Super Meat Boy is a 2D platformer and rage game. It’s widely considered one of the most popular and difficult indie games in existence. Released in 2010, Super Meat Boy is the sequel to the 2008 Flash game Meat Boy, created by Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes. Super Meat Boy has become famous due to its pick-up-and-play nature and teeth grinding difficulty. My only experience with Super Meat Boy was with the Switch port, where I got about half way through the game and quit to play other things. So how will Super Meat Boy fair as I conquer all of it’s main challenges? I certainly saved it for last for a reason.
You are Meat Boy. The evil Doctor Fetus has captured your girlfriend Bandage Girl (Editor’s Note: Not to be confused with Bondage Girl), so it’s your goal to travel through the game’s many worlds to save Bandage Girl and put a stop to Doctor Fetus’s evil schemes. Super Meat Boy isn’t a game you play for its plot. It wastes no time with its simple plot so that it can get you straight into the gameplay. Meat Boy prides itself in being “NES Hard”, so it’s no surprise it has a setup that feels like it’s torn straight out of one of Shigeru Miyamoto’s fever dreams.
Super Meat Boy’s controls can take some getting used to. On the ground, control is a dream, snappy and responsive while also fluid and dependable, however, in the air you accelerate so fast that it becomes hard to control. There were many times I lost control of myself in the air, or had a hard time figuring out how I was supposed to move to pass the obstacles in my way. I never found control in Super Meat Boy poor though, as it plays consistently, and that consistency makes it both rewarding and fun.
Meat Boy can only take one hit before dying. Thankfully, the game’s levels average at ten to twenty seconds, as such, deaths take no time to retread. Even the most die-hard of players will eventually give in when you have to spend five minutes retracing your steps, however, in Meat Boy, you instead spend about five seconds doing it. This short level length is one of Meat Boy’s biggest advantages over other similar games.
Super Meat Boy’s levels will knock you down until you can master the game’s controls, and master the levels. Meat Boy, usually, separates “challenge” and “difficulty. Challenge in games should be a rewarding section that takes skill and mastery of mechanics to conquer, whereas difficulty is arbitrarily making sections harder to extend play-time. Meat Boy does a great job at separating the two, while keeping gameplay rewarding, for the most part.
Meat Boy isn’t afraid to throw its best obstacles in your path; from saw-blades to lasers, you have to keep moving to survive. Usually, these obstacles are well placed and, for a skilled player, easy to avoid. In later parts of the game though, levels got too long and obstacles too close together for my liking. Meat Boy thrives with open areas and large jumps, inversely so in cramped areas where Meat Boy is especially hard to control, which is a definite downside in the last few chapters.
There was one specific level very late in the game I would like to call attention to. One obstacle is a gravity altering sphere with a field that can push you around. The big issue is that these are often unpredictable and finicky when the player is trying to manipulate them. Whenever it would appear in levels, I’d groan. In one level you can’t touch the floor and must balance using two fields, all while dodging missiles and waiting for locks to open. That level was honestly the least fun I had with Super Meat Boy. It’s a shining example of terrible level-design, however, it still couldn’t kill the joy I had for most of the experience.
After achieving the A+ rank in a stage, you unlock the Dark World variant of it, these are harder challenges that can feature their own secrets and bandages to collect. They often vary a bit in both visuals and design from the original level, while still clearly remaining inspired by the level. There are a few Dark World levels that felt like “Stage but dozens of saws”, however, with the amount of regular stages Meat Boy has, I can’t really fault the developers on this too much.
One secret you can find in stages are the warp zones which usually take you to separate levels with drastically different art-styles from the main campaign, and some even do something else particularly special as well. Warp zone “stages” are usually a group of three stages themed around a console you must complete on a set number of lives. There are warp zones based around the Game Boy, and even some based around the SNES. Sometimes glitch portals can appear, which take you to the games “glitch levels” as well, though I only ever found one of them. That being said, there are dozens to find and beat. With all of these stage types, Super Meat Boy’s stage-count easily lands in the hundreds.
Super Meat Boy also has a boss level at the end of every chapter. These vary in style drastically, some are fights, some are endurance tests, and others are just longer stages. These are my least favorite things to do in the game, not only are they way more convoluted than they need to be, but they’re also too long. As I said earlier, how short the levels are is an advantage for this game, and the boss levels go against that. If you die in a boss level, you can spend anywhere from twenty to fifty seconds reclaiming your progress, which doesn’t sound bad, but with how long the game’s other levels are and how hard the game is in general, that’s a lot of time. With the type of design Super Meat Boy goes for, this isn’t a good thing.
There is one particular boss I want to call out as the worst offender, Little Horn, who is the boss of chapter four, Hell. You fight this demon in a small arena on a single platform with two raised sections. He can slam his fists onto the ground, slam his head down, and drop fire from the ceiling. The boss always follows one pattern, you simply have to memorize and dodge. The fire always drops at the same time, yet it’s placement is randomized. I had multiple runs of this boss end because it was impossible to dodge the fire. The head attack is hard to dodge, but not an issue when you get used to it. I spent two hours here, time I would call nothing but frustration.
Much like my review of Runner 3 you’ve probably noticed my cheeky word-play with the characters you play as. Super Meat Boy has many unlockable characters from many different games: CommanderVideo from Bit.Trip, Hominid from Alien Hominid, and even The Kid from I Wanna Be The Guy. There are a few characters unlockable in the PC version that aren’t in the console ports like Steve from Minecraft and Captain Viridian from VVVVVV, which I also reviewed, though that’s just two of the bigger ones unavailable in the console ports.
Characters can be unlocked with special inputs, character warp zones, or collecting a certain number of bandages in the game’s various levels. Character warp zones are levels where you play as the character you are trying to unlock, these require you to go through specific challenges designed for their skill-sets. Most characters play vastly different, such as Commander Video having an air-stall, and The Kid having a double jump. During these levels it can be unclear what that ability is though. The biggest example I can think of is Jill from Mighty Jill Off. Her ability is a sort of double jump that slows your momentum but doesn’t gain any height. You have to spam the jump button to use it, and I was stuck in her zone for a good while before figuring that out by pure chance. This will be a definite issue for some, and this issue also overlaps into some of the main levels, but it’s not a huge black mark on the game in my opinion.
Super Meat Boy’s presentation is great. There are beautifully animated 2D cut-scenes, they range in length, but appear before and after beating a boss, as well as when you enter a new chapter. These cut-scenes are filled with slap-stick humor that often made me snicker and giggle. Visually, Super Meat Boy has a style that screams “Meat Boy”, I’d call it similar to the depths of Metroid or blocky aesthetic of Minecraft. Meat Boy’s sound-design is something I have a hard time commenting on, music always felt like a perfect balance of calm and exciting. It was something to calm your nerves while at the same time pumping you up for more. Sound effects in Super Meat Boy never got on my nerves, but I had a hard time noticing them while I was in the moment.
Overall Super Meat Boy has a lot of content packed into this difficult adventure. It’s easy to blaze through the light world, but the better you are, the more content you unlock. I’ve seen people on the fence about getting Meat Boy for various reasons. If you’re not a fan of challenge I would stay far, far away from it. However, if you’re up for the heat, you’ll love the spice of this meat (Editor’s Note: Oh, fucking hell, why? Why did you make me read that?). There are a lot of ups and downs to this game, but I never wanted to give up or go back; I give Super Meat Boy the seal by a landslide.
A Switch review copy was provided by the developer
supiroguy has awarded Super Meat BoyThe Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval