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...