Super Meat Boy: Hell

I spent a bit more time on Super Meat Boy last night, beating one more boss (or, well, world-end-level; it was more of a race against time, without any real boss monster to beat) and then going to Hell. “Hell” is that game’s name for its traditional lava-and-fireballs world. I suppose there’s an ice level next? A big part of this game’s schtick is riffing on 2D platformer clichés. The first world is an idyllic forest, just like the first world in every Sonic the Hedgehog game, except there are enormous circular saws mounted all over the place for no apparent practical purpose, and I don’t think Dr. Robotnik ever went as far as to just burn the whole forest down — something played for laughs here. Sonic was marketed as the bad-boy counterpart to Mario, but Meat Boy, with his irrepressable grotesque-cuteness, his glee in the face of repeated gory death, and his utter disregard for censors or parents, has him beat hands-down in the bad-boy department without even making a big deal of it. And Hell is part of this: lots of games have lava worlds, but only a few are so forthright about what we’re all thinking. (Fun fact: the Japanese version of Um Jammer Lammy has Lammy die, go to Hell, and escape. The North American version timidly replaced this whole scenario with a tropical island, robbing Lammy of her heroic journey’s most directly mythic component.)

Fittingly, Hell seems to be the place where the difficulty ratchets up to just beyond my abilities. I may well change my mind about this — a good platformer makes things seem like they’re beyond your abilities but then trains you up to the point where they’re not. I remember Crash Bandicoot as being particularly good about putting collectibles in seemingly-impossible places that I skipped over on the first pass but came back for later with greater confidence. The “Veni Vidi Vici” sequence in VVVVVV looked daunting at first, but yielded to persistent practice. Still, those are both matters of hunting for optional collectibles. Here in SMB it’s the main path through the game, and I’m not even on the last world yet. I’m winding up doing the opposite of what I did in Crash and VVVVVV: going back to find collectibles and bonus areas because it’s the easier alternative.

Well, I knew what I was getting into when I started playing. This game has a reputation for extreme difficulty. I’ve seen this school of game design described as “masocore”, although there are differing definitions of that — the author of Super Jill Off contends that a true masocore game has to subvert genre expectations. I suppose SMB does that to some extent, though. Just the sheer abnormal distance that you can leap is something of a subversion, in that it allows the designers to create levels where the best and safest route through a series of obstacles is to just clear them all in one go.

4 Comments so far

  1. Michael Martin on 25 Dec 2010

    I finished the Hell area just before deciding I needed a break from the game; it was the first point where I started having to slow down and be careful. You may find that using the characters you’ve unlocked may make things easier.

    Also, in the first zone of Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Robotnik did in fact burn the forest down at the end of Act 1. It’s not particularly played for laughs, though, in no small part because nobody has any lines.

  2. Carl Muckenhoupt on 26 Dec 2010

    I stand corrected.

    Note that no one has any lines in Super Meat Boy either — the humor is purely visual. But I guess it was harder to do effective visual comedy on the original Sega than on a modern FMV-capable system.

  3. Jason Dyer on 30 Dec 2010

    Finished Hell without too much trouble, but boy was the boss bad level design. It’s of the “memorize boss sequence of moves, die, repeat so you can see the next move in the sequence and then die again etc.” school. And I still don’t understand why jumping to the *side* evades the fist. And there’s a random “cause stuff to fall from the ceiling” portion but it is truly truly random so it is either trivial or really hard to deal with.

    The next level has some parts that are of the OH MY GOD CAN I REALLY DO THAT variety.

  4. Michael Martin on 31 Dec 2010

    I went and read the article you linked. It’s interesting, because what you’re reacting to (and what I’m liking) about both Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV is their total lack of subversion of player expectation.

    Masocore games, as I understand the definition in that article, are mainly about pointing at the player and doing the Nelson Muntz laugh. “HA-ha! Fooled you!”

    VVVVVV and Super Meat Boy instead just kind of stand there diffidently and demand “show me what you’ve got.” Both also have some way around player failure, too – VVVVVV mostly keeps its greatest challenges for the optional sidequests, while Super Meat Boy lets you play all levels in a (Light World) chapter at will, and will let you skip three levels per chapter and still keep going anyhow.

    As for the level after Hell… this is the first point where I had to take advantage of the level skip so that I could keep playing. When I went back, though, I was able to proceed – and it is very satisfying to go from OH MY GOD CAN I REALLY DO THAT up to OH MY GOD I CAN ACTUALLY DO THAT.

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