One of the finest platformers in recent memory.
The GoodSuper Meat Boy
is something of a curiosity of modern game development. It's unabashedly hardcore, but also immediately accessible. It's maddeningly difficult, but also surprisingly forgiving. It's undeniably retro, yet also somewhat progressive. Some have called it this generation's Super Mario Bros.
..though the shortening to SMB is, as the developers claim, a complete coincidence.
The premise is simple: Reach the end of each stage. After the first few worlds, though, the execution required is far less simple. Buzzsaws, lava pits, mountains of used needles, and even plain ol' bottomless pits are strategically placed to put your platforming skills to the test. And skill you will need to reach the end. The controls are pitch-perfect, and there were only very rare instances in which I died and had anyone but myself to blame.
The levels are designed with the controls completely in mind, and almost every one is sublime. In the latter parts of the game, many stages will at first glance appear impossible. Meat Boy will march to his death many times as you figure out the proper path -- and perhaps even a dangerous shortcut or two -- through the stage, and by the time you clear it you'll be zooming around like nobody's business. It's rarely frustrating either, as upon death the restart is almost instantaneous, and when you finally clear the stage you're treated to a replay of every single attempt simultaneously. it's both hilarious and cathartic to watch that army of Meat Boys as their numbers slowly thin out until only one remains to reach the goal.
Nearly every stage in the game also has what's called a "dark world" stage. These are alternate versions of the normal stages, with tweaks to make them more difficult...sometimes a lot more difficult. Despite this, the game is never unfair about the difficulty. You don't have to complete every stage in a chapter to go to move on, and you don't even need to touch the dark world to complete the game.
There are also "warp zones" hidden in a handful of stages, which will transport Meat Boy to a retro-style throwback set of three stages, with the addition of a lives limit. These come complete with retro-style title cards provided by a wide variety of indie games luminaries, and are particularly cool. Many warp zones will even unlock bonus characters from other titles when completed. Even more can be earned by collecting hidden collectible bandages in many of the stages. The sheer amount of content within the game -- more than 300 stages, with more planned to be added regularly, and more than a dozen playable characters -- is astounding for the asking price.
The visuals match the offbeat style, and are very bright, colorful, and animated. Small animals wander about and flee from Meat Boy, often straight into waiting buzzsaws. It's very much a Flash cartoon, Adult Swim kind of aesthetic, but the simple visuals mean there's little to distract from the level design. There are numerous variations and wonderful touches, though. Many characters leave trails behind as they move, providing a visual record of where in the stage you've been. Some stages are even presented in silhouette. The sound is fantastic as well: The soundtrack is consistently catchy, but never obnoxious, and the sound effects are suitably juicy.
Despite the high praise I've given above, no game is perfect, and this is no exception. Perhaps the biggest problem is the bugs. I'm not going to say a two-man dev team on a shoestring budget should produce a bug-free game, but there are a few fairly obvious bugs that crept into release, and have ruined several peoples experiences due to lost data, broken leaderboards, and inaccurate stat tracking. As of this writing, a patch is being readied, but is not yet available, so I must warn any who plan to play this game to be careful as there are workarounds for these issues.
As for the game itself, while the main stages and bonus stages are almost universally well-designed, the boss stages often fall flat. Most of them simply feel like a regular stage with the addition of being chased, with the most memorable actually being simply a race against a similarly-skilled opponent, and the worst a simple pattern memorization routine. Perhaps it's not that they're particularly bad, they just feel a bit unnecessary and tacked on.
My only other complaint is towards the replays. Now, the replays themselves, with the dozens of attempts played simultaneously, are very cool. The problem is that there's no way to share these replays with your friends. While it's fun to try to beat your friends' times on the leaderboards, it would be even better to be able to play against their replay. It's also unfortunate that when viewing replays, the menu music plays rather than the stage music.
The Bottom LineSuper Meat Boy
is not a game for everyone, but it is a game for anyone seeking a challenge, has a love of platformers, or simply enjoys a finely-crafted game. It isn't perfect, but it's pretty darn close.