Super Meat Boy Review
To coincide with the release of Super Meat Boy on the Wii U, I thought I’d write a review of the game.
This is for the Xbox 360 version. Some years ago Kotaku used a review structure I quite liked, which divided the points into good, bad and neutral. I do like their simplified ‘Should I play this game’ system now, but I thought I’d give this way a try.
Super Meat Boy (SMB) is a 2D platformer in which you control a boy made of meat (and other characters later) trying to save Bandage Girl from the evil Dr Fetus. It’s a very challenging and ‘pure’ experience, with its developers deliberately harking back to the hardcore roots of 2D gaming.
+ Gameplay and controls: SMB boasts an extremely tight and fair control system, with Meat Boy’s running, jumping and wall-jumping all feeling great. Fans of old-school 2D platformers will pick up the scheme intuitively, (hold X or a trigger to run, A to jump), and newcomers will pick up the basics in no time. The level design is also simple to the extreme: get the end and touch Bandage Girl to complete the level. This allows for the game to focus on the its core asset – the platforming.
+ Have another go: A brilliant feature of SMB is the instant-restart of the level if you die, and giving the player infinite lives. This game is about mastering your platforming ability; hampering the player with lives isn’t necessary and the game recognises this. Another great touch – once you beat a level, the game gives you one layered replay of every single failed attempt along with your successful one, which most of the time consists of dozens of Meat Boys on the screen at once. It’s a really satisfying way of showing you how many times you failed before you beat the stage.
+ Intro levels: SMB’s first few levels are a great example of how a game should introduce you to its mechanics. The first five are designed in such a way that they force the player to perform the basic things: wall-jumps, long jumps and sprinting, giving the player a non-intrusive but effective introduction to how the game plays.
+Charm: The characters of SMB are adorable, showing that a higher polygon count doesn’t necessarily equate to stronger character designs.
+ Music: It’s a real shame that the Wii U release won’t be coming with the original’s music, due to the composer refusing to license it to Team Meat. The original’s score is excellent, complimenting the games fast pace and challenge.
+Length: SMB is a generous game. It has seven main chapters, each with their own equivalent ‘Dark World’ (same levels but remixed to make them harder), and several brilliant hidden ‘warp zones’, each of which are themed to various retro consoles and games. There are over twenty playable characters, each with their own unique perks, although the difficulty in unlocking some of them is borderline masochistic.
Neither Good nor Bad
Challenge: SMB has become notorious for its level of challenge, and indeed the difficulty of the game is where it’s appeal lies for most players, myself included. However it will equally serve as a turn-off for more casual players, with the levels becoming tricky by today’s standards very quickly. There is no respite for the player – no hub-world or lay about area for the player to mess around and relax, which I personally don’t think the game needs, but could understand this turning off some players.
Cutesy: Despite the game actually having a quite macabre theme, it could also be argued that the game’s adorable cartoon aesthetic may implore some parents to pick this game up for their young children. Again, personally I think it’s good for kids to play challenging games, but some children may not enjoy the game due to the challenge, and parents’ money might be better spent elsewhere.
Loading times: Although the brilliant instant-restart upon death works really well, if you ever change levels or worlds you’re greeted with a disappointing amount of loading screen. I can only speak for the 360 version here – it may be improved upon in the Wii U version.
Boss levels: At the end of each world, you face a boss, who tends to chase you through a level while you navigate various obstacles and attacks from said boss. These are fine, but the trial-and-error required ensures you will almost certainly die several times while you learn the bosses’ moves. It’s a touch disappointing as the other levels can be approached and beaten by studying the landscape before you delve in, and as a result the bosses feel a little cheaper than the rest of the game.
I would recommend Super Meat Boy to anyone who has ever enjoyed a 2D platformer, and anyone who is looking for a challenge in today’s world of ever-increasing handholding.