I hate Super Meat Boy. No, seriously--I'm not trying to be all cute here and feign outrage at how hard it is. I hate this game. Sometimes. But I guess I also love it (not easy to admit). It's the times when those two feelings collide in a Venn diagram of pain that you're tapping straight into the bloody beating heart of this brutally hard, ultra-fast-paced throwback of a platformer. It's one of the toughest games I've ever played, but just try to stop yourself from getting swept up in how ridiculous and extreme it all is.
Super Meat Boy is some two or three hundred levels of total run-and-jump mayhem, a member of the "masocore" genre that includes such indie luminaries as N+ and I Wanna Be the Guy. If you've suffered through one of those games you know exactly how this game plays as well. If not, it's a platformer where your character is just a few pixels tall (and is in this case an animated hunk of meat), and you have an incredible degree of control over how you move that character around. You can run extremely fast, stop on a dime, reverse direction on your jumps in mid-air, skid up and down walls, and more, and this much control lets you pull off all kinds of insane-looking moves. You'll need those moves, because the levels are... unpleasant.
Those levels only last anywhere from three to, say, 30 seconds. Or at least, they would only take that long if they were played perfectly by a robot. As a fallible human being you're likely to spend anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours trying to work your way through some of the utterly absurd, you-have-to-be-kidding level designs that populate SMB's later worlds. You will want to break a controller, repeatedly, but the feeling of accomplishment after every level is equally intense. And the way the game flows is one of its greatest strengths. You respawn instantly when you die, so there's no punishment for death other than making you try again, and the absolutely fantastic music in each world never stops when you change levels, giving the progression from level to level a great sense of momentum.
Super Meat Boy has such a reverence for both modern independent game development and the halcyon era of 8- and 16-bit classics. From the former, the developers called in favors from a bunch of their indie friends and included a huge number of playable characters like Commander Video (Bit.Trip), Tim (Braid), the Alien Hominid, and the kid from I Wanna Be The Guy. There must be close to 20 playable characters in here, and they all have their own special powers that let them do things like stick to walls, float in mid-air, double jump, or rewind time (guess who does that one). I only got a handful of those guys, though, because the requirements to get them are even more ludicrous than the rigors of the main game. But I'll circle back around and unlock them soon.
I totally will! Seriously! Just give me a few more tries.
Anyway, the nostalgia is as thick as the indie cred here, with really specific references to games like Mega Man II, the first Castlevania, and Ninja Gaiden (the NES one, not the arcade one). That stuff comes out of left field, but you have to appreciate it if you have any fond memories of playing video games in the late '80s. The nostalgic bits are woven into the game's own bizarre, sadistic sense of humor that has Meat Boy chasing the evil Dr. Fetus--a fetus inside a robot suit wearing a tailored suit--to recover his girlfriend Bandage Girl. The original cutscenes are riotous too. There's talking poop. There's nuclear war. There's a lot of blood. It's a weird, weird game.
It's also a surprisingly long game. You've got a hundred-some-odd regular levels, and finishing each of those levels under a par time will unlock a "dark world" version of the level that is, somehow, even harder. You can collect bandages to unlock more characters, but most of those might as well be impossible to get. At 20 bandages, you unlock "Teh Internets," a portal through which the game's developer will be pushing out free DLC levels on a regular basis. In fact, they've already posted an entire set of 20 new levels before the game is even out. All this is to say nothing of the numerous, insanely hard warp zones and kill screens hidden all over the game. Every time I thought I had seen everything this game has to offer, it genuinely surprised me with some other crazy new type of level or challenge. On top of all that, the developer has lowered the first-month asking price to $10, which makes this seem like a pretty ridiculous value.
Super Meat Boy knows exactly what it wants to do, which is to baffle, entertain, and frustrate you, to fill you with joy and rage in equal measure. And by God it does all those things without apology. This game is most certainly not for everyone--if you can't handle extremely hard games, you're better off marveling at this spectacle from a distance--but those who can stomach the difficult and appreciate the bizarre will take every ounce of punishment Super Meat Boy dishes out and beg for more.