Super Meat Boy: The Return of Nintendo Hard.
I consider myself to be pretty good at video games. More often than not I’ll go for the hardest difficulty setting as otherwise the game will just feel too easy and beating the challenges the game puts before me just won’t be as satisfying. Still I lived through a time where making a game extraordinarily difficult was one way to make the game last longer, like the insane level of difficulty in the game Battletoads. I spent years playing that game and I believe I only ever made it to level 4 a couple times and the experiencing was so scarring that I’ve never been back to defeat my old foe. Still when I came head to head with Super Meat Boy I felt like I had been sent back 15 years to my youth, where the games were simple and incredibly hard.
Well this looks easy enough…
You play as Meat Boy a little red block who’s girlfriend, Bandage Girl, is taken away by the evil Dr. Fetus. At its heart the game is a good old fashioned platformer challenging you to get from the starting area of the level to the other end where Bandage Girl is. Of course every time you reach her Dr. Fetus appears and takes her away again, usually giving her a firm beating right in front of you before disappearing again. There are of course numerous obstacles that are in your way when you’re trying to navigate the levels and a good chunk of them will turn Meat Boy into a lovely explosion of gibs, sending you right back to the start of the level.
Super Meat Boy differs from the old school traditional platformers in several ways, most of which are done in order to keep the game play fast paced and incredibly intense. For starters each level is quite short, with many of the early levels over in under 6 seconds. Towards the end they do get quite a bit longer but even then none of them are longer than a minute (the non-boss levels anyway). There are no lives in this game either (save for the special Warp Zone levels) and the re-spawn time is incredibly quick, so much so that sometimes when you die you’ll be able to see your previous Meat Boy’s gibs still exploding as you respawn. This is not to say the game encourages you to just bash your head randomly against the keyboard until you finish the level, far from it. There are many additional elements to the game that encourage precise, carefully timed movements and finding the most optimal path to the end goal.
Oh what the hell!?!?!
Each level has a set time there for you to beat and doing so will earn you a “Grade A” mark for that level. It will also let you switch to the Dark Side of that level which is usually an incredibly more sadistic version of the same place, requiring even more precise timing in order to get through to the end. Additionally most levels have a bandage in them which can be used to purchase additional characters to use in place of Meat Boy. The bandages are usually placed so out of the way that you really have to go out of your way to get them and if you’re vying for Grade A status you’re usually going to miss them (as I did, I think I have 4). I’ve heard unlocking the additional characters can make the game quite a bit easier than the insanity that I experienced by doing the entire game with just Meat Boy.
Woah, single rainbow all the way.
When I first started out playing Super Meat Boy I relished the challenge that it presented to me. As a long time gamer I pride myself on being able to conquer most modern games without having to break too much of a sweat. As many gamers will agree the past decade has seen many games go the route of not being particularly hard in order to drive their adoption rates and thus games with difficulty that decades ago wouldn’t have been out of place are now infamous for their difficulty. The trick is not making a game difficult for difficult’s sake, more it is to teach the player to overcome what they once thought was impossible and rewarding them as they learn.
Super Meat Boy does this quite consistently, presenting you with challenges that on the surface look nigh on impossible until you start having a crack at them. The last 5 levels are brilliant examples of this having stumped me to the point of staring blankly at the screen for minutes on end trying to figure out just how the heck I was going to beat the puzzle laid out before me. The learning curve is pretty smooth at the start but quickly ramps up into insane territory towards the end. I think this is best shown by my played time which sat at a 8 hours as I hit the last zone and 12 hours after finishing the game¹.
My Twitter followers will probably perk up at this point and say “Dave, wait a sec, didn’t you say you used a trainer to finish this game”. Yes I most assuredly did thanks to the last level requiring a key sequence that I just couldn’t master after 2 hours of trying to. The game tells you every time that you start it up that the keyboard is an inferior input device for Super Meat Boy but I had gone this far without using one and couldn’t be bothered setting up my PS3 controller with it. So I did what any programmer out there would do, I coded up a program in AutoIt to press the right keys with the right timing for me:
Sweet, sweet AutoIt.
If you look at that script you’ll get a sense for just how precise timing you need in order to execute the right moves in order to complete some of the levels. This script only gets you past the first major obstacle on the last level but that was more than enough as I was able to complete every other part of the level after an hour or so. It doesn’t work perfectly every time either with the sleep timer usually being off by a couple milliseconds either way, leaving Meat Boy standing there doing nothing or foolishly leaping to his death.
This sums up how I felt after finishing it.
Super Meat Boy sucked me in with its nostalgic feel and hat tips to classic gaming only to turn up the nostalgia even further by adding in punishing levels of difficulty. Immediately after finishing it I swore that I’d never go back to it, the sheer insanity of difficulty ruining the prospects of ever going back. However I hadn’t taken any screenshots of my adventure so I had to play for a bit to get some pictures for this review. 2 hours later I emerged after unlocking the Bit Trip Runner and playing through a couple of the warp zones I hadn’t seen. Truly Super Meat Boy had me experiencing beaten wife syndrome on a whole new level, I just couldn’t stay away from it no matter how much pain it put me through. Still this game is definitely not for everyone but at $20 on steam (and can be had at sale for $5) it’s hard to go wrong with Super Meat Boy, especially if you’re keen to revisit the world of games as it was almost 2 decades ago.
Super Meat Boy is available right now on Xbox360 and PC right now for $20. Game was played on the PC using a keyboard for the entire game, with a grand total of 14 hours played.
¹I do not care if it’s the real end or not. I got the achievement that said “The End” that’s it, it’s done! *puts fingers in ears* LA LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!!!!!