To many, Super Meat Boy ranks among one of the toughest platformers ever released. Forget Super Mario Odyssey’s The Darker Side of the Moon or the now infamous mine cart stages of the Donkey Kong Country franchise; by comparison Team Meat’s devilishly difficult creation makes these moments feel like a walk in the park. The fact of the matter is Super Meat Boy is hard. As in “will likely make you hurl verbal abuse toward your Switch as you restrain from tossing it across the room” hard. It can often be pure evil. Yet amidst all the burning rage, you’ll find one of the purest and well-designed indie platformers out there.
You play as a small chunk of meat with arms and legs called Meat Boy. The peculiar little hero is on a quest to save his girlfriend Bandage Girl from the evil villainous Dr. Foetus, a journey that will take him through hundreds of stages packed with a whole assortment of nasty obstacles. Every world is bookended by short cutscenes that more often than not raise a smile, but overall the story is certainly secondary to the gameplay.
At its core, Super Meat Boy is your straight-up platformer where the only tool at your disposal is your ability to traverse environments with the most basic of moves. You can run, you can jump and you can wall jump but that is really it. The move set may be limited but your agility far exceeds anything seen from a certain plumber’s 2D efforts and with good reason – Super Meat Boy’s stages require an insanely high level of precision, timing and an awful lot of perseverance. It can be tough to adjust to the game’s physics in the early goings, but as you start to get to grips with Meat Boy’s movement you’ll soon be pulling off ambitious leaps and miraculous escapes you never thought possible.
The way the game manages to get so much mileage out of what is essentially a very simple-controlling platformer is in the continually surprising level design. While every stage may be relatively short, rarely taking much longer than a minute or so to complete, that doesn’t mean they aren’t filled with plenty of dangers to avoid. The first world alone introduces you to taxing wall jumps, razor sharp saw blades and crumbling blocks – the sort of tough to navigate things you’d expect to see much later in other platformers. And even when the game reuses these obstacles in future worlds, they’re constantly used in increasingly clever and difficult ways, they will feel fresh once again.
The brevity of the stages means that death won’t see you being kicked back too far. Sure, it’s still very frustrating to fail at the same area over and over, but being able to jump right back in with no load times and give it another go definitely helps lessen the blow. The game overall has a very fast-paced snappy feel to it, a quality that encourages you to keep coming back despite the punishing difficulty.
The game certainly doesn’t skimp out when it comes to content. The main story’s levels are split between ‘light’ and the much tougher ‘dark’, the latter unlocked for besting a stage’s ‘light’ equivalent within a certain time. Between both versions, the total count reaches well over 200 many posing an almost cruel difficulty. Every world also houses a few secret warp holes too that throw you into a set of three retro-themed levels. There are even a couple of bosses featured too for good measure. While it is possible to reach the natural end of the game by simply playing through the ‘light’ levels alone, you’ll only be seeing half the content, not to mention miss out on unlocking extra characters each with their own unique abilities. While Meat Boy is fairly quick and a good all-rounder, you’ll eventually unlock heroes who can float or even stick to walls.
Despite being nearly eight years old now, the Switch version does come with one brand new feature exclusive to the system – Race mode. Here the screen will split in two as you and a friend attempt to dash through entire worlds or a random assortment of them fastest. One key addition to this mode is that collected bandages can also be used to skip a level, ideal when you’re hitting your head against a particularly troublesome one or simply want to improve your lead or play catch up. Race mode is an excellent addition to the game and one that only serves to further bulk out what was already a substantial package.
As tight and responsive as Super Meat Boy feels to play, unfortunately I found the Switch’s Joy-Con had trouble keeping up. While playing with a single Joy-Con on its side is very uncomfortable on the hands, even using the grip doesn’t feel quite right thanks to the Switch’s lack of d-pad, what many will argue is the best way to play any 2D platformer. Still, it’s far from unplayable and if you happen to own a Pro Controller then this is definitely the way to go.
Super Meat Boy still looks great. It’s clean, simplistic visuals mean there’s little confusion to be had on where to go or what you should be doing whether you’re playing on a TV or in handheld mode. Most importantly of all, however, is the fact the game runs super smooth even in split screen – a vital factor for a game so demanding of timing and reactions.
Super Meat Boy is one of the toughest platformers I’ve ever played. What starts out as challenging quickly transforms into a series of nightmarish playgrounds that had me cursing with frustration but more importantly always returning for more. With the inclusion of an all-new race mode, the Switch version of Super Meat Boy is one of the best yet and even worth a try for those who might already be familiar with this demanding game.