Gaming is a hobby that can have a lot of highlights. Finishing a game is a gratifying experience. But every once in a while you encounter a game, level or section that does something with you. It can start by driving you virtually insane but after you’ve bested them, it fills you with a feeling beyond the usual thrill of completion. This series is about those moments, very personal, probably recognizable and special. This time it’s about unlocking The Kid in Super Meat Boy.
After completing a review, I usually continue playing the game. Most games offer a lot of additional content beyond the game’s main goal. The excellent Super Meat Boy is no different, as I wrote in my review you have several options to go beyond the game’s primary goal. One of those things are Warp Zones, retro-themed levels where you can unlock additional characters. In one of the later worlds you come across a red Warp Zone called “The Guy” and in my experience, it is one of the most brutal platforming levels I have ever encountered.
Actually, it’s three of the most brutal levels I’ve ever encountered. They’re all only a single screen in size but they make up for it in sheer sadism. You play these levels as the character you’re hoping to unlock: The Kid. As with the other characters you can basically run and jump but The Kid has the unique ability to double jump and the tortuous levels are designed around this.
The first level is easily the worst, at least it is to me. Might be that the last two levels seemed easier because by that time I was determined to beat them. In this first level, there are several vertical corridors covered in spikes you need to traverse. There are the occasional clear areas between all the spikes and hitting those is the key to success. I spent a good while simply dying on the first drop, deciding whether to jump in (and forfeiting one of my two jumps) or dropping in. While dying isn’t uncommon in Super Meat Boy the rate at which it was happening here was significantly higher and the immediate respawn proved especially useful. Thankfully there are no timers or life limits here so dying has no consequence. While good, it also indicates that you’ll be doing quite a lot of it…which I did… a lot.
What’s remarkable about these levels and by extension, the game, is how they manage to offer such a sadistical level but not demotivate the player to the extent they want to throw the controller through the screen. While it seems like you’re not making any progress you do feel you are progressing somewhere. Little by little you develop the minute muscle memory needed to start progressing through the level. Parts that seemed impossible at first become nearly second nature later on. Shifting the trial and error to later parts of the level…until…you beat it. Beating this first level was key for me. It seemed so impossible at first that I was ecstatic when I finally got to the end. I actually pushed on with the other two because I did not want to forfeit my progress.
The second level seemed easy in comparison. But proved to be quite annoying. Instead of not being to land anywhere you had to rely on the speed of the moving platforms and dodge the spikes. At times this requires pixel-perfect positioning. While the level is somewhat symmetrical it really isn’t. The task for the left side of the level is the same as for the right part, only in reverse. While this helps with figuring out what to do the shift in direction is enough to complete undo the acquired muscle memory. Little things like having to wall jump to get to the center platform just add to the joy. While I died another gazillion times this level was bested with relative ease.
The third and final level dialed up the rate of death to near infinity. Three spiked blocks continuously come at you at different parts of the level. An expertly timed double jump is needed to escape them. This alone is a challenge and you have to keep doing this because there is nowhere you can hide and rest. The auto-respawn actually showed had an issue here as there is a small spawn animation. This small animation regularly threw off my timing causing me to die yet again. Getting back into the right rhythm proved tricky at times and is a small blemish on this otherwise excellent system. Timing your jumps was by far the trickiest part. Getting into enough of a flow to keep dodging the moving spikes is the key. Being able to properly dodge them allowed you to move well enough between the spike on the floors and ceilings. The second level can even be done by running behind the block and not dodging any others.
Because of the minute timing, this level showed the issues with the comfort of the handheld mode controls. At times I would fall completely still after a jump because apparently, I was pointing down. After trying the level over and over in handheld mode I finally had the chance to play it in TV mode and more importantly a Pro controller. With that controller, I was able to finally best the final part of the third level and, therefore, unlock The Kid.
I was overjoyed.
While I’ll probably never play any other levels with The Kid it was a true personal triumph that I was able to beat those levels. While the unlockable at the end is what spurred me on the true prize is the simple act of completing those levels. The feeling of beating seemingly impossible levels is one of the best in gaming.
To give you an idea of the levels in motion, here is a video of someone blasting through them.