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Super Meat Boy (Xbox 360) artwork

Super Meat Boy (Xbox 360) review


"My thumb hates this game, the rest of me loves it!"


"I might be getting older, but I'm still pretty slick when I want to be!" I said to myself while wincing at the stabbing pain in my thumb -- the product of my first session with Super Meat Boy. Developed by the appropriately-named Team Meat, this is considered to be among the tougher platforms on the market. However, I had no trouble cruising through its first world. Hell, I even had made good headway in both the second world, as well as the tougher "dark world" versions of the 20 levels comprising that first one. I'd moved up a few hundred thousand spots in the online boards. I'd even found a couple warp zones that took me to optional (and tricky) three-level challenges. Sure, my thumb was sore, but that'd clear up in a day or two and I'd be ready to keep rocking through this game on my way to inevitably mastering it.

Yeah, about that last bit… For a while, that goal looked pretty doable. I advanced through the second world to the third, fourth and fifth. By finishing below the par time on levels, I regularly accessed new "dark world" levels. I got more bandages, found more warp zones and watched my ranking continue to improve, making it into the top 100,000! Sure, some levels were absolutely brutal, but since I only needed to clear 17 of each world's 20 to access a boss level in order to reach the next world, I was always able to progress. New obstacles kept being placed in my path, but since my skills were rejuvenated by what I'd already accomplished, I was able to persevere and advance, level by level.

Super Meat Boy screenshot Super Meat Boy screenshot


But now, doing so is getting really difficult. To the point where, now that I'm ranked slightly inside the top 75,000, simply accomplishing anything is an ordeal. Where I'm starting to grasp that I might have reached the pinnacle of my personal ability and that to continue on to the final world, the post-game Cotton Alley challenges or the remainder of the "dark world" stuff, I'd probably have to drop everything, disappear from society and dedicate the rest of my life to this game and nothing else. Sure, some days that does sound really tempting, but for now, I'll just sit here feeling vaguely pleased with myself because I've had a blast testing my skills against this game's vast assortment of obstacles.

Brevity is what makes this game work so well. You'll die a million times, but still find yourself making progress because each individual level is really short, oftentimes only constituting a handful of screens, if not fewer. Your goal is to simply reach Meat Boy's girl, Bandage Girl, at which point the game's villain, Dr. Fetus, appears to whisk her to the next level. To do so on the game's very first level, all you have to do is execute one wall jump, hopefully under the par time of a mere three seconds. Achieve that and you'll be able to access its "dark world" alternate, which is the exact same level, only with a deadly saw positioned directly above Bandage Girl's location, forcing you to actually use a bit of technique to reach her.

From there, the game gradually adds more challenges. On 1-2, you'll have to do a sequence of wall jumps (with multiple saws in the way in its "dark world" version). Saws enter normal levels in 1-3, but that place's main purpose is to teach you that holding down on the sprint button is crucial to future success, as you need to do so in order to clear a pit in this level. In future ones, sprinting will be necessary to achieve par times or, quite frankly, to have any chance of success. When you reach either 1-4 or the dark version of 1-3, you'll be able to start collecting bandages in out-of-the-way (and usually really dangerous) spots. These are useful, as the more you grab, the more new characters you'll unlock.

Warp zones get introduced in 1-5. These three-level regions operate by their own rules and tend to remind one of the days of the Atari 2600, NES or Game Boy. Unlike regular levels, you can't simply learn how to get through them by the harsh lessons taught by repeated death, as perishing three times in any stage will take you back to the map screen, forcing you to try again. Most of these zones contains a couple bandages, so people looking to collect everything will find themselves repeatedly trying these places. At least, after you've unlocked a warp zone, you can start from its beginning, rather than having to re-access it through the level it's hidden in.

Regardless of how good you are at ferreting out bandages, you'll be able to snag a new character upon reaching 1-12's warp zone. Each world has one warp zone that's a bit different from the rest. You take control of the new guy and get unlimited lives, like in normal stages. Upon completing its three levels, that character is part of your team. In this case, you'll get Commander Video, who moves more slowly than Meat Boy, but can float for a certain distance in the air. That's a big part of the appeal to unlocking new characters -- most of them have some sort of useful ability that Meat Boy doesn't possess, such as a double jump or the ability to stick to walls, making them useful for bandage collecting or even completing certain levels more efficiently.

Super Meat Boy screenshot Super Meat Boy screenshot


The first world is little more than a tutorial when push comes to shove, though. Look at its boss level, for example. You have to run to the right while avoiding large saw blades, as well as smaller ones that get fired out of dispensers. Chasing you is a large chainsaw-wielding robot, forcing you to move quickly. Upon reaching the end of the path, you can jump onto a higher ledge and watch that machine self-destruct. One of the levels in the fifth world, titled "The Flood" pits you against one of the game's primary hazards, salt (quite appropriate for a game featuring a hero made of raw meat). You'll be running down a corridor being chased by a tidal wave of that stuff, while jumping a few slow-moving creatures and several salt mounds. In theory (if not appearance), it's just like that first boss level -- if the robot moved a lot faster and the saws had far less convenient placements. I can run through the boss level with ease. I'm still trying to clear "The Flood". Or, to be truthful, even advance far enough that I feel like I will eventually clear it, as not doing so doesn't bode well for any future plans to see the sixth world or have success with any of the really challenging 20-level packs of extra content that come free with the game.

Of course, no player would be expected to go from the end of the first world to the middle of the fifth just like that. By the time you've made it past the second, third and fourth worlds to get that far into the fifth, you'll have encountered virtually every trick known to platforming games and perhaps a few more. Blocks that crumble when you walk on them? Check. Platforms and blocks that appear and disappear? Yep. The need to find keys to unlock doors? You bet. Various lethal-to-the-touch monsters getting in the way of you getting past any of these things? Three guesses, the first two don't count. You'll jump above fans, so their wind gusts push you upwards. You'll dodge laser beams that turn on and off every couple seconds. And don't even get me started about these demonic mouths that speed towards you out of whorls, breaking into multiple smaller mouths when they hit a wall or the homing rockets that only seem to move at a thousand miles per hour. Bonus points to the latter for those instances when you need them to destroy walls so you can pass. Teeth will be clinched and blood will trickle out from beneath thumbnails.

Team Meat's greatest success simply might have been throwing all of these elements and more into this game and keeping it addictive, since every time you start feeling good about one obstacle, it fades into the background as new and more deadly ones get thrown into the mix. Through all the levels I've played, only one challenge really has struck me as truly annoying. In the fifth world, you'll encounter these globes emitting a repulsion wave. There are many reasons I haven't yet beaten 17 levels in this world and this might be the biggest one. Generally, you'll be expected to jump in a way that you "ride" that wave over pits and other deadly stuff. So far, I haven't gotten things to work that well too often. I think I've completed one level using those things; most of the time, I jump onto the wave, lose it and plummet to my death. From looking at videos, it's something that really skilled players seem to be able to get through, but for me, it just feels really finicky and imprecise.

Which are terms I don't use often in describing this game. When you die, your next life immediately appears at the start of the level, so you can immediately try again without dealing with loading screens or any "Ready…Set…GO!" messages. This allows you to burn through dozens of lives in mere moments and, since levels are really short, really allows you to advance quite far based solely on persistence. If you keep a cool head, learn from your mistakes and get better with the controls, you'll find yourself gradually improving and advancing to tougher levels. If, like me, you become obsessed with the online leaderboards, improving is essential, as your placement is determined by both how many levels you've beaten and your best times on those levels. The better you are, the better your times will be. Fast times unlock those "dark" levels, giving you more to potentially beat, allowing you to rise farther up the boards. So simple, but effective to the point that it's about time to close this out because I have to give those damn repulsing things another try!

It'd be hard for anyone who spent a good deal of time with Super Meat Boy to say they weren't frustrated at some point. The thing is, when you have a game that's addictive and delivers its product in tiny doses, it's easy to swallow that frustration and keep grinding away because you'll know you'll eventually figure out the proper timing or develop the necessary skill to overcome whatever obstacle is your current stumbling block. Sure, the next tough moment might only be one level away, but when victory on each one can potentially happen in mere seconds, it's hard to put down the controls even if your thumb is one big throbbing mass of pain. Hell, I might feel I'm at an impasse at the moment, but who knows? Give me a couple good sessions and I might find myself flying past the fifth world to the sixth and then Cotton Alley. And I could even find myself peeking inside the top 50,000 on the online boards! At least a guy can dream, can't he?

5/5

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (May 05, 2017)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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