Meat Boy (2008, WEB)

By Alex Kierkegaard / December 4, 2011

Why is Meat Boy shit? Let's get into that straight away. Meat Boy is shit, first and above all, because the entire goddamn thing plays like a huge ice stage. You know what I am talking about — the typical side-scroller ice-themed stage which throws a few slippery platforms at you to mix things up. In this limited capacity, and if properly employed within a cool stage- and theme-design, the things can indeed be fun — but no one would fucking enjoy them if THE ENTIRE STAGE was covered with goddamn ice, let alone THE ENTIRE FUCKING GAME. Meat Boy's main problem, then, to forget about the ice-stage analogy and think in terms of pure mechanics, is that the controls are far too precise, far too exacting of the player (and note that all the scrubs who are calling them too "loose" have no idea what these terms mean).
   "But Alex", some of you will doubtless now be thinking, "usually you complain about 'indie' games' loose and imprecise controls, and now you're bitching about them being too precise? WTF you are just making shit up to trash them!"
   Not so. You are just thinking in black and white terms (loose=bad, tight=good) and then projecting this retarded way of thinking onto me. For it is CLEAR, to anyone with HALF A BRAIN, that there is a RANGE of control "tightness" WITHIN WHICH the typical HUMAN BEING, can FUNCTION. No doubt there are extraterrestrial life-forms who have a different range from us, and for whom Meat Boy's controls are right on the sweet spot, and all our other games feel like wading through a swamp to them, but that is of no concern to me and to this website because our target readership is not them, get it?
   Let me give you an example to make sure you got it. In basketball, three-point shots are clearly a matter of skill. But the further back from the three-point line you go the less and less the outcome of a shot is dependent on your skill (as long, that is to say, as you are strong enough for your shot to reach the basket...), and by the time you've reached the other end of the court the average amateur has about as much of a chance of making the shot as Larry fucking Bird. Similarly, if an amateur and an MVP are standing right beneath the basket, their shot rate will be practically equal. In order for skill to come perceptibly into the equation, then, you need to be somewhere within that range I mentioned earlier, and as close to the sweet spot as possible (which is represented, in basketball, by the three-point line, which is why shots made from there are more valuable than regular ones, whereas ones made from further back are worth the exact same number of points, and are therefore not encouraged).
   I mean, if you really want to see how fucking stupidly this (so crucial) aspect of the game has been handled, play it for half an hour or so, and then quit and play a Makaimura. The Makaimura series is infamous for having the toughest, most exacting jumping scheme in the history of videogames, and yet the stunts these games demand from you feel like the simplest, easiest, most natural things in the world after a few minutes of Meat Boy.
   "Well, if what you are saying is true", scrub readers will at this point probably be wondering, "then why do the Makaimura games still have such a great reputation for toughness whilst Meat Boy doesn't?"
   Because Makaimura's stages last longer than five seconds.
   It's as simple as that. If Meat Boy's stages lasted ANYWHERE NEAR those of the typical Makaimura's, the Meat Boy series would have dethroned Capcom's legendary games as the hardest side-scrollers ever. Note that this would not by any means change anything in the Makaimura series' status as one of the BEST side-scrollers series, nor in Meat Boy's as one of the WORST — all it would do is make it obvious even to scrubs how terrible the latter games are — the equivalent of having the players in a basketball match sit right under their own team's basket, lobbing bricks all the way across the court for the duration of the match.
   And that's how Meat Boy plays: whatever is not retardedly easy is basically a crap shoot, which you try, fail, repeat and rinse until you've "made" it, at which point the game autosaves and you are on to the next asinine little "challenge".
   And of course, as can be expected of a game that's based on such a botched system, stage designs are terrible (though far better than those found in the typical "indie" effort, to be sure, but still tiny and stupid compared to those found in real games), endlessly recycling the same handful of elements (a gap, some spikes, a buzzsaw, etc.) in ever less imaginative patterns, on top of which the setting, art design, and graphics are all abominable. Even the damn thing's title is indicative of the mentality and (lack of) culture of the people who made this worthless trash; while the early history of the artform is filled with the truly touching innocence of titles such as "Wonder Boy", "Paperboy" and "DJ Boy", this latest crop of "indie" trailer trash Americans, who were raised — there is no doubt — on Taco Bell and Burger King, can think of no better name with which to baptize their little piece of digital vomit than goddamn fucking MEAT Boy.
   Last but not least is the outstanding technical achievement award that I would like to bestow on the members of "Team MEAT" (though they might have to share it with the webmasters of Newgrounds, a site devoted to fostering terrible videogame design and promoting the people who are producing it). What they have achieved is really something staggering, something I would not have believed possible before seeing it with my own eyes. They have managed to take the limited capacity for immersion of handheld videogame systems, and not merely equal it, but SURPASS it on your $3,000+/40" 1080p supercomputer setup. They have achieved this by filling your entire 40" screen with countless terrible, ugly, flashing shit totally unrelated to the game, while limiting the actual game's area to a tiny little window, barely the size of your palm, and placed dead-smack in the center of this sea of rubbish. And while this is indeed comparable to the screen size of the typical modern handheld, in the handhelds' case, at least, you have a thick bezel to help you ignore "reality" and focus all your attention on the game, on top of which the background to that bezel is entirely up to you, and therefore generally muted and inoffensive — as long as you don't decide to whip out your PSP in the middle of an orgy or ethnic cleansing or some shit. I mean even when emulating something like a GBA, the emulator devs usually give you at least the option of making the rest of your desktop black, so you can focus on the action. But Team MEAT and their resourceful publishing partners on Newgrounds would not allow any room for such frivolities — that's how independent everyone involved in this little travesty really was, including you, the unfortunate player, my dear reader — they have COMPLETE ARTISTIC CONTROL of what the poor hapless, clueless player gets to experience, AND THEY'LL BE DAMNED IF THEY ARE GOING TO PASS UP THE OPPORTUNITY TO USE IT!