Indie Innovations: Super Meat Boy
Welcome back to Indie Innovation everyone! For this week, I will be looking at Super Meat Boy, one of the holy grails of Indie game development. Designed and developed by Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes of Team Meat, Super Meat Boy became a commercial success when released in 2010. Gaining additional recognition after the release of the documentary Indie Game: The Movie in which it was heavily featured in, Super Meat Boy paved the way for a renaissance in Indie game development.
In Super Meat Boy, you play as the titular character who quite literally is a sack of meat. Your mission? To save your girlfriend, Bandage Girl, from the game’s main enemy, Dr. Fetus. The premise is very reminiscent of another certain platformer which has you running and jumping over obstacles to rescue a kidnapped princess. However, Super Meat Boy sets itself apart with it’s attention to precise timing and split-second thinking. The game is played with three movement controls. There’s obviously the ability to move Meat Boy, along with making him jump and sprint. Along with movement, Meat Boy is able to stick to walls momentarily, allowing him to climb to otherwise inaccessible areas. Using a conjunction of these movements, the player is tasked with traversing dangerous environments in order to get to Bandage Girl at the end of each level. However, this simple objective isn’t as simple as you’d think.
When playing through Super Meat Boy, I must’ve died quite literally hundreds of times. When you die, Meat Boy immediately spawns at the beginning of the level ready to tackle the challenge again. Dying isn’t entirely a bad thing in this game, however. As you progress through each level, a red stain is left on every part of the environment that you have touched, showcasing your progression. Using this, the player is able to see where they went wrong and adjust accordingly. Last time you jumped too soon and landed on a saw blade? Well, next time you can jump a little higher on the wall than you did previously, and safely make it past the saw. Combining these little details such as height and speed really help to make Super Meat Boy an extremely challenging game. After a while, you start to develop fine motor skills that seemed to be nonexistent when first starting the game. Don’t feel too cocky or arrogant though, because as soon as you feel like you have the game under control, the very next level will have you begging for mercy.
Apart from simply making it to the end of each level, players have multiple different goals they can work towards. For instance, scattered throughout various levels are bandage items and hidden stages called warp zones. Finding and collecting bandages as well as completing warp zones unlocks various playable characters, each with different attributes. For instance, there is a character named Ogmo that has the ability to double jump, or there’s Tim who can rewind time by three seconds. Along with unlockables, there are other rewards and incentives to keep the player busy, such as replayability. If the player is able to complete a level in a certain time period, they are rewarded with an A+ rating which in turn unlocks a harder version of that level. Be warned though, these levels tend to be insanely hard and are not for the faint of heart. That being said, I found that Super Meat Boy lends itself nicely to the multiplayer crowd. While the game initially has no multiplayer, I began a playthrough with some friends and we found it really enjoyable. Since later levels became insanely tricky, it was fun to see how far each one of us could get before rage quitting and passing along the controller. Quite possibly the best part about it all is that once a level is finished, you are able to go through a replay editor and simultaneously watch all your failed attempts at the level. This isn’t some cheap gimmick either, as it really helps keep the game’s infuriating difficulty at bay by providing a comical look at your progress.
Super Meat Boy is a simple game at it’s core. You simply run and jump over things to not die. The technical skill and precision it takes to do so, however, creates a deeply addicting game. Your heart will pound as you get past a saw blade or a lava pit that was holding you back. You may climb within inches of your destination, only to have a saw fall and kill you seconds before ending the level. It’s this frustration though that keeps the players coming back for more, determined to better themselves and overcome their own shortcomings.