I won’t go as far as to say Super Meat Boy is one of the greatest games of all time, but I do consider it one of the greatest platformers of all time and I don’t think there is much debate over that. Unlike a lot of writers and critics who have opined about the game, I actually think the Bandage Girl getting kidnapped by Dr. Fetus storyline is pretty lame and in retrospect, cringe. As I mentioned in my Spiritfarer review, one of the most important aspects of a game to me is how it feels and Super Meat Boy is one of the best feeling games of all time. You may be thinking, but you already said it’s one of the greatest platformers of all time, and to that I say, to me, platformers are almost entirely determined by how they feel to play. At this point in my gaming career (whatever that means), I strongly believe that anyone would have to be disingenuous to disagree that Super Meat Boy feels amazing to play. If I was feeling like extra spicy chorizo, I would even say that Super Meat Boy feels better than any Mario game, but I’m not feeling that spicy, so leave my DMs alone.
Why Does It Feel So Good?
Well, I’m glad you asked. It all starts with the inertia-based movement. It’s essential to the game. When you let go of the stick, Super Meat Boy doesn’t stop moving immediately, he keeps sliding but slowing down gradually, as if he was a fast moving, forever moist ball of meat that hangs out with fries and a milkshake (wait, wrong ball of meat) that can’t stop himself immediately because of how fast he’s going. Not only is this something in the game, but the game makes you learn this mechanic early on; there are jumps where if you run at them full speed, you’ll be going too fast, and if you stop at the jump, you’ll be going too slow, so you need to start running, then slow down near the end, to reach the perfect speed for that particular jump. There isn’t any visual queue as to what speed you’re going, but you can see and feel how fast you’re going and then adjust your speed accordingly.
Die, Die, Die, Die
If there’s one most commonly known fact about Super Meat Boy, it’s most likely that you die and you die a lot, but not like Dark Souls a lot, more like Dark Souls with one hit point and spike traps everywhere a lot. This may sound tedious, but the fact of it is, it’s so much fun to die. Blood gets splattered on the spot that killed you as a reminder of how far you’ve made it, then you are ground up into meat particles, formed back into a boy made of meat, and you’re on your way again. The best part is everything I just said happens in less than a second. Before I say this next statement, I will acknowledge that from a theoretical perspective, there’s no such thing as instant, but the loop of dying and running again to your inevitable death feels instant. You will try some later levels hundreds of times, but it’s okay because those hundreds of attempts happen within a matter of minutes, and in most cases, less than five.
I Believe I (A Boy Made of Meat) Can Fly
Get enough speed, hold that trigger in, hold the jump button and you can soar through the air at breakneck speeds that even Usain Bolt would be jealous of (too bad he’s not a boy made of meat). You can soar above the regular path and you will inevitably find a secret waiting for you, or a shortcut with less buzzsaws that gets you to the finish sooner. You can fly across gaps you didn’t think you could make because you’ve tried it a hundred times and didn’t do it, but this time you jumped a pixel later and nailed it (congratulations). You can fly up walls because Super Meat Boy is so incredible that twenty hours in, you’ll find yourself pulling off stunts (essentially) that you never even conceived of in the earlier levels. (Note to reader: Just like Red Bull doesn’t actually give you wings, you cannot actually fly in Super Meat Boy. Maybe there’s a mod that I’m unaware of, but the flight I’m referring to is a metaphor.)
Just Do It Like Shia LaBeef
Every time you play a level, there will be a moment that you won’t see coming, where you clip what seems like the edge of the buzzsaw’s hit box, but the game’s apparent generosity lets you fly over it somehow; then you will arrive at the level finish in a matter of seconds, not entirely clear how exactly you arrived there, but happy that it’s over. That’s the Super Meat Boy Magic (band name, anyone?). Your last attempt that enables you to beat a level doesn’t feel like a last attempt because you’re just doing it over and over again, perfecting every move and then you’re there in a bloodstained blaze of glory.
Video Game Hall of Fame?
Super Meat Boy is one of the best feeling games (platformers) of all time. You can fly. You can die. You can win. You can lose. Every moment of Super Meat Boy is an utter joy to experience. All you do is jump and run and avoid buzzsaws, but it’s all so refined that you don’t even realize how simple the game you’re playing is. If you’ve never played it, give it a shot. Unfortunately, non-Steam versions of the game are missing the Danny Baranowsky soundtrack which certainly adds a lot, so if you can, pick it up there, but if you can’t, the soundtrack doesn’t make or break the game, so play it and I promise you’ll love it.