There’s no feeling like the one you get playing a particularly well-put together platformer. I adored this summer’s earlier eerie title Limbo, and thought its brilliant simplicity was only outmatched by its stark ambiguity. I was sure that no downloadable title would surpass Limbo as my favorite of the year. After playing Super Meat Boy for five minutes, I was totally smitten. Combining fast and challenging level design with oddly charming characters, and a wealth of unlockables, Super Meat Boy is a platformer fan’s dream.
Unlike downloadable platform titles such as Braid and Limbo that have called the Xbox 360 their home in the past, there’s absolutely nothing beneath the surface of Super Meat Boy’s story. Meat Boy is simply trying to rescue the love of his life, Bandage Girl, from the clutches of the man who hates him most, Dr. Fetus. Through a handful of worlds, you’ll chase down the vile Doctor through hazardous maze after hazardous maze, with a boss fight at the end of every one. Each world consists of two versions: Light and Dark. The “Light” versions are where the story proper takes place, and are the standard version of the game’s levels in Hell, a salt factory, or a forest. You have unlimited time to try and finish every level, but if you manage to beat the par time, you’ll unlock the “Dark” version of that level. “Dark” levels are insanely complex deathtraps that will test your patience and resolve in trying to defeat. Early on they’re only mildly more complicated than the regular level, but the further you progress, the more difficult they become to solve. To completely finish the game with the real ending, you’ll have to ace every level, “Light” and “Dark,” in the game, and you’ll spend countless hours trying to shave mere tenths-of-seconds off your time in any of the game’s three-hundred or so levels.
The game’s boss fights aren’t necessarily fights in the traditional sense, but they do pit you against an opponent as you try to complete one final puzzle. I guess you could technically say that each of the boss fights is a race not against time, but against said opponent. Whether your running for your life from Dr. Fetus and his giant mech, or racing against a poop creature through a salt factory, the final fights are all frantic escapes, which require precision and patience to solve. Throughout each of the worlds, there are also hidden warp zones for you to find. The warps take you to a special mini-game, which is different every time, where you have limited lives to try and reach the level’s goal. Once unlocked, you can visit them any time, which is huge because they’re rather difficult to beat on the first try. There are also bandages hidden throughout each world, which you can use to unlock new characters to play the game with. The only issue with bandages is you have to collect them, and complete the level in order for it to count, which often ended in my giving up on the bandages all together.
Though there’s not really much to the game’s controls aside from running and jumping, each of the game’s characters controls differently, and offers you benefits in completing levels that you may not have otherwise been able to beat. In theory, you can beat every level of the game with Meat Boy, but his speed can sometimes be a curse instead of a blessing. Bit.Trip’s Commander Video can float and move on the same plane in the air horizontally for a very brief moment. While he’s much slower, the jumping benefit certainly helps cover some challenging gaps. Tim from Braid also appears, as does his time-altering ability, alongside the Pink Knight from Castle Crashers and the alien from Alien Hominid. Those are just a few of the guest characters that you can use once unlocked to complete the game. You will have to use them occasionally to get some of the more obscurely located bandages and warp zones, and you may find that you actually like using the hidden characters more than Meat Boy himself.
The largest part of what makes Super Meat Boy so appealing is its design aesthetic. Though it’s a 2-D platformer, the game makes great use of bold and bright colors, and like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, looks more like a game from a few generations ago than its contemporaries. The developer’s love for the old school shines through even more in the score, which is full of catchy and brilliant bit-tunes. The game’s warp zones throwback even farther, taking their inspiration from the Atari and Colecovision days of old. Of course, they keep the updated physics, but seeing Meat Boy derezzed even farther into the past not only changes things up from time to time, and will have you working even harder to find another warp zone to see even more four-color levels. The animations may be simple, and the cutscenes may be short, but every character and level is designed with wry smile and a lot of heart, and it’s easy to become enamored with the way the game looks and sounds.
Super Meat Boy is without a doubt the new frontrunner for downloadable game of the year. From top to bottom, the game is a near-perfect experience. There’s a great deal of challenge, but it never feels unbeatable. There’s also no feeling quite like the euphoria you experience when you do finally complete a level that’s been giving you trouble for the better part of an hour. With a ton of replay value, new characters and levels to constantly unlock, and leaderboard times to try and beat, it’ll be a long time until I’m through with this game. It’s incredibly addictive and fun, and I can’t wait to be done writing this review so I can go play more.