Super Meat BoyPublisher: Team Meat
, Xbox 360
UK Price (as reviewed): £11.99
US Price (as reviewed): $14.99
When does a game get so frustrating that you shout, scream or yell at the screen? Usually, it's quite late on. Most games at least allow you to get to grips with them before throwing head-on-desk-smashing levels of difficulty at you. Not so for Super Meat Boy, the darling of the indie set, the game that, it seems, cannot be criticised in public for fear of having your sensitive organs chewed off by a mastiff.
Boiling Super Meat Boy down to its barest ingredients reveals a platform game, and a good one at that, but not something that is perhaps deserving of its current messianic status. Anything that's vaguely good in the indie arena is lauded to the heavens though, and Super Meat Boy is good. We just need to make that clear, because there's going to be a lot of criticism later on.
Anyway, the reason you're playing as the titular courageous cubed cutlet is because an evildoer has kidnapped your gal. In true platform tradition, you've got to get her back, traversing hundreds of levels to reach your ultimate goal.
If I die again then I'll kill myself
Bandage Girl, your square lover, is crying for help at the end of each stage and you, as Super Meat Boy, have got to negotiate obstacles and solve increasingly challenging puzzles to get to her. Then the evildoer steals her away at the last second, every time. Repeat hundreds of times and you've got Super Meat Boy a nutshell.
While the controls are simple, so much is done with them. All there is to do is jump and speed up a bit, but the levels somehow create conundrums out of these two skills. It's a testament to the ingenuity of the developers that they manage to provide new twists and turns from such a basic set of rules.
This is where the first problem kicks in, however. In trying to be so diverse, consistency becomes a huge issue, specifically when it comes to difficulty. One level will be very easy, then the next will be so hard you'll be tearing your fingernails out with rage. Then it'll be easy again. You can essentially skip normal levels if they're proving too tough a nut to crack, which helps alleviate the problem, but skipping levels is no fun.
You can't skip the boss levels, of course, and these definitely veer into the realm of insanity, difficulty-wise. Even the very first one requires great levels of dexterity and, most of all, patience to overcome.
If I die again then I'll kill you
Frustration comes not only from fiendish level design, but also from the fact that the controls can be unresponsive at key moments. When you've just got near the end of the level for the first time only for the jump button not to work, making you run stupidly off the end of the platform... words can't describe the anguish.
Because Super Meat Boy's gameplay requires such immensely accurate and millisecond-perfect timing, the chances of encountering hugely frustrating moments are too prevalent. The game tries to go down the traditional route of providing value for money via challenge, meaning you'll still be plugging away in a few months time – probably still stuck on the second level.
Other inclusions that are meant to keep you coming back for more are online rankings and leaderboards, where you can check your progress against friends on Steam. Except, at the time of writing, it's all a bit broken, with the number one player in the world managing to beat more than 300 levels in zero seconds flat. That's pretty good going. Everyone else is ranked joint second. A patch should sort this stuff out, as well as all the silly relics of the console version, such as continued references to Xbox controls.