Super Meat Boy review: Is it truly a meaty experience?

Super Meat Boy brings you right to the edge of launching your controller across the room in frustration. The game is a love letter to classic 2D platforming games and achieved widespread critical acclaim among the gaming press when it was first released five years ago, but was this due to the nostalgia strings it so aptly plucked?

MeatBoy

Now that the dust has settled on Super Meat Boy and subsequently been disturbed once again by its arrival on the Playstation 4, launching itself onto the platform and going straight into the free monthly PS Plus games, is this really the masterpiece everyone thought it was?

Super Meat Boy is a high profile indie game from the two-man outfit Team Meat, but a lot of people are going to be discovering this for the first time by virtue of its inclusion in the PS Plus offering for October. Therefore, this is the perfect opportunity to take another look at the game and an even better opportunity to pick it up if you missed it the first time round as lots of people are likely going to be talking about it again.

At a very casual and brief glance, Super Meat Boy might look a little unremarkable. It is a 2D platformer inspired by the classic Nintendo-hard platformers that were popular in the 8-bit and 16-bit console era. Nintendo-hard refers to the particular design decision made for lots of games in the early days of home consoles that mitigated a lack of levels by making each level incredibly difficult to get past. Whilst Super Meat Boy does not have the lack of content problem, it still gets very hard very fast, which is one of the major selling points of the title.

Super Meat Boy throws in the odd stylistic surprise, like this level where everything is in silhouette.

Super Meat Boy throws in the odd stylistic surprise, like this level where everything is in silhouette.

Dying a lot is to be expected with Super Meat Boy. The game manages to stay just on the right side of controller-launching frustration by mitigating this with three very simple solutions:

  1. There is a very short delay between dying and trying again
  2. The stages are a decent length, meaning you won’t have to perform too many acrobatic finger manoeuvres to get through them
  3. With the exception of some optional bonus levels, you have infinite lives

Being required to learn entire stages of difficult platformers by heart was not all that fun for a lot of people 20 years ago and Super Meat Boy does not try and bring it back slavishly. The balance it achieves between difficulty and accessibility is very sophisticated.

The other major way that Super Meat Boy compensates for its own hellish difficulty is by  providing some of the most spectacularly tight controls ever found in a game of this nature. Like all excellent difficult games, each death is always your fault as opposed to something the game threw at you unexpectedly.  You can never blame awkward controls on your untimely demise and whilst the game is indeed littered with spinning buzz-saws, spikes, flames, needles and bottomless pits, it will be your fault for twitching in mid-air rather than the game not giving you a chance to get out of the way.

On its own, as a technical feat and a satisfying piece of gaming media, Super Meat Boy is perfectly enjoyable and would arguably still find its way into the hearts of paltformer enthusiasts, but where Super Meat Boy transcends all of that is with the whole aesthetic and package of the title

Worlds will start and end with oddly charming yet simple videos, often referencing iconic video game franchises.

Worlds will start and end with oddly charming yet simple videos, often referencing iconic video game franchises.

Super Meat Boy is very personal. When you say a game, or a film, or any piece of media for that matter, is personal, it will conjure up the image of a very thoughtful po-faced piece of art that is trying to prove itself as deep and meaningful, likely accompanied by plinky-plinky piano music and designed to leave you with an uncomfortable sense of melancholy after the whole thing is over. By contrast, Super Meat Boy is irreverent, unapologetic and bordering on the crass. While it remains perfectly charming, there is a sense that very little artistic compromise was made in the creation of this game.

It is rare to see something as expressive and stylistic in this way and always satisfying to see something bursting with the personality of its creators while remaining a solid and enjoyable product as a whole. Even if the framing and superficial elements of the game don’t work for you, and it is entirely likely that some of it may leave you stone cold, the sheer saturation of this style radiates the deep level of commitment and love that has been poured into this project. Yes, I am still talking about a 2D platformer where you play as a sentient slab of meat trying to rescue his girlfriend made of bandages from an evil foetus in a suit of power armour.

Bonus levels invoke the styles of classic consoles, like this delightful classic Gameboy-inspired scene.

Bonus levels invoke the styles of classic consoles, like this delightful Gameboy-inspired scene.

Super Meat Boy was one of my “games of the year” for something I wrote somewhere four years ago when it was first launched on Steam and firing the game up again, I was concerned that maybe it would not have aged overly well. I thought maybe the art style and subject matter might come across as immature and that maybe I would have tired of trappings of the game overall, which would have put me off.

Of course Super Meat Boy is not as fresh as it once was for me, but that’s because I’ve already played it through and completed it. Of course the ‘random style’ humour derived from the characters and setting feels less off the wall than it once did, because since it was first released we’ve seen more things like it, most likely inspired by it. I suppose if I was being really picky, I could say the PS4 release has different music which I’m not as keen on, however, this is more because I’m change-resistant and I was used to the old music. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the new score.

Super Meat Boy Review

One of the simpler levels from Super Meat Boy.

Even having been through and completed the game on the PC years ago, jumping back into it again shows me all of the things I loved about it the first time around and I’m looking forward to trying to tear through each of the worlds all over again.

The Super Meat Boy review verdict: Is this the gaming classic we all thought it was years ago?

Is Super Meat Boy worth buying? It is without a doubt a gaming classic so unequivocally yes.

Whilst inspired by traditional platformers, it equally serves as a pretty good summary of the best examples of those and vastly improves on the archaic design decisions that prevent them from being as enjoyable today.

Super Meat Boy can be recommended to gamers new and old. As an introduction to the 2D platforming genre it’s technically excellent and as a touch-point on how anarchic games can be in terms of style and art it is near superlative. For veterans of the genre, this is a challenging and satisfying experience.

As for everyone who has already played it to death, you might want to play it to death again – it’s still excellent.

Super Meat Boy is available for the PC, Mac, Xbox 360, Playstation 4 and PS Vita.

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