I’ll start off by saying that I’ve been playing video games for most of my life. I’ve never really been without some sort of gaming console, and I enjoy a variety of genres of games. My favorite genre is Role Playing Games (RPGS), which are pretty different from Platform Games.
Super Meat Boy! is an interesting named game, no? Well, if it’s what drew other people to play it, it wasn’t why I did. I decided to play the game because I’ve played Space Invaders and Pac-Man before and I wasn’t particularly interested in replaying a game, nor did I want to pay for a game. So I chose Super Meat Boy! because I had the game on hand, but had never actually played it.
Super Meat Boy! is a type of game that I’ve seen before, just in a different way. The “story” (if it can even be called that) follows that of Meat Boy trying to rescue his girlfriend Bandage Girl from evil Dr. Fetus.
This “story” looks incredibly similar to that of Super Mario, Peach, and Bowser. However, the game play is different.
Compared to Super Meat Boy!, Super Mario Bros is a more complex platformer. The sideways scrolling levels get progressively harder with different, harder enemies and more obstacles. It has a time limit, and a limited number of lives. Super Meat Boy! on the other hand, is one dimensional in that it occupies one “space”, has an unlimited number of lives, and no time limit. For all intents and purposes, the only challenge to Super Meat Boy! is the level itself and figuring out the controls enough to get through it. I feel like the worst enemy you encounter in the game is yourself.
The controls are very fine tuned and require precision. One wrong move and you are killed by a saw or you fall into fire. But, that’s it. You can keep trying over and over until you complete the level, and you don’t need to complete it in a certain amount of time. Of course, if you do complete it quickly you get special stuff but the main objective of the game does not require it. The game itself consists of many different chapters with 300 some-odd levels. Too many for me to play within the span two weeks. Especially since each level gets harder until its nearly impossible unless you are playing this game for hours, honing your abilities.
When I first started playing the game, I thought, “Oh, another platformer where you need to jump over obstacles and avoid things to get to the end” which is basically what it is. I’ve played some great platformer games (jumping from platform to platform to get to the end with some sort of obstacle) before: Bubble Bobble, LittleBigPlanet, Super Mario Bros, Metroid ’64, Ghosts n’ Goblins, the list goes on. The big thing about platform games is that they’re complicated in some way, and they involve getting to the next level. I wouldn’t say they’re my favorite type of game, but I do enjoy them to an extent.
Focusing more on the concept of “fun” and determining if Super Meat Boy, to me, can be called “fun”, we must first determine what fun is. A dictionary definition provides a very broad explanation. There are 87 million different results when you type “definition of fun” into Google search. Clearly, people have varying ideas as to what they perceive as fun, and while they may all be along the same lines, there is variability between them. The overall theme seems to be enjoyment, regardless of subject matter.
Raph Koster focuses on fun as enjoyment in his book, Theory of Fun for Game Design. Koster has found that “Fun is all about our brains feeling good – the release of endorphins into our system… fun from games arises out of mastery. It arises out of comprehension. It is the act of solving puzzles that makes games fun” (p. 40). Although, fun always depends on context. It can also depend on age, as Koster notes in his book. His children outgrew the fun of playing Tic-Tac-Toe because it was boring. (p. 4) There was no longer a challenge to the game itself and they didn’t want to play it anymore. This often happens with games. So people move on to different games that they deem more fun.
It is difficult to determine what fun actually is, which is what Ben Cummings and Andrew Rubino, both Video Game Designers, attempt to tackle in the video linked below.
It is difficult to say what fun is to one person versus another. I’m sure many people thought Super Meat Boy! was fun, whereas I didn’t particularly enjoy it. Fun to me, is when someone can really enjoy a game, where you need to complete the next level or beat the boss to move on and you’re so wrapped up in the game that you lose track of time. It’s what Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi refers to as “Flow”. I really enjoy games that interest and challenge me; mainly story-based games.
I thought Super Meat Boy! was not challenging or interesting enough. Granted, the levels got more and more complicated until it was really frustrating, but eventually I lost interest. The only real challenge was to complete the level. There was no time limit or set amount of lives. I felt like I could do whatever I wanted with it and it was more a play at my leisure than a game that really stimulated and challenged me. I was more annoyed playing the game than I was actually having fun. To me, I have to be able to really get into the game to truly enjoy it. I couldn’t get into Super Meat Boy! because it was a platformer, which isn’t really my type of game, and at the end of the day the game itself wasn’t all that fun to me.
Koster, Raph. A Theory of Fun for Game Design. Scottsdale, AZ: Paraglyph Press, 2005. Internet resource.