar at downtown Toronto. But the one dark secret I’ve kept from all of them is an insidious nightmare known as Super Meat Boy. I can’t tell the casual violence crowd because they think anything that you can’t headshot a person isn’t a worthy video game. I can’t tell the ladies in my life about it because it’s a game starring a piece of meat that continuously excretes blood in a trail like a leaky truck. And I can’t tell the older crowd because the game has more than 4 levels and not a single barrel-smashing hammer to be seen. (Though there’s a great King of Kong reference in the game.) But I think I can tell you, the video game-loving public, the people that wear green mushroom hats and think downloadable games are a viable alternative to the evils of Gamestop, about Super Meat Boy. And I can tell you that I think you should buy Super Meat Boy. Even if it means buying XBLA points at Gamestop. Like I did. Sorry.
The gameplay is as rudimentary as sidescrolling platformers get. You move, you run by holding a button down, you jump, you do wall jumps. Meat Boy controls like Mario if Mario was perpetually menstruating. Already sounds like about every NES platformer and subsequent Flash game trying to pay homage to every NES platformer.
But as you progress through the game’s levels, things seem to get more and more unsanctimonious. Suddenly, there are more and more spinning blades. And fireballs. And missiles. And other things that will tenderize Meat Boy. If there isn’t a game world element that kills you in one hit, then it may be a fan or portal that transports you to something that kills you in one hit. As of this review, Meat Boy died 9317 times throughout my experience with the game. That is more than the number of women who die in childbirth in Cameroon. (I tried to find a morbid random stat to contrast, this was the best I could do.)
And the game manages to find ways to get more and more demented, in all of the right and wrong ways. Complete a level in a prerequisite time and you’ll unlock a Dark World variation that makes the same level a heaping buttload more difficult. You can find hidden warp zones (which include an announcer audibly vocalizing that you have found a warp zone.) These are fairly challenging sequences that adopt the visual style (and some kind of badass title screen) of old video games. Even more crooked is that you may sometimes stumble across some weird fake-romhack-glitchy stages that are also really, really hard. These are homages to…something I guess. I feel like for every reference to an old game that I picked up on, there were 20 that flew over my head. This is a gamer’s game.
At the same time, I feel like Super Meat Boy has discovered some kind of sacred recipe for how not to discourage a player for dying several times over in a single level, let alone 9000 times. When you die, you respawn instantly at the start of a level with no load time, and the music never loops afterwards. (And as far as video game soundtracks go, this is a gem set. Tommy Tallarico, your Video Games Live show’s setlist just expanded.) Hence, the feeling of repetition never sinks in. Likewise, when you finish a level, a replay of ALL of your previous attempts play at once, and its hella satisfying to watch hundreds of Meat Boys try so hard, followed by the one that ultimately succeeds.
And it helps that the controls on this game are just great. You have full control of Meat Boy’s movements and trajectory of his jumps. When you die in Super Meat Boy, it will always be your fault and not the game’s. Likewise, when you finally succeed in some of the more difficult levels, it is because you suddenly became awesome. You actually get a sense of improvement as you play; that one vicious warp zone level a few worlds back suddenly becomes a breeze once you’ve improved your skill set on subsequent levels. And the game moves super fast too; Super Meat Boy scurries around the areas like he’s in a hurry to change his tampon. The average level length is about 15-60 seconds long, and a Meat Boy’s life span is considerably shorter. Even if all you’re doing is tripping into a razor blade over and over, I rarely found myself bored and frustrated. Rather, I was entranced, constantly trying to get to the next level or overcome the next impossible challenge.
There are all kinds of hidden bandages hidden throughout the world (and they get progressively more and more difficult to dig up.) Collecting a whole hubby-dubby bunch lets you unlock a series of famous, semi-famous and not-quite famous characters from assorted independent games. Each one has their own unique ability; the Boy from I Want To Be The Guy can double jump, Tim from Braid can rewind his movements a tad and so forth. I still used Meat Boy the most for his rapid speed, but I’ve found a handful of moments where many of these hidden characters proved to be beneficial.
If the game has any flaws…well I don’t think I would call them flaws. I heard something of a technical gaffe exists with some of the completion percentages. I managed to unlock the final hidden character despite having 98 bandages instead of the required 100. And I got the “finish every level” achievement despite having some 8 stages to go. I am so not complaining about that. Otherwise, my issues with Super Meat Boy have nothing to do with the game itself. Like how playing Super Meat Boy further withered down the spring in the A button on my controller. Or how I suddenly found myself grinding up on walls and wondering why the wall jump wasn’t executing in Kirby’s Epic Yarn.
And I would like to brag about this; I did finish every level (presented so far, as of this writing) and with it, all achievements and that Meat Boy avatar pet. I feel like my street cred as a video game-playing guy has gone through the roof as a result.
So I found myself loving this game, and am blessed that there is a lot to love. There are some 300-odd levels, and the promise of many more free downloadable levels to come. (One set of 20 downloadable levels already exists, and it is a diabolical set indeed.) Because of this game, I found myself exploring other “masocore” games in I Want To Be The Guy and Mighty Jill-Off. Those games are…well they are crooked evil in their own way. But I feel like Super Meat Boy is evil in the right way; it has mastered the tricks in getting away with being extremely difficult. In turn, I guess you can call it the Abbey Road of independent Flash based masocore super evil platformers.