Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Review: "Super Meat Boy (XBLA)"

A Million Little Chunks
review for Super Meat Boy, 1 player action/platformer, available now

Wrapping up Super Meat Boy in one word is easy – masochistic.
If you wanted me to add some more words to explain this, it’d go like the following paragraphs.
Super Meat Boy is a currently Xbox Live Arcade-exclusive indie platformer by Team Meat, headed by Edward McMillian of Gish fame. You play as a cube of raw meat with arms, legs, and a disgustingly cute face, saving your girlfriend (who is made out of bandages). Aptly named, you are Meat Boy, trying to save Bandage Girl. The interesting thing to note is despite the fact that these characters are two-dimensional cardboard cut-out parodies of well-established characters, they actually have more personality, emotion, warmth and soul than even the most realistic of on-screen relationships. They actually seem to share an unbreakable bond, actual chemistry, and this is despite being flat-out told that they love each other – a cardinal storywriting sin!

On the other end of the spectrum is our villain, Dr Fetus (who is, conveniently, a doctor, and a fetus – in a robot mech, with a tailored suit, and a comically large top hat and monocle). Dr Fetus hates you (and by extension, Meat Boy) because we’re told he does, and so he kidnaps Bandage Girls and makes you dance through his sadistic sawblade-filled platforming levels. And then the bloodbath begins.

The gameplay is really insanely fast, fluid, and fun. Let’s get that out of the way. It’s also the most difficult thing you’ll play this year most likely, making Super Mario Galaxy 2 look like a 9-piece jigsaw puzzle in comparison. It also makes the deaths in LIMBO look like a gentle pat on the head. This is tough-as-nails, no-nonsense platforming fare, that plays like a love letter to the genre’s 8- and 16-bit roots, while at the same time throwing enough new and interesting variations into the mix so it doesn’t feel stale. Playing Meat Boy is a breathtaking experience, and while you will die – over, and over, and over again – it presents itself so nicely, and the controls are so efficient and tight, that it doesn’t matter. I never once was frustrated at the endless deaths presented in Super Meat Boy, while even some easier games get a controller through the screen at least once. But nay – SMB, and my television, stay safe from this fate!

So the gameplay is evil. It’s cruel. If you don't mind the rather adult metaphor, it’s the gaming equivalent of being sexually submissive (actually a Might Jill Off character is playable, so that’s actually a healthy comparison)! So like being sexually submissive, the game will have you crawling back for more, despite slapping you around like its bitch to no end. Yes, Meat Boy is masochistic, and plays simultaneously as both homage and parody to the hells-tough platformers of the olden times, an era which, I admit, I was too young for - my first platformers were full-3D jaunts like Super Mario 64 - but nontheless an era which is fondly remembered by all who dare call themselves a "gamer". Meat Boy is mean to you. It will crush your soul. And it makes it look so simple, too.

The graphics are also simple, yet stylized – the cutscenes are drawn in Flash-like cartoons, yet the gameplay is a combination of lush pixel art and absolutely stunning physics-based liquids. Meat Boy himself is really just a cube of meat, yet every object he touches is coated with a meaty residue as he bounces lightning-quick from walljump to walljump. And this residue is retained across deaths, so you get to see where you’ve been and died even on your hundredth try – and it may actually come to that in the later levels! Like I said though – it never gets frustrating, and once your head is in the zone it can actually become quite a cathartic experience.

I really appreciate what Team Meat has done with Super Meat Boy. I think the ultimate joke lies within the games plot. It really is just that other platforming game’s story, and yet, unlike the other SMB, in which the ridiculous and predictable plot is an absolute letdown, Meat Boy ‘s story actually comes across as ridiculous, predictable – and fun. It’s tongue in cheek, but it’s deeper than that. It’s a middle finger to the other game; a massive “why aren’t you us?” tap on the glass. Team Meat has crafted an experience that they know platformers should be. They very clearly see that the genre has been stagnating for too long, overshadowed by more technically competent genres like first-person shooters. They love the genre they’re working in, and it shows. They even include unlockable characters from indie and platforming past, including Ogmo from Jumper, to Jill from the aforementioned Might Jill Off – even Tim, from Braid! Even the player avatar from Minecraft is scheduled to be in the Steam version of the game when it is released at the end of November. So, what's the score?

Super Meat Boy is the perfect platformer. If you have so much as a passing interesting in platforming games, even a little teeny bit, you know what to do. Load up your Microsoft Balance and get Super Meat Boy. Best thing is, the game is selling for 800 Microsoft Points. That’s less than ten dollars! So what are you waiting for? The gaming equivalent of Hell awaits you… and it’s absolute heaven.
Andrew Deavin has it on good authority that any game that makes you run a foot-race through a collapsing salt factory against a giant monster made of discarded fetus feces as a Boss encounter cannot be a bad game. He also really truly appreciates the achievement for unlocking the Kid. He'd rather chop off his own balls than play that level again. But uh, don't quite him on that. Super Meat Boy is available on Xbox LIVE Arcade right now, and is coming to PC/Mac late November, and WiiWare sometime after that.

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