Failure is an unavoidable fact of life. Its devilish claws knock you down when you least expect it, but it's how you react to disappointment that's important. Super Meat Boy is the digital embodiment of the idea that pleasure can spring from pain, but although death is pervasive in this 2D platformer, it does not define the experience. There is an incredible sense of satisfaction when you clear a particularly nasty level that makes the setbacks you endured to reach that lofty goal well worth it. It's the feeling you get when you miraculously squeeze through two slicing blades unscathed or leap in the air to snatch a dangling bandage that seemed impossible to reach only moments earlier that continually pushes you forward to tackle the next challenge. Super Meat Boy is an extraordinary game that makes you work for every inch you gain, which makes success taste so much sweeter when you finally get there.
Everything in Super Meat Boy begins with the controls. Within seconds of diving into the first few levels of this daunting adventure, it's clear that your onscreen movement is amazingly responsive. The titular hero jumps with such precision that you're always in complete command of your actions. Wall jumping is particularly impressive. The extreme nimbleness of your character makes it a cinch to quickly leap straight up one wall, bounce smoothly between two adjacent ones, and even contort your trajectory in midair to avoid an obstacle while you make your ascent. Super Meat Boy can sprint with the best of them, and though it might seem crazy to hurl yourself at breakneck speeds through these deadly traps, it's not a problem here. Because he responds to your every command immediately, you can tear through levels as fast as Meat can run without worrying about the controls slowing you down. Just be warned: Using the keyboard will throw a hurdle in your path to victory. A controller is the preferred option here because the keyboard does not offer the exactness needed to overcome these daunting obstacles.
And you need ultraprecise controls to get through the deadly dangers that await you. Super Meat Boy is one of the most difficult games around, but it starts out innocently enough. You learn your basic moves in punishment-free levels to get accustomed to how your movement feels before the real trouble begins. The difficulty curve is incredibly smooth, giving you a taste of upcoming dangers early on but making sure you can pass these stages without much trouble. The execution is brilliant because it introduces you to everything you need to know while giving you the confidence to overcome any obstacle that stands in your path. If Super Meat Boy started out harder, or if the difficulty spiked rapidly, it would serve as a slap in the face to all but the most determined players. But because the game holds your hand early on, you build up the skills you need to tackle anything the tricky later levels throw at you. And for those who want to get smacked down to reality from the get go, there are optional bandages to collect, warp zones to enter, and dark world twists to attempt if you don't want to follow the easy learning curve the standard levels follow.
The level design in Super Meat Boy is absolutely stunning. The usual tricks you would expect in a 2D platformer are here--such as spinning saws, lava pits, and shooting blades--but they are positioned in such intelligent ways that the game is extremely challenging without ever feeling cheap. There is a delicate balance on display that ensures you're pushed to the limits of your skill without becoming frustrated. One of the most impressive aspects of Super Meat Boy is how you learn and adapt while you play. The first time you enter a level, you may be presented with a jump that seems impossible. You may try and fail a few times, maybe even a few dozen times, without any idea what you're supposed to do. But once you figure out the timing to succeed, you can pull off even the toughest moves with a good degree of consistency. Being able to conquer levels that previously seemed impossible is an exhilarating feeling, and the ease with which you become proficient is a testament to how precise the controls are and how meticulously designed the levels are.
Death is commonplace in Super Meat Boy. When you reach the harder levels, you may end up dying a dozen times before you pass the first pit, and more than a hundred before you reach the end. With failure such an expected occurrence, you might think this game is frustrating. It rarely is. Although you will inevitably be frustrated at times, Super Meat Boy goes a long way toward lessening your irritation. The precise controls and imaginative level design go a long way toward alleviating any throw-your-controller reactions, but the reason frustration is avoided goes even deeper than that. The upbeat soundtrack does a great job of keeping your energy at a high level without ever distracting you from the carnage that lies ahead. Each song also changes slightly, so even if you're stuck at a particularly wicked stage for an hour or more, the catchy riff never gets repetitive. The lack of extreme punishment also helps a lot. Although you die if any obstacle hits you, you do have infinite lives. Also, because levels usually last less than 30 seconds, even though you have to start from the beginning each time, you never have to retrace much ground. Finally, the extreme focus needed to pass these difficult stages ensures that you're zeroed in on completing your task rather than beating yourself up for falling short. This is an amazingly well designed game that avoids the frustration of failure by insulating you from your own aggravation.