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Super Meat Boy pt.4

So your stomach is full of meat. Part of the meal was undercooked, but the outer crust on the real "meat" of it all was delectable. You're thinking about calling it quits on eating for the rest of the day, until you spot the dessert. This end to the meal will be light, thoughtful, and just the thing you didn't realized you wanted. 

I know that this article series has been long. As much as I've written, there's still more to say about Super Meat Boy. The problem is, I tend to articulate my thoughts fully. This takes a lot of time and effort. But the alternate approach (saying less in fewer words) isn't my style anymore. If you're a long time reader, you may recall this review of N+ that I wrote. I played the game for a bit and decided to hit the points quickly before ducking out.  

The problem was, while a statement like... "In the grand scheme of platformers I've covered on this blog, N+ is at the very bottom. I won't be spending any more time with this game. I'd rather play Super Princess Peach" ... is clear, simple, and direct, it does nothing to explain my point of view or teach my thought process. Perhaps a happy medium doesn't exist, and there's no substitute for full disclosure. 

If you check out the comments on my N+ review, you'll see that one of the developers joined the discussion. After clarifying a few things we moved the discussion to email. That was back in 2008. And though we reached some common ground in our continued discussion, the conversation eventually fizzled without closure. 

In 2010 I picked up a copy of N+ for the DS and raced through the 200+ levels in a few days. I really enjoyed my playthrough. So I went back to my conversation with the creator of N+ and took a closer look at all the things I said and how he responded. It turns out my analysis was spot on for the most part.

N+ and Super Meat Boy are commonly put into the sub genre of hard platformers. They have a lot in common, so expressing which game I like better and why should bring this series to some closing insights. 


  • The mechanics in N+ are much cleaner, slower, and simpler than Super Meat Boy. There's no RUN mechanic. Instead momentum (vertical and horizontal) is built up. The movement speed is fairly floaty giving players a chance to react to the Ninja's movements and adjust their trajectory. The WALL JUMP is a simple like the standing JUMP. And the WALL SLIDE isn't sticky or restricting like Meat Boy's. 
  • The collisions in N+ are cleaner as well. Like Mario's hitboxes, the enemy hitboxes are slightly smaller than their forms and the Ninja's hitbox doesn't expand unnecessarily when he sticks out his limbs. Furthermore, N+'s level elements feature a wide range of angles and smoothly curving surfaces that the Ninja stands and JUMPs off of accurately. Because of the minimalist aesthetic, there's absolutely no confusion on what you can interact with or what's an enemy element. 
  • While there are no secrets or puzzle like elements in N+, there are gold pieces that are functionally like coins. These optional collectibles challenge the score seeking player to redesign their paths through the level and make more difficult maneuvers.


  • Because the minimalist aesthetic is not restricted to creating consistent environments or fictional worlds, the designers were free to make more abstract and gimmicky levels (see image above). 
  • Levels are designed around a variety of different challenges. If you fall (or rise) at too great a speed and collide with a floor/ceiling, you'll die. This naturally makes navigating levels vertically trickier than in platformers like Super Meat Boy or Super Mario Bros. So even in a level with no enemy elements, you can die if you're not careful. Furthermore, enemy elements are slow and fairly simple. Because the character movement starts slow then builds and the enemies move at a moderate speed, the game supports a range of play speeds comfortably. 

  • The game is one hit kills like so many indie platformers. The mines don't have any interplay but all the other enemies do (Rocket Launcher, Rotating Laser Drone, Thwump, Zap Drone, Floorguard, Gauss Turret, Laser Drone, Chaingun Drone, Seeker Zap Drone, Force Field Drone). To my surprise some of the enemy elements work with the level and player to create nice counterpoint (like desyncing and rearranging Seeker Zap Drones). The enemies aren't as deep as some Mario enemies, but they do layer together very nicely considering how they fill out the design space
  • N+ doesn't suffer from zoom/camera issues like Super Meat Boy. The slower game speed makes everything easier to react to. Even on the DS version, between the top and bottom screen I could play zoomed in or zoomed out just by focusing on either screen.


Both Super Meat Boy and N+ feature hundreds of levels that are fine tuned for speed and playability. This is very impressive. Regardless of how limited the core systems are, the majority of the levels are unique and distinct from each other. While N+ nudges out Super Meat Boy in my list of great platfomers, Super Meat Boy comes close with its range of characters, indie spirit, neat music, and attention to detail. Furthermore, Meat Boy levels are generally tighter and more clever. Many consider both games to be very hard, but I think N+ is pretty easy (at least beating every level). Perhaps this is because the slower game speed allows a wider use of the skill spectrum thus more evenly distributing the skill stress.

I'm 100% on light world and 84+% on dark world levels in Super Meat Boy. I'd say that I've played quite a lot of what the game has to offer. As hard hitting as my critique may seem, Super Meat Boy is still a great game. I put both it and N+ over the Sonic games and LittleBigPlanet in terms of platforming gameplay. Honestly, some Super Meat Boy levels are so elegantly designed that I marvel at the cleverness. If I could express how great the game is in a sentence, the game's shortcomings wouldn't get covered. And if I focused only on the drawbacks, that wouldn't do the game justice either. So if you've made it this far, understand that the critique and the conversation isn't over.

I don't do review scores, but if I had to grade Super Meat Boy it would get a...


« About That Indie Feel pt.4 | Main | Super Meat Boy pt.3 »

Reader Comments (10)

I'm slightly confused here. Do you consider N+ an excellent or awful platforming game? You seemed to find it very poorly in 2008, and now you say "my analysis was spot on for the most part," but you apparently consider it great. Maybe I'm being a bit simplistic here, but I'm still having trouble understanding how ending your Meat Boy series by ranking it just below N+ is framed as a positive conclusion.

January 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGoSign


I corrected a few of my points like how gold is designed in N+. I used to think they didn't add much to the experience, but that all depends on if you're going for score or not.

I'm always weary of not giving games enough of a chance before I rate/judge/talk about them. In 2008, I had only played a few levels of N+ (let's say 50-75). Though my thoughts them may have been curt, I feel that I didn't do my "job" by fully explaining myself. So now I've played through the entire N+ game for the NDS. I took this opportunity to clarify some things about N+ especially considering how similar it is to Meat Boy.

What I said in my 2008 review is mostly true, but the bulk of my analysis is actually in an email conversation that I don't know if I'm at liberty to post publicly. In the emails I talked about the limitations of the core N+ system and how that limits level design overall in certain ways. We talked about the flow of actions and other elements of N+'s design.

I prefer some things in N+ to Meat Boy and some things in Meat Boy to N+. Since I'm a stickler for clean core design I gave the edge to N+. But in general I don't put too much time and energy into rating/ranking games. So I ended with a sort of joke.

Regardless of how Meat Boy compares to N+, I said many great things about Meat Boy. If getting nudged out by N+ while landing on top of LBP and Sonic is not a positive conclusion, then I don't know what to tell you. My opinion merely reflects my person tastes in game design.

Does that make sense?

Ah, it's good, I think I understand. I think I hastily and unfairly took your original opinion of N+ to be entirely negative, based on "N+ is at the very bottom" ignoring the qualifier "platformers I've covered on this blog" which in 2008 was a much smaller pool.

January 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGoSign


Yeah, I probably should have worded that statement very differently.

I'm glad we could sort that out.

From this post, I took some time to investigate your review of Sonic series, and I must admit that I have been a bit surprised by your outcome. I suppose the core gameplay of Sonic the Hedgehog is more like a racing game with platformer mechanics, where most of the stress is put on your memory, although early levels of the game can clearly be played in a more "reactive" fashion.

Anyway, I'd be curious to know whether you had played Rick Dangerous or maybe "the Great Giana Sisters" and what you think about those SMB1-contemporary games.

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersylvainulg


There's a reason why Sonic hasn't been the same since.... Sonic 1. That's all I'll say about that.

I haven't played Rick Dangerous or The Great Giana Sisters. I've heard of the Sisters before. But the game looks like a bad, Mario clone. So I never played it.

And I played a bit of Rick Dangerous on that site. I might play more, but putting myself through a game like that is not my idea of fun. It's got that indie feel all over it (could be because it's a flash game port).

January 11, 2011 | Registered CommenterRichard Terrell (KirbyKid)

The Giana Sisters can indeed be conceived as a Mario clone, but imho, it's far from being a "bad" one... I'd even dare to say that it's one of the best mario clones ever made. Especially, it had a very different approach of power ups, subtle difference on coins (your major source of 1-UPs, which will be suspended across levels, but fall back to 0 if you die) that makes me think you might like to study how a slight variation of the games rules may guide the player into a fairly different gameplay strategy.

Maybe I should take back your critical gaming template and try to do the analysis myself if you're not that hot about trying old-school C=64 games.

January 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersylvainulg

@ sylvainulg

That's a good idea for an article. I encourage you to try the analysis. I don't know how much time I'll have to play the game or how easy/legal it would be to do so.

Let me know what you decide.

January 11, 2011 | Registered CommenterRichard Terrell (KirbyKid)

Fascinating series of articles! As someone who's played through every level of the game, I agreed with most of your points but have a different point of view on a couple.

From my experience, frustration is the result of one thing: my loss of interest in the game. This is usually due to repetition, but a three-second respawn time (as in Mario) is just as bad when I'm dying over and over. SMB is simple enough that the learning experience is near-instant ("Oh, I should just tap the jump button a little more lightly next time", for instance) so the instant respawns are a welcome addition.

I also thought that, while fast, the pace of the game wasn't fast enough to turn the dexterity required into a game of memorization (as in I Wanna Be The Guy). Reflex and timing (along with a good amount of muscle memory, actually) played a big role for me.

Basically, SMB is a twitch platformer, just as advertised. I don't expect and don't want complexity, just the immediate thrills of jumping between spikes or around missiles. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that's what the developers were aiming for: getting you those simple thrills in a rapid-fire fashion. I did find myself getting bored playing through the Cotton Alley levels (even the ones I beat easily were dull -- just more and more static spike wheels) so I can easily understand your point of view. For me, SMB was an experience I thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend in a heartbeat, but I wouldn't credit it with any sort of longevity whatsoever.

January 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRay

@ Ray

Great response.

Yes, for many of the levels/challenges why you died is simple enough. And because the game is pretty simple mechanics wise you always know generally what you can do to make your next trial and error attempt. In a strict game with little interplay/depth, what you see is mostly what you get.

I never got bored with the game, but I did get tired of the length and progression of the challenges in some levels.

Furthermore, for some of the dark levels especially, I felt like I was merely refining/memorizing a "lucky" strategy that I stumbled upon with trial and error rather than getting good at/using the core skills of the game. This converse effect happens sometimes when levels are too hard and too complex.

I still feel like there's a lot I can write about Super Meat Boy. Like... how people simplify complexities (especially complex timing challenges).

I found I used a lot of knowledge (LTM, MM), Reflexes (DVA), and timing skills (static, complex, external).

January 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterRichard Terrell (KirbyKid)

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