I’m all for a challenge. I grew up with the Spectrum and could quite happily dedicate hours trying to beat Airwolf or Jet Set Willy, no problem. But Super Meat Boy? Wow, this game is a tough one, and, as I tried in vain to complete the game in time for this morning’s review embargo, I decided that it’s probably too tough for me. I’m beaten, like a tenderised lump of cold steak. It’s an odd admission to make, but it’s an important one when you’re trying to review a game because if you can’t reach the end in enough time, it’s probably unfair to throw a score at the end, right?
But let’s rewind, because Super Meat Boy, an Xbox 360 exclusive that launches this Wednesday, doesn’t start as hard as nails. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed the first dozen levels or so and even went back over them to complete them under the par time and get some lovely A+ grades on the world map. But after you reach the end of the first themed world and start to move into the next, the sheer amount of manual dexterity required to pass each level, never mind ace them, starts to become a little too much for my ageing hands. Perhaps – yes – I’m just getting too old.
A platformer at heart, Super Meat Boy is about as retro as they come – with a jump button and a run button in addition to the expected analog or d-pad movement. There’s a fair amount of inertia to deal with (especially in the air as you try to perfect your jumps and timing) and the game is built around the tricky notion of wall jumping that, although mechanically is fine, is a little different from other games with a similar concept. It’s all side-on, absolutely 2D (as you can see in the screenshots) and is pixel perfect in its execution. It’s gorgeous. Over stylised, but gorgeous.
The idea behind the game is that Super Meat Boy’s girlfriend has been captured by the evil Dr Fetus, and over the course of the game must be rescued. It’s a basic set-up, of course, but no more so than most other platformers and here the emphasis is on the platforming, not the story. So, amongst disappearing blocks, deadly blades and moving floors there’s the omnipresent feeling that you should be doing all this quicker, and once you’ve beaten a level you get several replays of your past attempts mapped out in ghost form so you can see where you could speed things up.
Super Meat Boy is probably the single best thing on the system. It’s addictive, clever, nice looking (the trails of blood as you romp around each level are deliciously fun), always fair but utterly hardcore. The throwbacks to 8-bit gaming are everywhere (not least in the ‘nostalgia’ levels where the game goes all old-school visually and aurally), the hidden characters are amazing and for gamers that like a challenge it’s not hard to recommend this one. For everyone else who thinks they’re good at games we have to insist you at least try the demo when it launches mid-week, after all, this is as pure a game as there’s ever been and one that deserves to be tried.
Score? Sorry. No can do.