Every once in a while, a game comes along that becomes the shorthand for a genre: Doom, Call of Duty, Elite. For hardcore platformers, that standard bearer is Super Meat Boy. Its minimalist aesthetic, challenging level design and speed of replay after death has seen it remain at the top of the genre since its release way back in 2010. In Super Rude Bear: Resurrection we have a brand new challenger for Meat Boy’s crown.
Upon loading up the game, the player is greeted with one of the ugliest opening screens I’ve seen for a while. Taking the hyper-deformed cartoon character and presenting it in a realistic mode is certainly a brave aesthetic choice. Fortunately the game itself is more suitably cartoony in tone and feel.
Though I was previously unaware of Rude Bear, solo developer Alex Rose has been an intrepid guy, creating over a dozen games. Super Rude Bear Resurrection is Rose’s first foray into the world of paid games, however, and as such is a testament to the dedication and perseverance of indie developers. It is easy to forget how difficult producing games is and we, as consumers/players, can often come across as spoiled or entitled when complaining about them. That being said, I didn’t enjoy Super Rude Bear and felt it was lacking finesse in the main essential aspects of the ‘masocore’ genre.
The game is appropriately hard. You will die. A lot. And then some more. Sometimes you’ll die dozens of times trying to make it through a single section of platforming, but that can actually play to your advantage. The game’s most distinctive selling point is the introduction of useful corpses.
This mechanic is not unique to Super Rude Bear, with Life Goes On: Done to Death being the most recent game to feature it, but it does represent an interesting spin on the jump, die, repeat formula of the genre as a whole. In practice, this mechanic means that each death makes the game a little easier, with the red splashes of Meat Boy replaced by bear corpses impaled on the millions of spikes that make up an inordinate amount of the real estate in the game, eventually making them safe to land on.
While this does allow the more cack-handed of us to progress through the game, the mechanic really feels more appropriate for puzzle platformers. Here, the levels are apparently possible to complete without dying at all and so the most interesting aspect of the game seems to be an afterthought rather than an integral part of the level design.
The game’s ambivalence towards the mechanic can be seen through the mocking tone of Rude Bear’s companion. What little storyline there is in the game revolves around an evil wizard taking over a fantasy world with Super Rude Bear being called upon to defeat him. There is no motivation as in Mario or even Sonic – games which Rude Bear attempts to parody – and the parody goes no further than a throwaway line that the wizard is in another castle, the fact that the exit from the first two worlds are a blue pipe and a Sonic-influenced animal cage. It’s parody from the ‘this reminds you of this’ school and adds little to the game.
Your companion, whose presence is almost entirely unexplained, continually rebukes and ridicules you for your lack of progress, and its mocking tone is reminiscent of the tutorials in the execrable Drawn to Death. As the game continues, the reasons behind this do become a little clearer but, in actual fact, the obligatory twist is undermined by this characterisation. Moreover, the companion at several points laments that they did not choose ‘Rad Boar’ as their hero, a character who sounds infinitely preferable to the baseball capped teddy.
So far much of my dislike of the game has been superficial and arguably superfluous to the gameplay itself. The storyline in Mario or Meat Boy isn’t going to win any awards and the identity of the central character is less important than The Witcher of Horizon Zero Dawn. My main gripes with the game, however, do concern much more fundamental aspects: graphical clarity and controls.
The game has an interesting urban, graffiti-esque aesthetic, but it is far too busy and makes concentrating on Rude Bear overly difficult. Whilst playing, my wife pointed out that the game looked like a magic eye picture; a description which perhaps best expresses how much is going on. Super Meat Boy works because its minimalist graphics ensure that there is no confusion between background and foreground. Rude Bear just has too much happening on screen. The difficulty demands that you take everything in, but the graphics themselves seem to work against this.
Most damning, however, was the looseness in the controls. Rude Bear always felt as if he was on wonky roller skates and I never felt the precision of movement that the game clearly requires. There were frequent jumps that seemed just too far for the character to make without relying on corpses. Many times when I was successful on a level – and I did manage to complete the game – it felt more like luck than skill. Where other reviewers have praised the controls, I can only report my own experience. I wanted to like Super Rude Bear but it really just didn’t do it for me.
It feels somewhat churlish being so negative about what is in many ways a professionally put together indie game. Many of my complaints could be patched out – although the graphics would need a severe overhaul to prevent the distractions – and it may well be that ‘masocore’ fans will click with the controls but, unfortunately, for me they were an insurmountable barrier to my enjoyment of the game. Super Meat Boy keeps the crown for now.
Version tested: PlayStation 4