A platformer that pays tribute to the classics while claiming its place alongside them.Edit
It's no coincidence that Super Meat Boy shares its initials with Super Mario Bros. This is a pure platformer that boils gameplay down to nothing but running and jumping. Meat Boy's goal is always the same: he must reach Bandage Girl, who is ever in another castle. Doing so is never an easy task thanks to the numerous dastardly traps in the way. One prick from a buzzsaw, spike, or monster's jaws will splatter Meat Boy's bloody pixels (which remain as a grisly reminder of your failure during your next attempt). Even though you only have two maneuvers at your disposal, the developers never run out of clever ways of obstructing your path.
In a game like this where you need to be able to make precision jumps and turns, the controls have to feel just right. The developers understand this and, just like Super Mario Bros., it feels good to control Super Meat Boy. He has a nice weight to him and a beginner player will get the hang of it almost immediately even on advanced stages. Super Meat Boy is an extremely difficult game. Make the slightest mistake and you'll have to restart the stage over from the beginning -- there are no checkpoints. You might die a hundred times before you are finally reunited with Bandage Girl and the game gleefully keeps track of every death in the Statistics menu. It's such a tense experience my hands hurt after a while and I couldn't get a good grip on the controller any longer because of the sweat. But you have unlimited tries and most stages take less than a minute to complete once you know what you're doing. When you are triumphant you are rewarded with a replay of all your attempts running at once -- dozens of Meat Boys flying across the stage and being eviscerated by traps.
Even though Super Meat Boy doesn't have a multiplayer mode, it's a great game to play with friends. Since you often have to make many, many tries before completing a stage it's perfect for passing the controller around and letting everyone have a shot.
Your first time through the game you'll be so laser focused on just completing each stage it's likely you'll miss the many secrets. There are warp zones that lead to secret areas where you might find new playable characters from recent indie games. Commander Video from the Bit.Trip series on WiiWare is here as well as that kid from Braid. These guests have their own behaviors that might help you in a tight spot. Commander Video can float for a moment, for instance. You can usually switch to a new character on the fly unless you're fighting a boss. There are also precariously placed bandages to collect that can be spent to unlock even more characters. Meat Boy isn't in this alone. The developers' influences are obvious, as the hilarious cut scenes reference everything from Ninja Gaiden to Adventures of Lolo to Mega Man 2. A Donkey Kong-themed level is named "Weibe," after Donkey Kong champion Steve Wiebe. The rocking chiptune soundtrack is the best I've heard since Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game. Find a warp zone and the visuals will shift to a more pixilated, 8-bit style emulating the NES, Game Boy, or Atari 2600. Super Meat Boy pays tribute to classic platformers while simultaneously claiming its place on the throne with the best of them.
Those cut scenes I mentioned are very funny, but they don't have the polish of the rest of the game. It is these scenes where you can tell Super Meat Boy was made by just two dudes. But I do appreciate the game's bizarre sense of humor. I mean, it's got a hero made of raw meat who is in love with a band-aid that is kidnapped by a fetus that won't stop flipping people off. If that's not a recipe for a good time I don't know what is.
Super Meat Boy is one of the best modern platformers. It's infuriating, exasperating, and arduous, but it's also delightful, thrilling, and hilarious. The NES games of yore were simultaneously simpler and more challenging than today's games, a quality perfectly emulated here. Invite some friends over and pass the controller around -- you're gonna need all the help you can get.