I had to drag this stinking blog out of the festering mire of retirement to post about the best game I have played this year. Mind you, I have played some solid titles: Super Mario Galaxy. Bayonetta. Chaos In The Old World. They can all take a backseat to...
Game of the Day: SUPER MEAT BOY
Some of you are thinking, "What you say?" If you know why I dropped the "did" from that phrase you will love Super Meat Boy. It pays homage to gaming as a force in our lives and has earned my respect, even if I haven't managed to actually buy it yet.
For the longest time, I have avoided the abbreviation SMB for Super Meat Boy. Anyone that's played video games as long as I knows that SMB is reserved for Super Mario Bros. There's a few of these reserved abbreviations, you'll recognize most of them: SF2, VF2, KoF, SotC, FF7, CoD, GTA, LBP, TLOZ, SSBB, &c. I wasn't comfortable with some upstart Flash game sequel putting on airs and claiming to be SMB. So Super Meat Boy, all written out, it was.
As noted, I haven't purchased the full game yet my thoughts here are based on the XBLA demo. But what a demo it is. It's 30.5 levels of crazy band-aid grabbing, bloody, jumping incredibleness. You will die, over and over and over again. Many many times. So many times you will wonder why you still play--but you can't resist. It's so fast you can't seem to help yourself. Here's how most levels go...
RunrunrunjumpjumprunDIE. RunrunDIE. RunrunjumplookaroundforaDIE. RunrunrunrunrunjumpjumpjumprunjumpjumpWIN!
Here's some gameplay footage:
Then you get to watch the replay, which is always a hoot. It shows your last 40 trips through the level. This wall of meat jumping and sliding and getting hacked up and slimming down into individual Meat Boys until just a few are left and they get picked off or get distracted until one finally makes it to Band Aid Girl... who gets dragon punched and taken away by Dr. Fetus. Next level!
Complete the levels in a timely manner and you can play them again in Dark World. Which has the same basic structure of each level, but hard like The Vision's skin. Level 10 is The Tower. It was a little tough in the Light World--you have to stick to the conveyors on the walls to get rocketed up, avoiding the rough edges. But in Dark World? Same thing, but the rough edges are wider. And you need to go up. And then down. And then back up, and then back down. And OH MY GOD. I must have gone through 200 meats on this level. I hollered when I finally made it. I am not getting this kind of experience from games like Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion or even Bayonetta. Those games are so big and sprawling and there's so much going on that's out of your control you don't feel as strongly attached to the success or failure. In SUPER MEAT BOY, you will get used to failure and you will feel triumph when you overcome it.
The controls are amazingly well done--I only wish I had a thinner controller. I am starting to get a blister on my index finger--something I haven't seen since the SNES days circa 1992. Assuming you play as Meat Boy (more on this later), there's only jump and run buttons. That's important, because I haven't played a game that demanded such precise use of these controls since Super Mario Bros. Everyone knows SMB3 is the better overall game on the NES, but it brought a lot of extras (Tanooki, Whistles, Pegasus Wings, &c.) to the purity of the run and jump experience. There is beauty in the simplicity of Super Mario Bros. That simplicity is transported and updated for the 21st century in Super Meat Boy. Bringing with it 25 years of level design aesthetics and a sardonic sense of humor that isn't really so wildly different from a game where the Princess is in another castle and where you can walk on top of the game if you can find a way up there.
Super Meat Boy is an homage and an improvement on the classic platformer game. There are some 8-bit style interludes, a non-nonsensical backstory that serves only provide cutscene material between crazy sessions, but it's really about getting from here to there and fast.
True to its "Indie" roots, Super Meat Boy has unlockable characters from an array of other indie hits. There are numerous bandages scattered through the levels, usually in tough or quasi-impossible places. Snag them and "rescue" Band Aid Girl for the coveted BANDAGE GET bonus. Collect enough and you'll start to unlock characters like Gish, Spelunky, Capt.Video (from Bit.Trip), and others. They each bring their own expertise to the game--letting you "float" or shoot or stick like glue instead of a wacky wall walker. Find the right character and some of those impossible bandages become new targets.
The full game has 350 levels. Boss fights. A "TEH INTERNETS" area where even more levels will appear for free (using an end around from the traditional XBLA update engine that normally requires devs to charge for new content.) And tons and tons of fan service for folks that love classic gaming, indie gaming, and platformers.
I am over my reluctance to use SMB for Super Meat Boy. More than any other game, it is the rightful heir to that title.