Dr Fetus or: How I Learned to Stop Whining and Love Super Meat Boy
So it’s back-to-back posts featuring work from the mind of Edmund McMillen. I seemed to have swamped myself within his mind plasma and spent far too much time playing The Binding of Isaac and now Super Meat Boy. If you’ve not heard of the hardcore-twitch platformer that is Super Meat Boy, then you really need to educate yourself. Imagine playing a game of Mario that had its difficulty jacked up to 11 with no remorse for the player. Super Meat Boy is that game. It also seems no coincidence that Super Meat Boy and Super Mario Bros. share the same initials. McMillen steeps his work in game-history and SMB (Super Meat Boy, not Mario) is no different.
The game opens with the narrator shouting at you “SUPER MEEEEAT BOOY” and the attitude doesn’t stop there. You start by taking control of an anthropomorphic cube of meat who’s girlfriend (Bandage Girl) has been kidnapped by the evil, and adorable, Dr. Fetus. The motive is unknown but the formula is so familiar that we take this for granted. The levels have all got the same fundamental goal. Reach Bandage Girl without being turned into burger patties too many times. You will die though. Numerous times. But dying hundreds of times on the same level only makes the replay upon completion so much greater. The replay shows not only your final attempt, but all previous attempts simultaneously running head-first into an inevitable and gruesome red spray.
Although SMB has been out for some time now, it is one game that I find myself coming back to time and time again. The reason for my absence from the game is probably down to the difficulty. When I first picked up the game way back last year, I found the first world to be a nice introductory set of levels that still possessed challenge. I’ve recently gone back and played these starting levels and found them to be somewhat of a cakewalk. It’s not because they’ve become objectively easier, but because by the end of the game you’re having to do things that would have seemed unfathomable when you first started out as a baby Meat Boy, or should that be Meat Baby?
The game is best played on a controller and this is where the real magic of the game lies. There are plenty of platformers out there that don’t behave themselves very well and have the player shouting “bullshit!” at the controls and how they behave. Like being put in charge of an overweight man in slippers who’s carrying bricks and then being told to navigate him across an icy bridge. It ain’t gonna happen. SMB, however, has tight controls. Really tight. You may find yourself blaming the controls for your failure but it isn’t the controls that are letting you down. It’s these controls that give the game its speed and enjoyment. The game is all about speed and the quick resets and loading times encourage this. It’s like when playing Trials HD where you know that hitting that reset button will not take time. You need to beat your friends’ times and resetting to do so is not a problem.
The game is also steeped in video-game history. It knows that the comparison to Mario would happen and how does Meat Boy reply? With a great big middle finger and an attitude that says “come at me”. And you know what? It can get away with it because it’s so well made. It replicates old gaming systems and their graphics, their music and their loading screens. The game may be frustrating but rewards the player with that warm and fuzzy nostalgia feeling. So what I can’t beat this level? The beeps and boops well make up for it and the adorable sprites are a bonus.
That’s not to say the game doesn’t have its faults. The lack of being able to quickly see friends’ times whilst playing is a bit of a pain. Trials HD does the competitive leaderboard to perfection especially with the in-game marker to show you where your friends were at that time. It’s something that’s lacking from SMB but is certainly not a game-killer. The sheer volume of content in the game more than makes up for any shortcomings.