paj89's Super Meat Boy (Xbox 360 Games Store) review

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The beauty is when all those botched jumps pay off...

 Dr Fetus strikes again
Super Meat Boy pays homage to old-skool gaming in many ways, but unlike many tribute acts, it isn’t a one-trick-pony that tries to dig in with the hooks of nostalgia. The steady stream of gaming references gives this hardcore platform game bags of charm, yet it plays and feels like a modern and full-featured product. The titular hero – a cube of meat that tracks blood everywhere he treads – is in love with Bandage Girl. Unfortunately, the dastardly Dr Fetus hates Meat Boy and kidnaps her. This marks the beginning of Meat Boy’s perilous quest to rescue his love and defeat the unborn baddie.

Five worlds of twenty levels (plus an epic boss fight) each require you to avoid getting cut up into juicy meat chunks and reach Bandage Girl (before she is snatched away by the doctor). You’ll soon find your platform skills being pushed to the limit as you’re forced to make increasingly difficult wall jumps, evade homing missiles, and outrun rapidly rising lava.

There are a couple of things that ensure an anticipated challenge doesn’t boil over into frustration. Controlling Meat Boy is a little tricky at first due to his break-neck running speed and floaty jumps, but you’ll soon be able to turn the extremely sensitive controls to your advantage and make death-defying acrobatics look like child’s play. But on those occasions where things go a little wrong (and believe me there will be plenty), the game is as quick as its hero in re-spawning you for the next attempt. You could die twenty times before completing a level and only take two minutes.

It’s a game that is quite keen to remind you of your numerous failures – blood stains from previous attempts remain and you can view replays which show them all happening at once – but it isn’t to goad. The beauty of Super Meat Boy is when all those botched jumps pay off and you finally make it, instilling a sense of achievement that few games manage. The progressive fashion in which your skills develop is surprising – you’ll often deem a stage to look impossible only to be on the cusp of mastering it five minutes later – but be warned that some of the late-game sections and most of the optional ones are devilish and will require more than a little bit of practise.

As previously intimated, this is a game that draws heavily on the 8-bit era of video gaming for its look and feel. Retro-inspired art

 Challenge ramping up

styles are nothing new, but Super Meat Boy pulls it off well and looks like some sort of twisted, sped-up doppelganger of Super Mario Bros. To leave it there would be selling it short though, as there are some extremely cool monochrome and silhouette level designs that are far beyond the influence of blocky games from the 80s. It’s the chip-tune soundtrack (composed by Danny Baranowsky) that is arguably more remarkable, elevating the audiovisual package far above the curve. Dance, techno, and heavy metal are just a handful of styles masterfully conveyed.

Meat Boy will keep you playing for hours if you’re the gamer who thrives on challenge and achievement, but don’t think those hours are padded out watching buzz-saws getting bloody. There is a deceivingly large amount of content buried under the hood, starting with the Dark World. Beating a level under a par-time unlocks a darker, more challenging variation for you to attempt, effectively doubling the amount of levels off the bat. Gamers with a Live account can also use Teh Internets, a content delivery service that will offer free level packs in the future.

But by far the most exciting part of all these extras and add-ons are unlockable characters that have completely different properties and abilities to Meat Boy. It would spoil the fun to name names, but you’ll recognise quite a few faces if you’re down with the indie games scene. Some can be unlocked by collecting bandages that are placed in hard-to-reach areas, others by finding hidden warp zones and clearing them with a set number of lives.

Super Meat Boy is a bit of niche title, but if you’re the type of gamer who falls into that niche, it’s almost impossible not to recommend it. It has the complete package as a product – super-tight gameplay and bags of content – and all the retro style and charm you could ever want.


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