“This Old Neon strives to publish reviews with at least two opposing voices: one largely positive or sympathetic, and the other more critical and demanding” (Review Policy). Both reviewers provide honest evaluations of the game; thus, a sympathetic review may not always be fully positive, and a critical one need not be completely negative. There will be intersections, overlaps, agreements, and divergences. It is the readers’ prerogative to navigate these as they see fit. – JC
The Joy of Meat
Super Meat Boy was an instant classic. A rudimentary Flash Meat Boy had already amassed a large following on Newgrounds, allowing the sequel to come into the mainstream fully formed when it launched on Xbox Live Arcade in October 2010. It had a reputation, a clear concept, and a ready audience. Nintendo’s Switch is the latest platform to sport a slippery trail of bloody footprints.
Super Meat Boy is the pinnacle of the precision platformer subgenre—games that emphasize precise jumps, perfect timing, and tight controls. They feature tough challenges and demand honed skills, but the best are carefully designed to facilitate failure, repetition, and progress without causing frustration to boil over. While Super Meat Boy’s controls are worthy of the accolades they’ve earned, the game’s defining achievement is how quickly it puts players’ feet back on the ground after a failure. It wastes no time on game over screens or death animations. You’re always playing.
This rapid-fire repetition is integral to success in the game’s more difficult stages—success that relies on burning level layouts into muscle memory and banging out button press patterns, zenlike. When everything falls into place on that glorious final victorious run, the game keeps you humble by showing your failed attempts in the same instant replay. Importantly, the game is difficult but fair in a way that makes you feel like you’re always improving. A challenge may seem insurmountable at first, but then you recall your previous triumphs and buckle down for just a few more tries.
Fans have always clamoured to have it on their platforms of choice because the game feels like it would play perfectly on their preferred controllers. The controls are natural and responsive, and the levels are lovingly-designed to complement the control scheme and the difficulty curve. I started my Switch file in portable mode, but I started to worry about how resistant the tablet would be to snapping in half. While docked, the separated Joy-Cons felt surprisingly good, but I preferred the Pro Controller, which doesn’t suffer too much from its notoriously dodgy d-pad in this game.
The new Race Mode is a lot of fun, especially when both players are familiar with the level layouts. In theory, it’s perfect for the Switch because each player can peel off a Joy-Con and start playing with minimal setup. In practice, guiding Meat Boy on a small split screen takes some getting used to; I found racing vastly more viable on the TV.
The soundtrack composed for the PlayStation and Vita ports is back. Danny Baranowsky’s original featured beat-focused rock that gave a sense of putting one’s head down and marching relentlessly toward the goal. It made you feel powerful and unflappable, like a porterhouse steak. By contrast, Ridiculon’s composition for the Forest, with its endless bluegrass-inspired arpeggios, focuses more on flow, speed, and the connection between every movement in a sequence of actions. It makes you feel fast and dynamic, like a strip of sizzling bacon. While I give the original the slight edge, the new soundtrack is certainly faithful to the Super Meat Boy’s thematic design.
We Meat Again
Returning to the old friend that is Super Meat Boy was as fun as I expected it to be. Inasmuch as it has now been out for over seven years, Super Meat Boy is at once a clear homage to the games its designers loved and a masterpiece in its own right. But what strikes me about Super Meat Boy is that it still stands alone. I’ve played the games it imitates, and I’ve played the games that seek to imitate it. To me, it is still the crown jewel of its subgenre.
It doesn’t do everything perfectly. Often, I’ve found its levels topographically absurd for the purpose of platforming challenge. Many levels have you navigating derelict structures with little room to stand and less room to wall jump. Others have you negotiate little more than an array of fans or conveyor belts. Levels like these don’t build a memorable world, and I don’t think it’s impossible to seek a harmony of challenge and geographical feasibility. Failure to achieve this is among the reasons why Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels isn’t exactly heralded as a classic, for example.
Having said that, games like Flywrench, Super Hexagon, and N prove that a clever idea and slick controls can more than make up for utilitarian presentation. And that’s where Super Meat Boy shines. Forget the aesthetic, sharp as it is. Forget the story, charming as it is. The bottom line is that I have never played a character as satisfying to control as Meat Boy, and I don’t know that I ever will. There’s a litany of characters to choose from, but when Meat Boy has greased lighting speed, a perfect, squishy wall jump, and mid-air handling the likes of which the genre has never improved upon, I struggle to argue in favor of his comrades. This is made all the more the case by the fact that the game was clearly designed for Meat Boy. Some pitfalls seem to exist not so much to be difficult, but to appear difficult. It sometimes feels like the designers want you to think look how cool Meat Boy is. Falling with style through the easier stuff makes the legitimately hard parts seem doable.
On a personal level, I enjoyed returning to Super Meat Boy. I don’t recall why I stopped playing shy of its 106% mark. The likeliest scenario is that another game was released that drew my attention away. But mere minutes after recovering my save file from the depths of Steam directories two computers ago, I was beating levels I’d left untouched in my original time with the game. What’s more, I was enjoying it as much as I did then, even with the faded novelty and excitement of its status as a new game (both to me and to the world). It was an affirming experience. Super Meat Boy is still one of the best games ever made, and if I ever chose to, I could still ascend to the status of Golden God. I take comfort in that.
Super Meat Boy was developed and published by Team Meat. It launched on 20 October 2010, and was released on Nintendo Switch on 11 January 2018. A sequel, Super Meat Boy Forever, is coming to consoles, mobile platforms, and PC in 2018.
Team Meat provided a copy of Super Meat Boy for JC. Clay paid for his own copy. Neither reviewer was in direct contact with Team Meat.
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