Saturday, January 22, 2011

In Defense: Super Meat Boy

In all honesty, I should've gotten around to this fuckin' review waaaaaaaaaay earlier than I have. Super Meat Boy came out as a downloadable game for the Xbox 360 in October, and it sure as hell came out with a bang. Not only did review sites rave about it, giving it insanely high scores, but it also came out for a discount during its first week on the e-market, meaning those that were interested enough to get it right when it came out were on the receiving end of a nice little bonus. That's not to say that SMB is only worth its weight in cash at a fact it's quite the opposite, and I almost feel like a thief for purchasing such a gilded creation at its lower discount price.

Team Meat, consisting of only two extremely devoted and hardcore members, have crafted a platforming player's wet dream out of their own blood, sweat and tears (that sounds gross but I'm LEAVING IT IN ANYWAY). Having originally released Meat Boy, the prequel, as a flash game on Newgrounds years ago, the duo decided to tackle a larger, more ambitious project and get Meat Boy out onto gaming systems around the world...and am I ever glad they decided to take this course of action.

Super Meat Boy, much like its Flash-based prequel, is a tough-as-nails sidescrolling platformer designed to conjure up the worst in people. You play as Meat Boy, a...well, a boy made of meat, completely devoid of skin, in an effort to rescue his girlfriend, Bandage Girl, from the evil clutches of Dr. Fetus. Sound retarded? That's because it is, but the game's not all about characters with deep feelings and background and all that crap. It's about driving you insane with frustration but constantly making you crawl back for more punishment, eventually converting you into a drooling masochist with a severe case of Tourette's syndrome. The levels are simple enough at first, and you control Meat Boy in an effort to reunite him with Bandage Girl who is somewhere to be found in each level...only to have her stolen away from Dr. Fetus every time, thus prompting you to go to the next level. These levels can be really quick and only take up 1 or 2 seconds of your sweet, sweet life, or they can be devious and take quite a bit longer (whether it be by the length of the level...or just the fact that it keeps killing you). Each level has a par time to beat, and if I recall correctly, there isn't a single one with a par time less than 60 seconds. This makes the game really fast-fire as you go from level to level...unless you die a shitload of times, you NOOBLET!

Five buzzsaws. If you think that's a lot to see at one time, just wait till later in the game.

THIS WILL HAPPEN AND YOU WILL BE KILLED!! There is NO escaping it! You will fall into pits and fire, get smeared all over whirling buzzsaws, vaporize due to a volley of homing missiles, and be the meaty prey of fast-flying demons straight from Hell itself! Deaths will rack up like fucking crazy...and the game keeps track of them, too! I think I'm at around six thousand or something like that, after completing everything the game has to offer. One wrong move, and Meat Boy explodes into a meaty little cloud with a *splut* sound, and the level restarts just as quickly as your unfortunate little death occurred. You have infinite lives, and therefore your continues are limited only by your skill, your desire to improve, and your own patience. This is a good thing too, because if this game had a life limit, then there'd be a huge problem and the universe might implode upon itself. This game is NOT for the faint of heart, and a lot of the later levels can be absolutely merciless...but every time you finish one, you feel so damn rewarded, and that's what drives you to keep playing the game. It's a vicious cycle...or an amazing one maybe, I have yet to decide :P However, despite the fact that the later levels are so tough, it's not like you're just thrown into them with no experience. As you progress, levels gradually get tougher and tougher, and the difficulty ramp feels JUST right, so by the time you encounter that level that's pretty much all buzzsaws, you'll be able to figure out how to tackle it. They did a damn good job with the pacing of the difficulty and it really impressed me!

The controls for the game are nice and fuckin' simple! You press A to jump, hold the Right Trigger or the X button to run faster than usual, and the control stick or pad to move Meat Boy. There are some damn reasons that Super Meat Boy has the same initials as Super Mario Bros., and the minimalist, responsive controls is one of them! Controlling Meat Boy is as tight as hell, and it all feels just takes some getting used to, but his movement is so responsive that it won't take you very long at all...and when you die, it'll be YOUR fault and not the game's! In addition to this simple formula of running and jumping, Meat Boy can wall jump to gain vertical distance and overcome obstacles. Give it a few levels, and you'll find yourself pulling off some sweet moves to get through them as fast as you can in an attempt to nail those par times.

Speaking of levels and par times and all that shit, let me tell you about why this game is such a fucking steal on the 360. Each world of Super Meat Boy has 20 levels and a boss level, with a couple of exceptions (world 6 only has 5 levels, while world 7 has 20 but no boss level). That's about 150 levels...but then you have to factor in that each world also has a Dark version of itself, giving you the same amount of levels as the Light version. You have to unlock each level's Dark World variant by getting an A+ rating on the Light world ones, which you do by completing the level under its par time. That's now 300 levels...but THEN you need to factor in that each of the first 5 worlds has 4 Warp Zones that EACH lead to a set of three levels! That's another fucking 60 levels! AND THEN...Team Meat is so awesome that they're releasing DLC for Super Meat Boy. Guess how much it costs! ABSOLUTELY FUCKING NOTHING! Every so often, a new set of 20 levels will show up in a special "world" called Teh Internets (the "Teh" is intentional), and they've already released two sets. Pretty fucking awesome...there's no shortage of video gaming here, and since each level may take you quite a while to get through with some perseverance, you have a lot of sweet, sweet platforming game time on your sweaty, bleeding hands. Additionally, after you finish a level, the game shows you all of your attempts at once, resulting in a cascade of Meat Boys booking it through the level, with only one arriving at the end. Pretty hilarious to watch, and definitely a cool feature to add in!

Lasers are as much your enemy as endless rivers of needles in The Hospital.

The Warp Zones themselves deserve their own part of this review. Almost every Warp is a completely retro-styled set of 3 levels. By retro-styled, I mean they have 8-bit style versions of each world's wicked music, and a more pixelated look to them. One warp zone looks straight out of an Atari game, while others have the look and colours of the classic Game Boy. It's a sweet little homage to the systems of the past, complete with fake start-up screens that resemble the title screens for classic games. Definitely made me chuckle a few times. Some of the other warps are a bit different, but I'll get to that later.

The bosses at the end of each world are pretty cool, but you never fight them directly, since you don't have any method of attacking. Instead, you need to figure out how to make each boss come to its (usually) disgusting end, and they all have their own strategies. Sometimes you just need to outrun a boss, while other times you'll need to make them hurt themselves in some way. They have character, and also function well as a final test to allow your continuation into the next world that will likely slaughter you over and over again.

There's more than this, too. Scattered throughout the levels, you'll find bandages...there are 20 per chapter in the first 5 chapters, adding up to 100 bandages total. When you reach certain amounts of bandages, you'll unlock secret content. At 20 bandages, you unlock access to Teh Internets...but for the most part, the other bandage thresholds will each unlock a shiny new character for you to use. You can also find secret characters in specific Warp Zones, and once you finish the levels in the warp zones you can use the secret characters whenever you like. These aren't just shitty reskins of Meat Boy, either...characters have their own ability, usually replacing the run button. For example, Gish (the main character from a game named after him) is a black ball of gunk, and when you hold the run button, rather than move faster, he'll stick to walls and ceilings. Pretty handy. Another one of my favourites is Spelunky, an explorer with a bomb in hand. When you press the jump button a second time in mid jump, the bomb will explode and send Spelunky careening horizontally through the air at breakneck speed, allowing you to really finish some levels as fast as hell. Perhaps my other most used character is The Kid, from I Wanna Be The Guy, who has a nice and simple double jump. In addition, to earn some of the characters, you need to play through warp zones the resemble the game they're from. The Kid's set of levels looks almost exactly the same as the game he's from...and is just as fucking frustrating, to boot! Different characters can make certain levels a lot easier, and figuring out the advantage of each character is a fun aspect to Meat Boy. It's also key if you want to dominate the online leaderboards, which keep track of your top times for each level and throws them up so everyone can see how awesome (or shitty) you are! This gives some mad replay value to the game, and every so often I find myself going back and trying to refine my times for each level by figuring out the best characters to use in each situation.

Just one of the six bosses you have to deal with.

The appearance of the game itself is relatively simple, but sharp as a knife. Super Meat Boy looks like an extremely high-resolution Flash game, in the vein of games such as Castle Crashers or Alien Hominid (by the way, there are characters from those two games in SMB as well!). The best part about this simplistic style is that, not only does the game look great for what it is, but it also runs without a single hitch...there isn't a single bit of chop or slowdown, which I believe is essential for such a reflex- and timing-based game. However, despite the simplistic look and art design to everything, levels are still very intricately crafted and devious. The backgrounds are all very well-made, and a lot of levels have their own specific graphics to them that really make them stand out and look great. Worlds include locales such as a forest, a run-down hospital (which has the best fucking music in the game), and a salt factory. There are more, but I can't give them ALL away! There are also small cutscenes to watch, whether they be introductions to chapters which all take a page out of some of the best classic video games, or the explanation for how Dr. Fetus gets away at the end of each chapter. The visual style in these cutscenes is friggin' hilarious, and I still crack up at some of them when I see them again, particularly the boss of the second world.

Each World has its own wicked music as well...these tracks were crafted by Daniel Baranowsky, who is awesome. Quite a few of his works are up on OverClocked Remix, and he also took part in a Super Metroid remixing project that I downloaded years ago called Relics of the Chozo. From his previous works, I could tell he was awesome at crafting video game musical compositions, and he's certainly no slouch when it comes to Super Meat Boy! Every single track is catchy (oh GOD WORLD 2 MUSIC), and also suits the world to which it belongs pretty damn well, making the game all the more fun to play through. You'll almost WANT to die repeatedly, over and over again, just to hear the music for that much longer. I love it, and you fucking should too! The sound effects are solid as well. Nothing too over the top...just sound effects that fit the situations perfectly, and never annoy the player or any crap like that.

With all of the features and positives that I've just outlined, how can you NOT get this game? Eh? ANSWER ME!!!


The Bottom Line

This game is amazing. You get so much sweet, sweet gaming for the price you pay. You really should be paying more...but you're not! So buy it!! Unless you don't like platformers or something like that. There are a few small glitches in the game, but a patch is already on the way to releasing on XBLA, and they aren't dire enough to tarnish this fucking masterpiece.

I seriously couldn't have asked for a better platformer when I downloaded Super Meat Boy. It's brand spanking new, but captures the intense platforming and need for precise timing that I remember from my favourite older generation games.


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