Tuesday, November 30, 2010

First Impressions: Super Meat Boy

My initial assessment of Super Meat Boy (now available on Steam for PC) is that it's everything that it was hyped up to be when it was originally released for XBLA.  Its challenge level runs from moderate to punishing, but the trials seem to be entirely fair and ultimately beatable.  The game has a similarly brutal, if somewhat cutesy, sense of humor.  The main antagonist is a fetus in a top-hatted mech-suit, and the first world features lots of furry cartoon-critters getting gleefully ground to bits by the sawblade landscape.  The gameplay recalls the rich history of demanding platformers that preceded it, and the game has lots of 8-bit nostalgia moments, from the music selection, to a curtained character select screen, to actual 8- and 4-bit animations.  It also has a variety of guest-stars from other indie games, including ones that are PC exclusive.  Last but not least, SMB probably has more than enough content for most players, with around 300 levels, "A+" challenges, a dark world, glitch levels, and an editor on the way.  There's also leader boards, and the ability to save your "replays."

Definitely not a game for vegetarians.
From Edmund McMillen.
The unlockable characters that are exclusive to PC are Captain Viridian (VVVVVV), Goo Ball (World of Goo), Headcrab (Half-Life; exclusive to Steam), Josef (Machinarium), Naija (Aquaria), RunMan (RunMan: Race Around the World), and Steve ("Mr. Minecraft").  The Goo Ball is only unlockable on Steam versions via a cheat code; it is included with non-Steam versions of SMB.  Unfortunately, on the PC there is no Gish (as I mistakenly said in the video), and five other characters are missing, as these are exclusive to XBLA.  I'm hopeful they will eventually be released on all versions, although no statement has been made regarding this, and there is no reason to suspect exclusives won't remain exclusive.

One glaring omission that I noticed right away when starting SMB is that it is not possible to change the layout of the controls.  It seems that Team Meat is very convinced that the Xbox 360 gamepad is the way to go, because there is currently no support for editing the keyboard layout.  I gave keyboard play a test, and my initial assessment is that, yes, it is harder to play with the keyboard, but I think this is in part due to a poor layout.  The player is forced to use the arrow keys for direction, shift for running, and space for jumping.  If I were able to bind the directions to WASD or similar, I think this would probably make keyboard play easier.  I don't know what the developers were thinking with this decision, but it seems that they left out a basic feature that should've been there.  Perhaps this was an oversight in porting it to PC.  It does not seem that they intended to pressure players to use the gamepad, as they've stated that the lack of support for other controls and remapping is a bug that will be fixed soon.

Captain Viridian is also in the cast,
which leads to the question of which
is harder: SMB or VVVVVV?
This is really a game for people that not only enjoy intense, high-speed challenge, but who are also "completionists" that enjoy unlocking everything in the game and collecting every single secret available.  There is even more to do in this area on the PC version, including some exclusive Steam achievements that were deemed too hard for the Xbox 360.  Which is strange, considering that this game seems to be designed to be best enjoyed with the Xbox 360 controller.  Here is the full list of 33 Steam achievements; compare these to the 12 available on Xbox 360.  Completing all of the achievements is probably going to provide many hours of arduous entertainment for most players.  Although the ability to edit levels has not been released yet and cannot be properly judged, it sounds like it offers the promise of much more to come, as players will probably compete to make (and beat) their own most challenging levels.  We won't know until its release, which is currently scheduled for January 2011.

After this short, initial look at the game, I have to say that it appears to be a fantastic deal for those who are searching for a good test of their platforming abilities on the PC.  If you think you have the patience to learn and master the strange world of Super Meat Boy, then you'll probably find the challenge to be rewarding.  The only feature that is missing from it is better keyboard support, something that should have come first on any PC title.  Although there is no statement of what will be included in it, a patch is already on the way, so perhaps better keyboard support is planned.  Team Meat is aware that remapping isn't currently available, and working on it.  Other than this, I have to say that Super Meat Boy is well designed.  This game delivers the very trying but highly entertaining gameplay that was promised, along with a good dose of bloody humor.

I'm curious to see how the aquatic Naija works out in the world of SMB.
If you're curious about Aquaria and Gish, take a look at my first impressions.  An article on VVVVVV is coming soon.

Update 12/1/10: Some visitors have been wondering what the cheat code for unlocking the Goo Ball (from World of Goo) is.  I haven't been able to find an answer, either.  All that I've found is this Steam forum discussion wherein someone states that the code hasn't been announced yet.  Meaning, it's still up to players to figure it out.  If you happen to know, please drop me a line at charlaxy@gmail.com.  I'll give credit on this blog to anyone who finds it and notifies me.  Have fun!


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