Super Meat Boy preview: Super masochistic

I almost didn't dare write a preview of the XBLA version of Super Meat Boy. When I approached the demo kiosk at Fantastic Arcade, I started playing the level the previous player had abandoned, and then proceeded to die -- about a hundred times. That's not hyperbole. If anything, that's a conservative estimate. I failed over, and over, and over again. "Well, that wouldn't make for a good preview," I thought, reflecting on the humiliating performance that I just wrote about in this preview.

Later, after a brief mourning period, I returned to the game and started the demo from the first level. With the advantage of a bit more experience traversing Super Meat Boy's earlier levels, and having gotten a feel for the dash-jump physics, I was able to triumph over adversity and complete that one extremely difficult level. (Bonus: I could deliver my impressions of the game based on more than just the first three quarters of a single level played repeatedly.)

My opinion? Super Meat Boy is an ideal game for people who became addicted to the extreme platforming challenges found in N+ ... unless they're squeamish about blood.
Each level in Super Meat Boy is a smallish, enclosed space in which the title character must run, jump, dash and slide down walls to reach Bandage Girl, standing at the other end of the stage. Meat Boy is a lot more agile than you'd expect from a squarish lump of meat, able to jump high and far; and even able to cling to a wall, jump straight up and cling to a higher point in the wall. What he isn't is tough. He leaves a trail of blood everywhere he goes, and contact with any obstacle, including spinning blades, lasers and even what appear to be piles of syringes causes our hero to explode instantly in a shower of ichor.

I don't want to scare you off from Super Meat Boy.

Most of the levels in the demo were no big deal, easing me into the game with some nothing-fancy platforming and no real dangers. And then I reached that level. You start at the top of a tall vertical space, with Bandage Girl at the bottom. There's a vertical barrier in the middle of the room, with a few spaces big enough for you to pass through, and wide enough for you to stand on. The idea is that you jump into one of these spaces, then jump against the opposite wall and slide down until you can reach the next space, eventually lowering yourself down to Bandage Girl.

Confounding this, however, is that there's a hazardous, pointy overhang over Bandage Girl. The whole bottom of the level is also deadly -- as is most of the barrier that you have to jump through. Under- or overestimate your first jump and you die. Fall to the bottom and you die. Miss the final jump by even a little and you die. You get it. The trick, I finally figured out, is to dash-jump once you're almost at the bottom of the screen, clearing the barrier entirely and hitting the opposite wall, in order to jump back across the entire horizontal span of the level.

Not that level, but still perilous.

Later levels in the demo were less difficult, but had more interactive features. For example, the level pictured above included spinning blades that moved back and forth along the floor and ceiling; and a later level (pictured here) featured a line of blocks around a laser trap that disappeared one block at a time upon activating a switch. I had to run along the line of blocks as it was vanishing in order to reach Bandage Girl without being flame broiled.

I don't want to scare you off from Super Meat Boy. The level I had such trouble with might not even be a problem for another player -- it wasn't a problem for me after I took a break and came back to it. I was actually delighted to see the potential for such platforming challenges in the demo. Super Meat Boy holds the promise of the best kind of raging frustration.

Of course, if you don't want to see blood, I desperately want to scare you off.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.