Over the last couple weeks (before the release of Portal 2), I’ve been hooked on Super Meat Boy. I bought it on sale a while back but never really got into it. If I’m honest, it’s difficulty scared me away. Then I read this postmortem on Gamasutra. I don’t know what it was exactly in that article that sparked something in me but I decided to give it a serious try.
Let me just say up front that SMB does an amazing job waking up my OCD part. Every level has 2 or 3 objectives. First, to beat the level. Then, to beat it faster than the goal time given, which gives an A+ for the level. And finally, some levels have a bandage or warp zone to get. Oh, and then there’s the negative levels, one per map. But I’ll explain those later.
My sessions with this game have been very methodical. I start the next level in line aiming to hit the A+ time. Normally it takes me several attempts to get through the level. If I see a warp zone or bandage, I forget about speed and try to pick that up first. Once I collect it, it’s back to speed. It doesn’t matter how many times I die or how many times I complete the level slower that necessary. I will keep at it until I have completely beaten the level. And then it all starts over on the next level.
SMB’s greatness comes from its ability to make me feel two things. No matter how many times I die, I always feel like I made progress and am about to make progress. Let me see if I can explain that statement.
Most of the levels in SMB (except for the first few training levels) have several obstacles that must be traversed. There might be a big spinning blade followed by some platforms followed by a wall covered in spikes. I can see the first obstacle but don’t normally know what comes after. So I tackle that, trying to figure out the best away past. As I fail, I am learning what I need to do. Once I pass, the first one, it’s on to the second. Of course, when the second one kills me, I have to do the first one again. The thing is, since I learned how to pass the first obstacle through trial and error, it’s much easier the second time around.
The best example I can think of for this is the negative level in the Forest. Negative levels are special levels that you reach by finishing a level when Bandage Girl is "glitched". Basically, there is a chance when you die that she will glitch out and look funky, which leads to the negative level.
The first negative level is broken up into three parts. You can see a run-through of it here to get an idea of what I’m talking about. The first part has some spikes on the wall and falling disks. The next part has a large pit with suspended walls with spikes on the top. And the final part has disks falling down two walls with Bandage Girl at the top
The first part of this level was tricky until I was able to figure out the timing of my jumps. After that, it was cake. The large pit took me many tries to get right but I never had to worry about the first part again. And then once I figured the pit out, it was no problem to move on to the last section. Even though I died probably 30 or more times on this level, I never got frustrated because I was making progress.
The other thing SMB does so well is make me feel like I am about to make progress. The controls are so tight that I never feel like I died because it didn’t respond correctly. If I died, it’s because I messed up. If the fault lies with me, I can fix it.
The negative level was a great example of this as well. I jumped into that pit a TON of times but always knew it was because I wasn’t quite good enough yet. Each time I got a little closer, I knew I was going to beat the level. It was only a matter of time.
While I have been really hooked on SMB, I had to take a break to work through Portal 2. I will be back to it as soon as I’m done.