For those of you who don't know: Super Meat Boy is a 2D platformer released on PC for digital download and Xbox Live Arcade. The idea is that Meat Boy must survive multitudes of deadly traps set by the evil Dr. Fetus to rescue his girlfriend, Bandage Girl. That's about it. You run, jump and die several times.
Well, the game is play tested up the ass. It seems like the designer made a few simple level templates, and then saw the easiest path people would take through the game. Then he put buzz-saws there. Then he played the level again, and put more buzz-saws where he landed frequently. After doing this a third time, he called it a light world level. To make a dark world level, he added more buzz-saws where he felt like to make it as annoying as possible. Its crazy. I don't know how you can possibly get this good of level design while deliberately trying to make the player fall into traps.
Next on the good design list...well, good level design. I'm serious. Its still good. The normal levels pride themselves on being difficult but fair, and in the beginning, the levels are very linear and straightforward. They teach you the ropes and force you to practice some of the techniques you will use to traverse the later levels. By the end of the game the levels are large and sprawling, allowing you to improvise your way through the traps to a better time on the leaderboards.
Also, there are several alternate characters you can unlock by either collecting band-aids in the levels or beating to a character specific warp zone. Each one shows off the unique properties of the characters, and all the characters are taken from other famous indie games throughout the years. They added Commander Video from the Bit.Trip games, that guy from VVVVVV, Mr. Minecraft, and I was ecstatic when I saw Najia from Aquaria (I doubt I'll muster up the band aids to unlock her though...). The fan in me is obligated to mention the lack of inclusion of Quote from Cave Story, but eh. MR. MINECRAFT!!
The last thing I want to mention for the good design is the retro homages that were thrown in. Each chapter begins with a cutscene that resembles cutscenes from old NES games. I could name Castlevania, Ghosts & Goblins, Pokemon, Mega Man 2, and Ninja Gaiden. The homage continues when you find warp zones in the levels, where you are transported to a themed universe based off of other classic NES and Gameboy games. I spotted Mario Land and Metroid among the mix. Even when you beat a level, Dr. Fetus steals Bandage Girl away using some classic Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter moves. The effect may be a little lost on me, because I didn't grow up in that era and only played most of those game via emulation. But still, its really pretty cool.
Some of the levels go all stylized and arty.
Its really hard to complain about a game that keeps things so simple. Its got a good difficulty curve, all the levels introduce something new to keep you on your toes and if you get bored, you can just play another character. I guess I'm gonna have to pull the 'there's just not much to it' card. There is some great level design, but the game is short, and you can't do anything other than run and jump. There's not much to complain about here, and its a good thing.
I got a nitpicky complaint, though.The extra levels (not the user generated ones) are actually falling off the good design spectrum into the land of repetitive memorization. They don't interfere with the main game, but when they actually try to make things difficult rather than requiring skill, it shows.
The first level of the 'easy' world of the bonus levels. Yep. This is as easy as they get.
The Short Version:
Super Meat Boy is a fun throwback to the days of 'Nintendo Hard.' The deaths are unforgiving, but the retry system is not. The game oozes homage to the classic games infamous for their difficulty, and the actual game is no pushover itself. There is a massive roster of characters to unlock through the game that each retain their powers from the popular indie game they are from. Also while the level design for the 120-odd main game levels is incredible, I can't help but think that the post game levels and dark world kinda dropped the meat into the razor blades.
Recommendation: All in all, well worth your time. Even if you don't get all the throwbacks to the 8 and 16 bit era. You can pick it up for 15 bucks or you may have it sitting on your Hard Drive from when it was cheap during the Steam sales, but I'd find the few hours to give this one a play.