If you don't lose your head over the difficulty, Super Meat Boy is an awesome homage to retro 2D platformers.
Super Meat Boy is the sequel to an online Flash game called Meat Boy. Meat Boy was released on cult gaming and humour website Newgrounds three and a half years ago. Newgrounds is a website where many animated videos and flash games are posted. Meat Boy was a huge success on there and had over 8 million hits on all internet media. It was then decided that the success of Meat Boy could possibly be found on console gaming, so for the next two years hard negotiating, contracts and production were made to release Super Meat Boy. Team Meat contact all three major console gaming companies. Sony were not interested, and Microsoft showed a little interest. The most interest came from Nintendo. Microsoft made a large surge in the end for interest in the game, and a nice contract was made for the release on the Xbox 360 Arcade. Due to contractual obligations, it was to be released on the Xbox 360 first and lots of blood, sweat and tears went into the game, as well as a lack of sleeping hours to get it released on time. So much effort went into the game in the end that the game ended up being too big for Nintendo's WiiWare, so they had to pull out, as Nintendo were not interested in a physical release for the game. So it ended up out of the three consoles, to be Xbox exclusive, and has since met major critical and commercial acclaim. I'm sure Sony regret their lack of interest now.
Super Meat Boy follows a very simple story line. You play as Meat Boy, a red square with pixels for eyes and a very animate mouth, and small limbs. His girlfriend, Bandage Girl has been kidnapped by the main antagonist, Dr. Fetus. It's such a simple storyline and the creators are emphatic on this, due to it being a strong homage of the simple storylines in the late eighties video gaming, particularly Super Mario. There's no extended plot really, you as Meat Boy follow Dr. Fetus through over 300 levels to try and save the girlfriend, Bandage Girl. No further plot is needed either.
The game itself as mentioned earlier is a 2D platform game. To finish one of the 300+ levels, you start off at the far left of the level and have to make it to the end of the level, where Bandage Girl is waiting. You control Meat Boy and run and jump your way through obstacles to reach her, only for Dr. Fetus to take Bandage Girl to the next level. The game is split into 20 levels for the most part, "chapters" as they call them, where at the end you'll have a Boss level where you have to once again either find Bandage Girl at the end of the level, or more often than not, run away from the boss themselves. Minor story continuation is usually shown between each "chapter" you visit.
Meat Boy himself is a square piece of meat. It sounds quite disgusting, and it is in theory, but the fact that the game is in 2D means nothing is really shown, the game is for the most part probably a 12+; the game itself shows very little that's graphic or unsuitable for children but there are small references here and there that aren't suitable. For instance Dr. Fetus quite often likes to stick his middle fingers up at the screen or Meat Boy, but those subtle things aside it would probably class as suitable for children in honesty. Due to the fact that Meat Boy is a piece of meat, whenever he runs, small trails of blood follow him everywhere he goes, once again it sounds quite horrible but it's all pixelated and is fine once you get over the initial observation. Whenever he runs or moves, small squishy sounds follow him, to emphasise the piece of meat that he is as well. This paragraph is here to tell you that yes, these things are present and if it offends you not to show your children if you have any, that's understandable, but for the most part it's absolutely fine for children, if they don't understand these things.
To control Meat Boy, you use the D-pad like always, and that lets you move Meat Boy left or right on the screen. To jump, you press the "A" button, and you can also jump off walls, multiple times, so you can jump from wall to wall to wall if you're in a short space. You can also run by holding the "X" button while you move. To jump across large spaces you have to hold the "A" button while jumping. It's very simple really.
But what makes the controls so amazing is how tight everything comes together. Have you ever played "Super Mario" back in the day, and the controls were hard to get your head around when first playing? There's none of that while playing Super Meat Boy. The controls are incredibly tight; when you stop moving, Meat Boy stops moving. If you time everything correctly, you'll jump, skid, run and drag against the wall (hold the D-pad direction against the wall to drag) as you are supposed to. The controls in essence, are what bring everything in Super Meat Boy together.
Because the controls are so tight, that usually means everything you do on Meat Boy is to your touch. There's no blaming the game for bugs or the controls being poor. It's your fault. And that's quite frustrating in some ways. Why? Because this game is hard. It's very hard. It's really really hard! Team Meat worked very hard on making this game fun to play, but also challenging. There are over 300 levels in this game, but completing the first 40 is in some ways a challenge. But this game is a game of trial and error, you're supposed to die, and die a lot, to be able to beat the level. Dying is only half the fun, because once you beat a level in Meat Boy, especially later on, it's some achievement. You have unlimited lives, and the levels are short, and this equation makes for a fun yet frustrating game. You have to time things to an absolute tee (as I said, if you don't, it's your fault) to beat levels, especially later on
The levels for the most part take around half a minute to complete, but to beat each level it usually can take a lot longer. But don't let this put you off, as I said, it's difficult but the fact that you can try again and again instantly means you get a second go straight away. It's the trial and error part of Super Meat Boy that makes it fun. If you were to flawlessly play Super Meat Boy it would be boring, trust me. Also, you don't have to play the levels in order. They are however, as mentioned earlier, split into "chapters", and to unlock the next "chapter" you'll have to beat the boss in the previous one, and to unlock the boss of that chapter you have to beat a certain amount of levels. But if you get stuck and frustrated on a certain level, you can skip it, temporarily anyway, and come back to it another time.
There's other ways to play Super Meat Boy. If you complete each level exceptionally quickly, you get an A+ stamping on the level. Doing this means you also unlock the "Dark World" version of the level. The "Dark World" version of the level is an even harder variation of the original level, meaning the difficulty of the level is increased even further! The "Dark World" levels are usually in design the same as the original level, but certain elements are usually added to increase the difficulty; either more obstacles are put in place to avoid, or certain platforms are shorter or not there at all, making the level harder to cross.
There are other characters to play as in Super Meat Boy, but all require unlocking. Most characters are unlocked by collecting plasters. Plasters are found on certain levels, usually in a difficult-to-reach section of the level, and the idea is to collect this plaster on the level and complete the level at the same time. Collecting a certain amount of plasters unlocks characters individually. All the characters bring something to the table; Gish plays almost identically to Meat Boy although he's slower, but the main thing he can do well is stick to walls with exceptional grip, making him perfect for the levels in the game that are hard in this department. Jill has horns on her head and can stick to ceilings, while Tim can't run at all but can turn back time three seconds, in case you do a mistake or fail to get a bandage or a key in the level.
Not all characters are unlocked by collecting plasters. Some are unlocked by finding warp zones on selected levels. Warp zones are great; they're usually the same game but even more retro than the style the game is in. They're usually thee levels of a much more pixelated version of the game, usually harder to complete and worse yet, you only get three lives rather than the unlimited lives you get in the main games. Beating certain warp zones unlock characters, and some even pit you as the character you're about to unlock, rather than Meat Boy.
The game's soundtrack is great. It's not exceptional in terms of its quality, but it's not supposed to be, the music is there simply to support the game, not to overshadow it. The music is often atmospheric to the level's that are being played, and there's also a lot of retro style music, especially for the warp zones. The sounds are also great, as mentioned, the squelches that are heard when Meat Boy runs or dies are perfect, and the guy who does the emphatic shouting of certain events (like "Super Meat Boy!" and "Warp Zone", similar to the Street Fighter guy) are great too.
Overall Super Meat Boy is well worth every penny if you like retro games, it does the old 8-bit and 16-bit games of old complete justice. If you don't lose your head over the difficulty, it's well worth your time. I'd recommend you try the demo out, which is quite fleshy in itself and if you like that, get the full game. Just remember that the game is made for you to fail before you succeed, which is the way games were made in the eighties anyway. So if you don't lose your head over the difficulty, Super Meat Boy is an awesome homage to retro 2D platformers and well worth a punt if you like Xbox Live Arcade games.
Rating: ****1/4 stars