Super Meat Boy: Revenge of the retro

I’m not often speechless when it comes to critiquing a game, and I’m actually more inclined to critique a indie game than a mainstream title. Why? We have to play tough and hard with these new lads on the block, get them to learn the ropes the hard way and let those innovations shine. It’s odd then that Super Meat Boy is not innovative, what it is however is unlike anything before, it is the end. It is the culmination of the retro fantasy that hundreds of thousands of us have grown up and enjoyed. It is engraved in our minds like the big great simple melodies we all fondly remember. Team Meat took the ideas of over thirty years of games development and have condensed them into one of the most fun, frustrating and greatest experiences of all time. This is pretty set on becoming Game of the Year.

What makes Super Meat Boy one of the finest examples of retro reincarnation is the fact that its greatest strengths are apparently also the things that bear down upon it. The game is ridiculously hard, challenging your reflex and timing skills. After ten years of shooter sludge and cannon fodder that has seeped into our skin and hands, just check out the quicktime events in the God of War series; they get progressively easier. Finally we have a title to hang our hats on and call it a day, if this was the last video-game I would have ever play, I would die a happy man. I would die knowing that the efforts of video-gamekind have not been in vain. I’m not calling Super Meat Boy the culmination of artistic endeavour nor am I suggesting it has relevance to modern morals or the human condition. You play as a block of meat trying to save his girlfriend from a foetus in a jar, its message is very far from Shadow of the Colossus.

Even as I say that, you’re crying and screaming the ‘h-word’ at me. Hypocrite. Pre-determined character relationships blah blah yadda yadda, you’re faced to care for bandage girl blah blah blah – same trap as Fallout 3. You know what? I don’t give a flying butcher’s bottom. It’s a mistake that the relationship isn’t progressive and the player’s identity in the world isn’t clearly defined, although it begs relevance when you can literally change characters through the pause menu. Speaking of which, I want my hands on the BIT.TRIP series now. One of the characters you can play as, most of which are from the indie community, is Commander Video from said series. He floats a little when you hold down the jump button, and he is as useful as a ten-ton giraffe in a ladder contest. He gets you there stylishly but he’s harder to.. commandeer.. heh.

I’m trying to think of something to critique here other than the glaring pre-determined relationship with Bandage Girl, which I really don’t care about anyway. This is a celebration of all retro in a modern sensibility and if it involves a little block of meat going after a pre-determined goal; I don’t give a penguin. There is something I can sink my teeth into, however, and that involves a little bit of introspective. I did not grow up in the NES/SNES era, my first console was a PS1. I was a 3D platforming guy and yet Super Meat Boy hits a common chord with me. Is it just the simplistic game design meats big design ideas that makes it so compelling? I’m not sure, but I do know what makes Super Meat Boy a little worse for wear.

A lot of people won’t get it.

I’ve talked with many folks who simply aren’t interested, who write it off as ‘crap’ and ‘boring’ when I put the controller in their hands. They’re not as articulate as me, so it’s hard to find a reason why. I think I might have a good guess though, Super Meat Boy is too good. It’s not intellectually stimulating or challenging in that sense, but it’s… perfect at what it does. It’s the best platformer ever made, period, but a platformer isn’t enough for today’s generation of kiddywinks and some folks. Sometimes three interactions with a game makes it worse, some people prefer… being overpowered by features and design.

Take Call of Duty as an example. There are how many buttons needed? You need to shoot, duck, prone, jump, pick up weapon, sprint, move, select weapon, reload weapon, go into iron sights, hold sniper breath, knife and call in UAV so on and so forth. The game is overpowering and is essentially one of the biggest examples on the topic of male power fantasy or progressive expansive empowerment. The player is given so many tools he feels over-stimulated with noise, so he tends to just get used to being an obese gamer. In Super Meat Boy all you need to know is run and jump, and these little two interactions make the rest of the design more focused and in turn are more designed around its core philosophy; fucking your mind up with challenges.

You will die, thousands upon thousands of times. You will scream and swear, your hands will get sweaty and the whole of reality will bore down on you like God just opened up a cloud in Heaven and pulled down his underwear. The game is the hardest I’ve played, the most frustrating I’ve played… but it’s obvious what that results in. There is no feeling better than conquering sheer heights, there is no feeling worse than complete and utter anguish. It’s these two peaks that Super Meat Boy firmly places it flag upon, and some people just don’t get that. They’d rather stay in one camp than keep travelling from place to place and hunting down Radscorpians (yes, New Vegas is next week).

That’s all I can think of. The worst part of Super Meat Boy is not something I can personally come up with, but it’s what you or others may come up with, and even then I’ll put my hand on my heart when I say they will be in the hefty minority on this one.


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