Super Meat Boy (Team Meat, 2010 – PC, 360, Mac)
Spoiler Level: Obvious
The Great Fucking Moment:
You’ve been at it for over forty-five minutes. The same damn level.
Your fingers are calloused and sore. You’re pretty sure the skin on your thumb is cracked and bleeding. You no longer see the action onscreen, only vague blurs and colors.
Most brain functions have shut down–only two areas remain active: muscle memory and whatever brain structure allows you to scream bloodcurdling profanity. You haven’t had a sentient thought in half an hour; you are a machine, a machine in the service of the pagan death cult of Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes. With each splat of Meat Boy’s death, you bellow obscenities and sacrifice your life force to Team Meat’s bloody altar of pain.
The Old Ones laugh at your futile struggle to get past that last saw. It’ll never happen. It cannot be done, pitiful human.
A small part in the back of your brain lights up. Whispers. “You are wasting your time. This is a stupid video game. Go read a book or some shit.”
No. That’s not how it works. You will show them. You will show them all what perseverance means. What it means to be a HUMAN BEING (and a REAL HERO) and strive even in the face of humiliation, agony, and certain defeat.
But your spirit is wearing thin. You cannot take much more of this. Your tendonitis is totally acting up, and you need to go to bed, and…
AND THEN MAGIC.
The heavens part, and the Gods of Late-80s, Early-90s-style Platform Games cry Their Golden Tears, bestowing upon you Their Favor. You get past that last fucking saw, dodge that last piece of shit laser, and smack into Bandage Girl. You are complete.
And then the icing on the cake.
The replay. All of that frustration represented visually as a horrifying cloud of meat races through the level, whittling down through attrition as each one of your previous attempts meets it bloody end, until one single Meat Boy emerges from the miasma and races his way toward victory.
Yes, you feel like a God. Because for this brief moment, you are one.
Why it’s so fucking great:
1) It’s hilarious.
The Super Meat Boy replay is one of the great bits of video game slapstick. The absurdity of seeing all of your attempts displayed simultaneously–of watching however many tens or possibly hundreds of Meat Boys flinging themselves into salt mounds, spinning saw blades, or into the abyss–is overwhelming and really, really fucking funny.
2) It’s a little bit horrifying.
Super Meat Boy dabbles in some weird stuff, and while the overarching tone of the game is one of exuberant insanity, there’s a vein of darkness running underneath. McMillen suggests as much during Indie Game: The Movie, where he discusses the allegorical nature of a skinless young boy chasing endlessly after the girl who literally soothes and protects his open wounds. So I’m not coming out of left field when I say that there’s something unsettling about watching the deaths of so many of your avatars compressed into a few seconds… it’s probably why #1 is so true.
3) It’s incredibly vindicating.
Without the replay, finishing a particularly dickish Super Meat Boy level would feel good. With a replay just showing your final, victorious attempt, it would feel great. But watching all of your lives play out together, with your victory set against the backdrop of so many defeats–that feels amazing. Accomplishments feel greater when you are aware of how much went into achieving them. That’s true for everything from major life goals all the way down to Super Meat Boy. When you watch that replay, all of the frustration you suffered is laid out for you, and then you get to re-live your glorious, glorious win.
It feels fucking great.