A lot of people often look back at older NES titles and try to say that Ninja Gaiden and Ghosts n Goblins were among the toughest of the tough. While they’re not wrong, I don’t feel that there’s any part of these games that I could deem as unfair or even frustrating. Tough, sure. Requiring lots of trial and error, maybe. But really, the toughest aspect of these games is having to sit down and do them in one go rather than having savepoints or a password system.
And to be fair, a lot of older NES titles were like this because either A) they were reflecting arcade counterparts or B) the whole battery pak thing hadn’t really caught on yet. Besides, the password system was pretty terrible. Either you’d get some ridiculously long password with upper and lower case characters as well as numbers and all kinds of wildcard characters or you’d get something simple that absolutely would not account for any powerups you’d actually attained between levels.
There were still others that didn’t have a password system, save system, OR checkpoints, meaning if you die, THAT’S IT. You start from the beginning. This was present even in the original Super Mario Bros., so don’t think that this is just some wacky “out there” concept. So what does this have to do with Super Meat Boy? Everything.
See, a lot of fanboys will argue that this is the way games used to be: challenging, frustrating, only semi-rewarding, having weird jumping physics, etc. And they’re WRONG. Yes, there were games that were frustrating. Often these games have bad design flaws that result in bad controls or overly punishing level design. But again, going back to Ninja Gaiden and Ghosts n Goblins, yeah, the levels could be punishing at times, but never to the point of absolute frustration.
Now maybe it’s easier for me to say that now because I’m an adult and I’m not stuck playing either that or Mario, but at the time, no, I didn’t find them frustrating. Challenging as all get out, yeah, but not frustrating. I think what frustrates me so much with Super Meat Boy is it presents itself as this simple game that’s MEANT to be hard and MEANT to have a simple control scheme, but it’s not quite that simple.
Half the time SMB doesn’t jump the way I want him to, where I want him to, or in some cases even jump at all. You can only shout “FUCK” at the screen so many times before you straight give up and uninstall it. I tried the demo for the XBLA version, said “no sir I don’t like it,” and immediately uninstalled it, so why am I harping on it now?
Well here’s the deal. Recently Steam put up this massive indie bundle sale (as they do fairly frequently) and lo and behold, SMB was included. I stalled on whether or not I was going to boot it up and try again, then finally decided “fuck it” and reinstalled it, thinking maybe it’d be easier on the PC. NOPE. It was actually MORE frustrating and unintuitive on the keyboard.
And I know what you’re thinking: “stop bitching and just plug in a gamepad or something.” Here’s the deal. I…COULD…do that. Or they could have provided a better control interface complete with a way to totally modify the control setup. As a side note, they might have, but I got too frustrated to even bother looking before uninstalling it again and stepping away from my computer for about an hour to calm down.
Normally there wouldn’t even be enough content for a negative review for this game, I mean, come on, it’s fairly straightforward…but here’s the problem. Many games like SMB have surfaced within the past 5 years claiming to be “retro themed” complete with a “retro difficulty.” How is it that the term “retro” has been equated to “annoyingly frustrating?”
I freely admit that there were some tough ass games back in the day, but again, they kind of HAD to be. With the exception of RPGs, most games you could beat in a weekend if they were easy, thus defeating the point of ever wanting to purchase the game. Most people rented, sure, but the point is unless you were some uber gamer, you were not going to beat games like Contra on your first try.
This was because they were very fun, but also fairly difficult. Again, they had to be because often they weren’t very long, so they had to throw everything they could at you to ensure it was an actual challenge and major accomplishment to get past even one level. Think about it more like this. Ninja Gaiden actually provided the most bang for your buck in terms of action games.
Why? Well, there are several reasons. First, there were 20 levels. Now, that was virtually unheard of back then because usually there were cartridge space concerns and developers were worried that if they were too long we’d lose interest. Plus again, no password or save system. Second, cutscenes between nearly every level. And the cutscenes were AWESOME.
Sure, they don’t quite live up to today’s standards, but most of us had never seen anything like that up to that point. Finally, yeah, the difficulty got punishing, but it BUILDED over time. The problem with SMB is it’s a one-hit kill title that gets too hard too early and is very frustrating. And don’t tell me that there’s some payoff or whatever.
I’m sure some funny stuff happens between the characters and I think it’s cool that there are so many unlockables, but come on. At the cost of your sanity? No thanks. SMB is insultingly hard and is insulting in general when comparing it to retro titles. It’s not retro, it’s fucking frustrating. It can go sit in a pile with games like I Wanna Be The Guy and Aban Hawkins and collect dust for all I care.