I have been banging my head against the wall known as Super Meat Boy. It is a slow, persistent, and surprisingly enjoyable bludgeoning. This should not come as a surprise to any of you. Super Meat Boy has appeared on numerous ‘Best Games of 2010’ lists, charming the socks off of even the most timid gamers. Of course not everyone appreciates the severe psychological trauma induced by the speeding chunk of meat. Considering my own aversion to masochism, I am surprised I have taken to the game so well. The adrenaline boost from overcoming a level after dying over and over and over again is exhilarating. What find most interesting, however, is how it allows me to peek into the chaos of a gaming failures.
Super Meat Boy has earned plenty of deserved adoration, most of which has praised its replay feature, which shows players each and every way they met an untimely end. Brendan Keogh has a great piece on Kill Screen’s new online site. Grayson Davis also has an excellent and particularly pertinent article about Super Meat Boy on his blog Beeps & Bloops. Davis states:
“The reason we can spend so many hours playing Super Meat Boy, when we would give up on other platformers, is because Super Meat Boy rewards our mastery of the game. As we understand the game better, as we get better at jumping, at sliding along walls, we uncover greater depths of the game and find outlets for our creativity. Though the goal in every level is static and unchanging, and though every player has to bypass the same whirling buzzsaws, nobody takes quite the same path. You play until you find the path that works for you.”
The best thing about the replay feature is that it allows me to peak into the past. I don’t take just one path to the end, but many. Each and every meat boy symbolizes precious seconds I spent trying to achieve some outcome, not all of which are completing the level. Why did I jump to the left last time? Why did I hesitate at the wrong time? Why did I spend so much damn time trying to get that bandage when I was clearly approaching the task incorrectly? Watching those Meat Boy replays is like looking through a window into the past. It shows me the many mistakes and assumptions I made, captures all the time spent playing the game that doesn’t quite fit into the final story.
What would this replay feature look like in other games? Maybe when leaping across a gap in Mirror’s Edge, a ghostly version of Faith would jump by my side, plummeting to her death while I barely grab the ledge. Maybe the streets of Cuba in Black Ops would be crowded with the flickering corpses of versions of me. It actually sounds quite unsettling. Of course in these cases, the replay would function differently. They would occupy the play space while I was still engaged within it. Replays might reveal dangerous areas, acting as a sort of heat-map depicting fatal mistakes. It would be educational, something Meat Boy’s replays are not, at least not in the classical sense.
When hunting through the crowded streets of Rome in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood multiplayer, accidentally killing a civilian is bound to happen. When it does, a marker will inform you of the whereabouts of the target you should have killed. It is difficult to pinpoint the moment of your mistake, so showing who you should have killed acts as more of a taunt than a history lesson. Meat Boy’s replay acts similarly. The levels are short enough, and its hazards very apparent, that the dozens of doomed characters rub the past in my face.
Given, there are some players who will analyze their failures for minute changes they could make on their next attempt. Personally, my screen is too full of hopping red botches to accurately assess my mistakes. Instead, replays map my gaming past, one that generally remains hidden in most games, obliterated by the newest save file. Completing a level of Super Meat Boy is like becoming, for a moment, my own anthropologist. I enjoy the sensation, even though its the only benefit I get from reviewing my personal history.