Super Meat Boy

A game by Team Meat for PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox 360, PS4, Vita, Wii U, and Switch, originally released in 2010.
When Super Meat Boy hit the market, the 2D gaming revival was well underway, led by the likes of Alien Hominid, Braid, and Spelunky. While those titles offer plenty of challenge on their own, Super Meat Boy is credited with the return of hardcore pure platforming design sensibilities, offering short but brutally difficult platforming environments while granting the player a high degree of precision control to overcome a deadly array of obstacles.

Meat Boy must navigate difficult environments and make precision jumps to avoid spinning saw blades, mountains of salt, and the deadliest of all 2D gaming substances: lava. Sticking close to its old school foundations, the player is given just 3 movement options: move, run, and jump. These are the basic controls for practically every platformer created since Super Mario Bros.

Rather than controlling a plump plumber or hasty hedgehog through a pastoral landscape, Meat Boy is actually a bag of meat, and his environs are considerably more industrial. While meat bags don’t traditionally have much in the way of personality, the developer goes pretty far in giving the little guy character, with his big eyes, kooky smile, pudgy arms, and a constantly kidnapped girlfriend named Bandage Girl, who is the goal of your quest.

The game is considerably grittier and more irreverent than the cutesy platformers of old, featuring no shortage of toilet humor, even going so far as to include a boss that is literally a race against an anthropomorphic poo. The game’s primary antagonist is a fetus – named Dr. Fetus – with a robotic body that he controls from within the glass dome of a head, and he’s prone to flipping Meat Boy the middle finger. The story is told through cutesy wordless cutscenes, many of which reference classic 2D action games, including Double Dragon, Ninja Gaiden, and Mega Man 2.

In addition to the adult-oriented humor, there is also a considerable amount of blood, all of which comes from Meat Boy. Wherever Meat Boy runs, a trail of blood is left behind him – along with a satisfying sludgy sound – and falling prey to a spinning saw blade sends a spray of the sanguine fluid all over the surrounding area. In addition to supporting the overall theme and humor of the game, the blood trail serves a gameplay purpose, as blood splatters persist in the environment when Meat Boy is killed, giving the player a visual cue as to where he previously stepped, potentially showing safe jump points or highlighting a saw blade that managed to snag him on a previous attempt.

Meat Boy is granted infinite attempts to complete a level. Rescuing Bandage Girl is the primary goal in each area, but reaching her causes Dr. Fetus to appear and kidnap her anew, after which a replay shows the player’s progress through the level. However, rather than simply displaying the player’s final attempt, the game actually replays every attempt the player made, resulting in a potential parade of running and jumping Meat Boy characters that are killed off one by one until the final survivor reaches the end.

While danger abounds, the player is given a great deal of precision control over Meat Boy’s movements. Meat Boy is able to run quickly, wall jump, and wall slide, and the player is given control over his considerable jump height as well as his midair trajectory. In addition, the RUN button not only allows Meat Boy to run quickly along the ground; it also increases his overall speed even while he is in midair, granting an extra touch of control that allows the player to better climb walls, clear gaps, and dodge obstacles. As with any challenging puzzle-platforming affair, these basic mechanics get stretched to their near-breaking point as the game piles on the challenges and asks you to find new and more complicated ways to use these basic movement tools.

The first world introduces destructible blocks that crumble a few seconds after you touch them, and these may be placed on the floor to give way to an environmental hazard, or along a wall to limit Meat Boy’s ability to ascend a narrow shaft. In the second world, things get more complex with deadly lasers that engage and disengage, keys that must be collected in order to open new paths, and fans that push Meat Boy quickly upward… or shred him to bits if he gets too close. Some levels have fans that are at 45 degree angles or turned on their sides to further complicate environmental navigation.

The third world introduces conveyor belts that not only move horizontally, but also vertically, allowing the player to use them to fling Meat Boy high into the air. This world also has a number of turrets that spit out meat-seeking missiles on a regular basis, meaning that the player can’t stand in one place for more than a couple of seconds, and he must get the timing right to ensure that he doesn’t catch a missile in the face during a complex sequence of jumps.

The fourth world has spinning lasers and black toothed critters that act like missiles but they burst into a ring of smaller projectiles when they touch a solid object. This world also introduces a bit of Portal-esque puzzle platforming with hovering rings that Meat Boy can jump into, popping out on the far side with his trajectory and momentum intact. Often, the player must make multiple portal jumps within a level to make his way to the exit or reach bandages (more on these in a bit). The final world in the main game introduces buttons that activate blocks, as well as antigravity light fixtures, while also iterating on the previously-established concepts with ever more dastardly configurations.

Bosses come in a number of shapes and sizes, although none of them are defeated in the typical hop-and-bop platforming fashion. Rather than combatting these creatures directly, Meat Boy must use his environmental navigation abilities under tighter than usual constraints. Some encounters feature races against rampaging beasts where the goal is to simply make it to the end of the level as quickly as possible. Others require that Meat Boy survive while luring the bosses’ attacks away or causing them to damage themselves.

Each of the five main worlds is divided into 20 levels (for 100 total), only 17 of which are required to unlock the boss that blocks the player’s progress into the next world. These levels are generally quite short and are designed to be completed in under 30 seconds… although it may take considerably longer depending on the number of attempts the player makes. The 20 levels in each world may be played in any order, allowing the player to skip over challenging sequences and return later, or to simply skip the level altogether. This design allows for a somewhat speedy progression through the main game, but there is a load of additional content available to skilled players.

First off, each level has a time limit, and completing the level under that limit awards the player with a Grade A+ ranking and unlocks a Dark World variant of the level. The basic structure of each Dark World level is the same, but these levels are packed with more dangers, more open pits, and fewer safe jump points. Each level has a Dark World equivalent, resulting in an additional 100 levels, and beating them all allows the player to see the game’s true ending as well as open up an additional set of challenging levels.

Furthermore, several of the levels feature a spinning portal that disappears after a few seconds. If the player is able to reach the portal before it vanishes, he will unlock a new set of challenging levels, each of which is themed after a retro game system, including the NES, SNES, and Game Boy. In these areas, Meat Boy is given a limited stock of lives in which to complete a series of three levels and reach Bandage Girl at the end of each. These retro-styled levels tend to be even shorter than those in the main game, but they require very precise movement on the part of the player.

And that’s not all… Many of the levels feature bandages tucked away in hard to reach places, offering a secondary challenge to players attempting to seek them out. Some of these are in the main levels, some are in the Dark World variants, and some are in the retro-themed areas. Grabbing a bandage and surviving to the end of the level adds it to your inventory.

Collecting bandages allows the player to unlock additional playable characters, including stars of other indie games, including Alien Hominid, Captain Viridian from VVVVVV, Commander Video from the Bit.Trip series, Spelunky, Tim from Braid, and several others. Each of these characters has different movement abilities than Meat Boy, many of which are based on the characters’ skills from their native games, including the ability to rewind time, flip gravity, and double jump. These characters can greatly impact the way in which a level is played and can make it easier for players to collect bandages that they may have missed on their first attempt.

Nintendo Switch version
Meat Boy continued to remain relevant among fans of precision platformers in the ensuing years after its 2010 Xbox 360 release, going so far as to inspire numerous entries in the subgenre. The game was released on several platforms, and in 2018, the game landed with a bloody splat on the Nintendo Switch, offering all of the meaty goodness of the original game – minus the original soundtrack, as was the case with the PS4 version – while also adding a 2P Race Mode.

Race Mode pits two players against each other in a split screen race through chapters in the light or dark worlds, or a mixture of both. Players can play through individual chapters, a randomized selection of levels, or the entire game in this 2P splitscreen mode, giving them hundreds levels of insanity in which to best their bestie… or die trying. Multi-level races allow one player to move onto the next level independently of the other, and a meter at the top of the screen shows where each player is in relation to the end goal. Since most levels are designed to be completed in under a minute, this lends itself to short bursts of play, and the game’s instant deaths, high speed, and precise movements mean that any race can be lost in the blink of an eye by a poorly-timed jump.

8 Bit Horse interviews Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes of Team Meat. We discuss the developers' gaming influences, the decisions regarding the art style and gameplay, and the overall development process. Check out the video interview below, which features footage of the game in action.

Team Meat released a Flash-based gameplay prototype of Super Meat Boy in 2009, which is available online. The basic mechanics are in place, but there’s not quite as much polish as there is on the finished product, and the controls are pretty mushy. Still, it’s a good showing of their level design skills and the escalation of difficulty. The final version has much tighter controls and lots of new lighting and graphical effects that are not available in the Flash game. In addition to its final released formats, the game was planned (and announced) for a WiiWare release as well, but this version was scrapped when the game exceeded the file size limitations on the service.

Team Meat is made up of is made up of Tommy Refenes and Edmund McMillen. Edmund McMillen is a prolific developer who also worked on The Binding of Isaac, Gish, Aether, and Time Fcuk, and gathered a number of his previous works into a compilation known as The Basement Collection. Sound design was provided by Jordan Fehr, who also created sound effects for The Binding of Isaac, Snapshot, Shank 2, Hotline Miami, Krunch, and Incredipede.