Super Meat Boy - first look

Titles that absolutely describe their game are a dying breed. What is there that ‘Super Meat Boy’ doesn’t tell you? He’s made of meat, he’s super, and he’s a he. What else do you want?

It’s a retro-esque platform game that proudly describes itself as incredibly hard, and comes from two of the more ingenious but twisted minds of the current indie development scene. Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes are aiming to creep closer to something like the mainstream with SMB, but there’s no escaping that they’re guys who’ve previously made games about angry lady-parts and tiny flying boy-parts. Take the titular Meat Boy, for instance. “He has the ability to bleed profusely but still be T for Teen,” observes McMillen. “He’s like SpongeBob for carnivorous sadists.”

Apart from said hemorrhaging, Meat Boy’s key skill is jumping: be it over spikes, saw blades, bottomless drops or murderous enemies. Specifically, wall-jumping: propelling himself off the sides of platforms and structures to continue ever-upwards, and absolutely dependent on your button timing.
Is that it? “Meat Boy also has the ability to pull the heartstrings of millions of women around the world,” offers Refenes. “Meat Boy is a love story that will hopefully bend the will of some savage hotties to look at me without screaming in horror and running away.”

But yes, this is very much a classic game idea: accurate jumping in the name of saving the girl, who happens to be made almost entirely of sticking plasters. The hook is that it’s classic platforming combined with modern presentation and just the right degree of difficulty. “Our goal with SMB is to make the game a challenge but not frustrating,” says McMillen. “The Meat Boy formula is kinda like Mario Brothers for kids with ADHD. The levels are extremely short, but since there’s not a lives system they’re never soul crushing. We also have the levels set up so that you don’t have to beat them all to progress, just two out of every set of three.”

Nonetheless, they’re marketing it as a game for diehards, so it’ll be fascinating to see whether its audience is mostly more casual-guy-charmed-by-the-cartoon-look’, or said ADHD kids. Those who insist that difficulty is the most important element of a game are certainly catered to, however. “SMB will also ship with a set of 100-plus expert levels that you unlock as you play. These unlock depending on how well you play the story mode, so an experienced player won’t get bored playing through the easier levels.”

You’ll also get a neat visual memento of the many, many deaths you’ll inevitably suffer during all this jumping and girl-rescuing, as dozens of Meat Boys at times litter the screen. “Each of those Meat Boys represents a previous attempt at the level,” explains Refenes. “A while ago I watched this quantum Super Mario World video where like 134 attempts at a level were overlayed on top of each other and it looked pretty awesome. I thought to myself, ‘we should do that’, so I coded it up. It’s an awesome reward at the end of a super hard level. Meat Boy is like Dr. Manhattan, except red... and he doesn’t have a blue dong.”

If you tire of this tiny red Watchmen analogue, you’ll be thrilled – yes, thrilled! – at the playable inclusion of characters from various indie games. “Each of the five chapters of SMB has four hidden warp zones,” says McMillen. “These will send you into retro level sets, as well as levels from other indie games. When you finish the level you unlock that indie character and will be able to play as them in the main game.”

Confirmed as appearing are Braid’s Tim and Alien Hominid’s, er, Alien Hominid. Also, there’s blood. A lot of blood.

Nov 20, 2009