You’re going to die. And all your little friends too.
He’s square, he’s bloody, he’s deceptively acrobatic, he quite aggressively believes you should use a gamepad… He’s Super Meat Boy!
The place: another universe.
The time: right now.
The prevailing mentality: creativity is to be shared, celebrated, furthered by the people who most enjoy it.
Mickey Mouse guest stars in South Park; Disneyland attendance soars. LucasArts lends all its Wookiee outfits to the cast of a home-made soap opera set on Kashyyyk; the writers are later brought in to work on the Oscar-winning Episode VII. EA released all of System Shock 2’s assets to fans eight years ago, and as a result of all the mods and do-overs and fan sequels, pre-orders for System Shock 3 are breaking industry records.
The place: this universe.
The time: right now.
The prevailing mentality: intellectual property is a walled garden. Intruders will be shot. Sharing, celebration and furthering would surely destroy the very fabric of society.
Super Meat Boy comes from the other universe – an arrogant but ultimately loving messiah come to show us a better way. Its creators have communed with other game-making inter-dimensional travellers, and built something that shared, celebrated and furthered their titles.
Each of those other games is made stronger by its characters’ guest appearance in Super Meat Boy. Team Meat don’t subscribe to the daftly-held corporate viewpoint that each game exists in a opaque bubble, a dark place where no other games may be acknowledged, where the competition must be elimination rather than co-operated with. Together, they know, games can be stronger, fonder, bolder.
Super Meat Boy is the first game that is truly of the internet: a bastard-hard, aggressively proud, hyper-informed, deliriously moronic, ever-changing and beautiful platformer which earnestly recreates the ad-hoc hybrid philosophy of sharing, stealing and borderless society that underpins this great nexus of all information.
Quinns: I think that the enormous circular saw that everybody falls into when talking about Super Meat Boy is to say it’s a game about death. That’s all wrong. Counter-Strike, Demon’s Souls, Neptune’s Pride- these are games about death, games where death has been given consequences and has taken on a tangible size and shape which the player learns to fear like a violent stepfather.
Super Meat Boy is about life. Look at Meat Boy- he’s a wad of flesh, kinetic energy and perseverance, trying to reach his loved one. He could not be more alive. And when you propel him into some laser or pit of needles at 80mph and he collapses into a puddle of mince, what happens? Not death, surely. All it takes is the time for the camera to reset itself and he’s back on his feet, leaping and sprinting and sliding your way to your girlfriend once again.
But my real body of evidence is in how alive I feel playing Super Meat Boy. It manages to conjure emotions from the empty cauldron of my gamer brain with unbelievable consistency. I think that’s why I keep going back to it- for that initial cocktail of disbelief and excitement as you discover the nuances of a new level, then the grim satisfaction as you learn to thread your way through it, followed by all that terrible hate as your acrobatic routine is interrupted by any number of cruel obstacles, and then for that moment of total triumph when you do reach Bandage Girl and the game hands you a metaphorical package containing nothing but purest joy.
Though that description skips over my favourite part of any Super Meat Boy level, which is the final obstacle. That ultimate herculean leap over the last buzz-saw, or the last desperate weave around an high-velocity missile. I love that part, because the game is running so white-hot that the emotions which, for me, define the game simply dry up. For that instant, you’re just soaring. Your heart’s not even in your mouth. Your heart’s absent, it’s gone into hiding. Your heart is in your body’s broom cupboard, making out with your brain, because they both know that this could be their last moment together.
What happens next? Your legs graze the circular saw, obviously. You weave a moment too soon and the missile catches your arm, and the game celebrates your failure by reducing Meat Boy into a spray of wet, visceral confetti. Perhaps some of your particles even land on Bandage Girl. That’s how close you were to happiness.
That’s life. That is life. Super Meat Boy, a game about death? Please.
Kieron: I have a theory, in which Super Meat Boy is a key piece of evidence.
(Let’s take it as a given that Super Meat Boy is an incredibly polished, enormous, confident platform game, though the slow-down bugs I got never fixed themselves meaning that I’ve stopped playing it at the end of the third World. But that’s by the by)
To state the obvious, what we call indie games culture for all its independence, clearly has a general direction at any given time. At the moment, we’re at the end of the rule of the Platform game. Before that was the physics lead game, which pretty much ended with the celebratory hyper-success of World of Goo. Super Meat Boy basically plays World of Goo to the Platform game movement. Of course, the Platform game’s been only growing across the 00s, and you can analyse why from several directions. My personal one is pretty cynical. It’s not that the platform game has decreased in the mainstream industry, so developers are aiming at an absent niche. It’s a concious and deliberate rejection of whatever the mainstream is doing. If the masses are playing macho gun games, we’ll do the opposite. Games of avoidance versus games of annihilation, survival versus slaughter. Splash in a little congealed Miyamoto worship. the fact you can be technically polished without having to go head to head with the megabudgets and you’ve got something that’s kept us highly entertained across the decade.
I think it’s over. I think that we’re inching towards the point of diminishing returns, and any developer who’s starting on a platform-centric game right now is going to appear to be a little slow by the time it comes out. To go the Britpop metaphor, they’re the people buying Small Faces albums in 1997. If you look at the indie games which are making us excited for 2011, there’s not a platformer in there. It’s telling Jon Blow, whose Braid can be seen at the absolute apex of the movement, and its appearance and success precipitating a lot of the second-wave of stuff, isn’t looking towards the castle with another princess in for his next game. He’s looking at Myst, for fuck’s sake, which is a piece of genuine inspiration and ultra-risk taking (and hence, applause-worthy). Myst isn’t scene-fetishised in the way Mario is.
Anyway, it’s over. And Super Meat Boy? It’s an enormous party. It’s absolutely triumphalist in a way which the often shoegazing indie scene rarely is. It knows it’s good, and powers through on sheer confidence, inviting all its friends along for the ride. It all clicked for me when I unlocked the ever-delightful Mighty Jill Off. Super Meat Boy is basically saying “Hey, look at us all? We won. We totally won”. It’s a victory lap, hands in the air, taking the applause. It is, to return to that Britpop metaphor, their Knebworth moment. Except without shitty sound, overpriced booze and people incapable of queueing effectively for the portaloos. It’s a monument to a scene, to a genre, to a story that’s run its course and reached a body-shattering climax.
I’m on my feet, applauding. I’m cheering. I love every single one of them, and what they’ve achieved is magnificent. But I’m not shouting encore.
The funny, kinda sad thing buried in Super Meat Boy’s enormous cast: that they can all go in the same game. That, on some level, these games are all the same.
I can’t wait to see what they all do next, as long as it’s not this.
EDIT: Super Meat Boy is currently on sale on Steam for three quid. 75% off. Barg!