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Super Meat Boy (PC) artwork

Super Meat Boy (PC) review

"The Modern Mythical Sisyphus for the Game Industry to Repackage."

Super Meat Boy (PC) image
Created by Team Meat in 2010. Available on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, Nintendo Switch, Steam and Epic Store. (Read below about Epic version.)

With the impending release of Super Meat boy Forever on all platforms (except Steam), coming back reminds me there is so much more to this game than nostalgia. For all the dark-humor jokes, the rage-inducing (yet fun) hardships, and the dated-yet-tasteful callbacks to other games, Meat Boy embodies the idiom “how the sausage gets made” beyond the mere expression. Meat Boy, as iconic as he is to the face of indie games, has always been (and continues to be) a punching bag for the best and the worst qualities within the industry--and yet the game remains a classic in 2019.

From the game’s humble beginnings on Newgrounds to the frustration of its official release on the Xbox Live Arcade, Team Meat is one of the first developers to lay the foundations for future indie success stories. After earning critical acclaim, the game has been pressed through numerous controversies from discontinuing (officially) supported features to becoming another possible casualty between the Epic Store and Steam. While the game’s legacy cannot rival the likes of Mario, it’s poetically ironic how Super Meat Boy continues to stay relevant for reasons outside of the core game that undermine how great it truly is to play.

Super Meat Boy (PC) image
Still avoiding a close shave in 2019.

Two Sides of the Same Game of Epic Proportions

Now the rest of this review will not further discuss these outside matters as it’s still a review of the game itself. These topics are mentioned here to give you points of context behind Team Meat moving to the Epic Store with their history on Xbox and the developers’ cut on Steam. However, out of these possible discussions, the most important one to talk about further is the game’s staggering differences between the Epic Store and Steam.

Super Meat Boy (PC) image
Can you spot the immediate difference?

You may be forgiven in thinking there are no big differences, but if you dig further into each version you begin to see the problems accumulate. For starters, the most harmless missing feature on both storefronts is the omission of rebindable keys or controller support beyond Xbox controllers. (You can solve this problem installing X-input software for PS4 controllers, or you can use a Steam Controller to map out your own configuration.) Second, there are no leaderboards or achievements (for now) on the Epic Store, which are also forgivable oversights, but some people will see value in those features on Steam. The more egregious missing feature on the Epic Store is the lack of the split-screen race mode available on Steam, which only works for local-coop. Finally, the Epic Store lacks any official Level Editor that, while not made official, you can use on Steam as well as transfer levels with other users. The Super Meat World and all the “official” level packs are available on both versions, but with that Level Editor feature it adds significant long-term value to the game.

Super Meat Boy (PC) image
Wow, look what you CAN'T do on Epic!

If this side-by-side comparison hasn’t made the point clear, then let me be more blunt: Super Meat Boy on the Epic Store adds nothing you cannot get from Steam. Worse, one store continues to add features where the other adds none--and you cannot tell if certain features will ever come to the other because there is no announcements on the Epic Store, which is why Epic Store games post updates on Steam (ex. Metro Exodus). The only reason you would get the game from the Epic Store is if you got it for free, or if you want to give the developers a larger cut of the profits but receive significantly less value.

Super Meat Boy (PC) image
This image could be used unironically for Steam vs Epic with a simple edit.

Bite-Sized Portions for a Bit-Sized Hero

With all the muckraking out of the way, let’s make like Upton Sinclair and get to the real meat, the gameplay. Super Meat Boy comes from a bygone era of bite-sized platformers with an emphasis on creating levels that prioritize steep difficulty. These types of games, ranging from Super Hexagon, The Impossible Game and I Wanna Be the Guy, all rely on balancing a high skill-curve with precise controls to satisfy the masochistic urges of players. If you ever played any flash games on Newgrounds, the difficulty came with the turf, but typically games like Super Meat Boy were approachable enough while having no issues killing you for a mistake.

Super Meat Boy (PC) image
Never have charts been more accurate. (Illustration by co-creater of Super Meat Boy, Edward McMillan.)

Unlike some of the more notorious games, Super Meat Boy is one of the few where the fault almost always lies on the player. With The Impossible Game, you had to learn the rhythm and the precise timing from failing; with I Wanna Be the Guy, it took the Dragon’s Lair approach from pure memorization; and with Super Hexagon, you had to master one control scheme until you mastered it. Not only are the default Meat Boy controls so polished that you almost have too much control, but you also have nineteen other characters with different movement options to tailor the game to your preference. This difference allows players to tailor their experience while also challenging them to earn those extra characters, which can also further extend the game with each character no matter how sadistic the choice impacts the level design.

In addition to heavily refined controls, Super Meat Boy’s other major achievement is the progression of its levels that constantly build on old and new mechanics in interesting ways. Many indie-games have gotten this process down to become a staple, but the pace for Super Meat Boy is still commendable. The first twenty stages will familiarize you to the controls and the most common obstacles, but within those stages it also teaches you fundamental skills from replaying them. The most obvious one is that there is always a quicker way to achieve the goal, sometimes by running in the opposite direction (Level 1) or by going a different route (Level 7). There is also the Warp Zones to find hidden in the level, which can unlock more bandages or additional characters from mini-challenge stages. Some of the less obvious skills include using a normal wall jump versus always holding the run-button down and slowing down to open opportunities for the rest of the level. Like the stages themselves, these lessons are in bite-sized chunks that you chew in the back of your head while enjoying the frustration of learning from your errors.

Super Meat Boy (PC) image
Good thing she packed those bandages.

As much as the core gameplay may appear to be as mindless as bashing your head against the wall until the wall breaks, there is a little more thought than simply holding the run button. Unless you play these stages out of order, which the game never forces you to complete one level--you simply have to finish 17/20 to unlock the boss fight--there is nothing to catch you off guard as new obstacles are introduced in isolation before being combined with older ideas. Each chapter has more of a distinct color palate rather than a central mechanic, and each chapter tends to introduce three or four new mechanics that will show up more often in future stages. When people get frustrated with the later stages, the key questions they should ask themselves are: “Does this approach make every level enjoyable?” and “Does this approach make every level fair?” In most cases, most people will not agree with the former question, yet they will likely agree with the latter.

To Seize the Memes of Our Distribution

Out of all the games targeted to the Fortnite audience on the Epic Store, Super Meat Boy makes the most sense in an era where kids have grown up on YouTube. Given the compact nature of the level-design, the compact nature of its comedy is a natural fit with mostly references or dark comedy that never quite crosses into the parental-guidance zone. (It’s no more bothersome than most classic Disney films if you ignore explaining Dr. Fetus.) That comedy is the cornerstone of memes, audio or visual bites of “common sense” information that can easily be made to elicit the same emotional response out of the viewer by association. If that sounds too smart for a dumb topic, imagine my face here saying, “Much info, such reaction. Wow.”

Super Meat Boy (PC) image
The game of tasteful references 101.

Now this isn’t some exposé of a master-plan strategy to convert Fortnite kids over to the Epic Store versus Steam, which most children I work with don’t even know Epic is a digital store too; it’s a Fortnite launcher to them. The point is more of an observation about how Super Meat Boy can still resonate with younger audiences who only now have heard about the game. The jokes throughout Super Meat Boy are simple, short, and sometimes require an inference to comprehend, or they are often nostalgic callbacks used subtly to make Boomers say aloud, “Oh, I remember that game!” It’s the type of comedy that can be easy to appreciate as easy as it is to ignore. This strength is also one of these unexpected circumstances that reaches two audiences who typically have nothing in common, and it’s why this game can continue well past its age with the sequel.

Super Meat Boy (PC) image
Valve is such a monopoly they let their IP go on another storefront.

If the sequel can maintain this type of humor with perhaps a more substantial storyline like the Creepypasta-esque narrative for The Binding of Isaac, then there’s no reason Super Meat Boy cannot resurface into the spotlight. (If you had expected me to go into the discussion of the “damsel in distress” trope, I am not going to open that can of worms nor mention you-know-who.) You do have to wonder, however, what other indie icons would stand beside Super Meat Boy today for modern audiences as well as if its first-year exclusivity deal will present problems for those icons to stand beside him.

Whether Here or There, Don't Skimp Out on Every Portion

Substantiated or unsubstantiated concerns aside, Super Meat Boy has yet to truly be recognized as a timeless classic precisely because it hasn’t yet gotten out of the spotlight to age. The game itself certainly deserves the warm reception today despite all the hot takes you can also rightly make. Whether or not that quality dissuades you or whether the humor will rub off on you, if you care about the core gameplay itself that aspect will never be tarnished (unless you want to use a non-Xinput controller.) The sequel, however, will have to prove itself on another platform while also lacking many core features that people have expected over the years on Steam. Wherever you choose to buy that package of meat, you can probably rest assured it will be fresh enough before other people spoil it.


Brian's avatar
Community review by Brian (February 11, 2019)

Current interests: Strategy/Turn-Based Games, CRPGs, Immersive Sims, Survival Solo Games, etc.

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Masters posted February 11, 2019:

Nice. I remember this game kicking my butt when I played it on XLBA. I guess it really is the grand-daddy of much more enjoyable games to come after it, like Celeste.
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overdrive posted February 12, 2019:

I had a fun month with this game on XBLA. Got up to the top 70K on the leaderboards (no idea where I'm at now, since it's been a long while since I've played it) before I got to the point where I might play an hour or so and clear no more than maybe 1 or 2 levels. For Light World, I was stuck at about 12-13 or so complete in the fifth world (need 17 to reach the boss). Had a lot of Dark World levels complete for the first couple worlds, but my success there was drying up big-time after those two.

Sort of weird, but with the XBLA games, I actually found myself getting better at those sorts of fast-moving, quick-reflex games than I'd ever been. After spending as much time with this game, Trials Evolution and Fusion and the two 'Splosion Man games, damn, those Mega Man games didn't seem so hard when I was replaying them to review MM Anniversary Collection! So that era of lower-cost/budget games must have been doing something right, if they got me legitimately competent at games like that!
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Masters posted February 12, 2019:

Yeah, I get that. There's hope yet for even our old asses. Which is funny, because, clearly our reflexes have slowed down, but we've somehow managed to get better at games just by playing supremely difficult ones and dying over and over. By the way, if you haven't already, you should play Celeste. If I wasn't so lazy, I'd have reviewed it.
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overdrive posted February 12, 2019:

I'll have to look it up. Since it's on the PS4, it'll be easy for me to get. But, it might be a while, since Trials Rising is gonna be out soon, supposedly, so I'll have to dive headfirst into that.

But yeah, it is funny. I think the key is that those newer, super-tough games are just so accessible. Super Meat Boy levels are mostly tiny and you have unlimited lives (except for those retro-themed side levels where you have to do three in three lives), so you can drill yourself on one until you've learned it. The Trials games give you checkpoints every couple seconds, so you can clear all but the toughest tracks simply through attrition, but you need to get better at them to get superior medals, which are needed because you need those medals to unlock more groupings of tracks. The 'Splosion Man games have unlimited lives and a fair amount of checkpoints, as did the Rayman games on the 360 (which were tough, but not at the "super-challenge" level).

Compared to those NES games where you had three lives and possibly limited continues and it is so much easier to work, work, work until you've figured out a tough level because you never have to step back and start an entire area over and you'll always be right next to that jump you keep botching or that obstacle you can't get past. Even if these games are more difficult than older ones, they don't feel frustrating or that brutal because of that convenience.
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Masters posted February 13, 2019:

Good point -- that's what it's all about, that saved progress. Celeste is available on Steam too, btw, and while you're at it, check out Cuphead for another hard but amazing game.
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overdrive posted February 13, 2019:

I generally try to do the pure action on consoles, since I haven't bought a Steam controller for my computer yet and, therefore, prefer to play games that are more keyboard/mouse oriented there. But it looks like Cuphead isn't on the PS4, so if I want to play it, I'll have to get that controller.

So far, the main thing this talking has done is get me back into playing the two Trials games I have in order to be prepared for Trials Rising. Seems that I'm a bit rusty! So I started doing easy courses in order to 0-fault them to get some skill back and then work with more medium and hard ones. Expert, not so much. Those courses are evil. I've completed one of them on Evolution and had well over triple-digit faults.
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Masters posted February 13, 2019:

You know you can use your PS4 controller to play Steam games, right?
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overdrive posted February 13, 2019:

Uh, I do now!

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