Revisiting Super Meat Boy and its impact on indie gaming
Team Meat recently announced that it was working on Super Meat Boy Forever, due out sometime in 2018. The news got me yearning to revisit the original Super Meat Boy.
When I first played the game seven years ago, it became an instant favorite. I was reminded of the Mario series, but the cartoony blood and gore gave the game an attitude that not even '90s-era Sonic could touch. SMB was challenging, intense, and rage-inducing, but man, was it ever a lot of fun.
Playing the game again, seven years after release, none of these highlights have faded.
An Influential Indie Masterpiece
When it launched, SMB was an important game because it proved that a two-person studio could release something on the same level of quality as a big budget developer. This rang most true in terms of the game's controls, which to this day feel absolutely perfect. Guiding the titular Meat Boy across levels laden with buzz saws, slimy monsters, and fireballs was never easy, but it always felt great because of just how tight and precise the controls were and still are to this very day.
SMB is also one of a few titles — alongside Cave Story, Braid, Limbo, and a handful of others — responsible for the big indie boom that would allow smaller development teams to get more attention and recognition in the years to follow. Its inclusion in the documentary Indie Game: The Movie helped to further shine the spotlight on the importance of independently-crafted projects. So, while you could argue that now we also see a lot of forgettable games (primarily on Steam), we're also treated to spectacular visions of creativity like Superhot and Resogun.
Why Is Super Meat Boy So Good?
There's no shortage of tough-as-heck indie platformers these days. But before the “brutal platformer” essentially became its own genre, Super Meat Boy reminded retro game fans just how rewarding those old NES cartidges were to play through. In a world where gratuitous checkpoints and proverbial hand-holding had become the norm, Team Meat provided a throwback to the old style of video games. SMB is devilishly difficult while still utilizing modern elements to make the game accessible, such as unlimited continues and instant restarts.
Even putting aside the nostalgic factors, SMB is a great game because of all the elements it puts together like one big puzzle. The controls are great. The level design is fun. The obstacles are satisfying to get through. Progression feels good. And above all else, the game teaches you something new in almost every level that you must then use throughout the rest of the game. It does all of these things better than some more recent games with even bigger budgets.
The design of SMB is such that, even after failing time after time, you're enticed to give the level that's kicked your butt for the past 10 minutes one more go. Then, when you fail yet again, you just have to try one more time. This cycle goes on and on, partially because the levels are designed in such a way that they never alienate the player; you always know you can beat that fiendish level, even if it might take you countless attempts.
Inspiring a Genre
Whether directly or indirectly, the launch of Super Meat Boy in 2010 seems to have made the platformer genre better. Games like Rayman Origins and New Super Mario Bros. U are perfect examples of titles that were massively entertaining and challenging. Despite being mainstream releases, these games didn't shy away from putting the player in precarious predicaments, but they imposed the obstacles in ways that encouraged players to be persistent and press onward.
One game that was very clearly a direct result of SMB's influence was 2014's Fenix Furia. The game, developed by the Costa Rica-based Green Lava Studios, was visually reminiscent of Team Meat's iconic platformer, relied on perfect controls, and featured gameplay that was reminiscent of SMB. What FF did differently, however, was throw in an unlimited jumping ability that drastically changed how you progressed through the levels compared to SMB and its emphasis on more traditional platforming.
Another game that owes a lot to SMB is the recently released The End Is Nigh. Considering that the game was developed by Edmund McMillen, one-half of Team Meat, it's a bit strange to say it owes anything to SMB. That said, TEIN is more than something of a spiritual successor to SMB. While the art style is very unique, it plays incredibly similarly, only differentiating the gameplay by adding a ledge grab technique that allows the experience to stand on its own rather than feel wholly derivative.
I had a lot of fun playing Fenix Furia and The End Is Nigh, but neither stirred those same nostalgic feelings inside of me that SMB did. As much as I hate to say it, because both of those titles are good in their own right, neither is as memorable as Team Meat's debut. In 2010, Super Meat Boy was something unique and inspired; people still talk about it to this day. I don't hear anyone talking about FF or TEIN, the latter being more notable considering it launched not even two months ago.
Looking Ahead at Super Meat Boy Forever
The little we've seen of the upcoming Super Meat Boy Forever has resulted in a mixed reaction from fans of the original game. A lot of folks are already disappointed in the auto-running mechanics. I remain optimistic, however, as one of my favorite games in recent memory, Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, was also an auto-runner.
Will SMBF reach the same hit status as SMB did in 2010? Probably not, but that doesn't mean it can't be a worthwhile game. And really, if SMBF doesn't receive the same level of acclaim as its predecessor, it's only because Super Meat Boy was, and still is, an incredible achievement in game design.