Now Playing Videogames

Wanna play it hard? Try Super Meat Boy! (If you can take it)

Note: I know that Super Meat Boy is not “new” anymore, but I just felt like posting about it today.


Ever played a videogame so difficult that you die several times in the same place and decide to give up forever?

Well, I’m sure even that game was very easy compared to Super Meat Boy.

This is a game of utter frustration, maniacal level design and a complete disregard for how stressed you may get even if you slam your controller against the wall.

It’s a 2D platformer game in which you will inevitably die. A lot. Like thousands of times.

But you know what? The game doesn’t penalize you for dying. Nope. As soon as you die you respawn at the beginning of the level, no lives lost, no points taken, nothing. And taking into account that most levels can be finished in less than a minute (some in a matter of seconds if you are good enough) then the prospect of dying doesn’t seem so aggravating (mind you, it still IS frustrating).

So what makes this game so special so as to win great review scores and several awards and nominations?

First of all, as hard as the game gets, the gameplay is pure, unadulterated fun! Meat Boy, the main character, controls great, with extreme precision, and he is FAST! Run, jump, wall-jump… only three moves available, but executed with such expertise that when you die you only have yourself to blame, not the game. This is what keeps the player trying again and again at the same level. Never does the game make you feel cheated with cheap deaths, so the incentive of honing your reaction skills prevails.


The level design is amazingly simplistic, yet they pack traps everywhere you go. Fire, chainsaws, salt (yes, it kills you), needles, homing missile launchers, lasers… It will happen many times that you are struggling to get past a specific obstacle and when you finally make it you get killed by an enemy (but cute-looking) cloud that was lying at the other end.

Amusingly, once you finally beat the level, you get to see a mash-up of all the replays of Meat Boy attempting to beat that level. That means you will see dozens of Meat Boys getting killed across the screen while only one single survivor reaches the girl.

Because the girl, named Bandage Girl, is also part of what makes this game so great. You see, Super Meat Boy would be much less without its slick presentation.


It all starts with its humorous story: Meat Boy and Bandage Girl love each other. But Dr. Fetus (yes, you read right) hates Meat Boy and kidnaps Bandage Girl.

Sounds a lot like Mario, Princess Peach and Bowser, doesn’t it? Well, the game is called Super Meat Boy for a reason!

The game offers a full-blown throwback to the old-school games of the 90s. The intro screen for World 1 for example (pictured above), is a parody of the intro screen in Street Fighter II, Insert Coin letters included. And then you hear the “Dramatic Chipmunk” tune displaying the world’s name. Yes, this game is full of references. From Megaman to Super Mario. Even the hidden levels adopt an 8-bit style reminiscent of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) era.

As if that wasn’t enough the game also pays homage to a big bunch of indie (and not-so-indie) games by including their respective main characters as playable options. There’s the Headcrab from Half-Life (in the PC version only), Tim from Braid, the Wrench from Flywrench… Heck, even The Kid from “I wanna be the guy” (a freeware abusively difficult game) is a playable character! Each one with their own abilities usually taken straight from their own games. These are all introduced with hilarious cutscenes of their own.

And then there’s the music. Extremely catchy, appropiate and upbeat enough to prevent you from giving up on the game too early. You might even walk away from the game and still have a tune or two stuck in your head.

Finally, the game is all full of extras. Have you beat all the levels? Well, if you beat one with an A+ grade (given based on speed), you will have access to a “dark” version of it much harder than the original. There’s also the collectible bandages used to unlock some of the characters. And the developers at Team Meat have even added an extra world called “Teh Internets” which gets updated with free maps created by both the designers and other players.

Still not convinced? Then I suggest you watch the following trailer. If you liked the platform games of yore, then you certainly won’t be disappointed by Super Meat Boy!

Now Playing Videogames VOA

Reviewing Microsoft Kinect

The original version of this article was published in Spanish in VOANoticias under the name VOA prueba Microsoft Kinect, written by me.


Up until now most videogames have been played with either a controller or a touchscreen. From the very first Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) until the recent Playstation Move. Now Microsoft proposes something different: playing games using all of our body with its Microsoft Kinect, the peripheral for Xbox 360 they unveiled in June 2010.

I had the chance to try it with a Microsoft Denmark representative, who showed prototypes of three of the games which will come out in November. Those are two game modes in Kinect Adventures and a volleyball game in Kinect Sports.

Microsoft Kinect consists of a small horizontal bar that you place under your TV. A complex system of cameras and microphones inside allow it to detect up to two players simultaneously. In contrast to previous technologies like Playstation’s EyeToy, which simply detected the silhouette of one player, Kinect is capable of detecting the entire skeleton.

This allows for some curious things like the following: in Kinect Adventures, a character appeared on screen to represent all of my movements. I tried to perform some dance moves and the character on screen repeated the exact same movement with arms and legs, even when I tried to do Michael Jackson’s famous “moonwalk”.

In fact the body detection works perfectly fine, even in the dark room we were in. Microsoft Denmark’s representative, Martin Essman, commented that the final version of those Kinect games will be able to recognize the player’s face so as to load his Xbox LIVE account and his avatar.

The first game I tried placed me in a raft on a river with several waterfalls. Another player got to my left and Kinect recognized him immediately, creating a new character in the raft, next to mine. To begin the course we both had to jump at the same time. Controlling the raft was easy: if we wanted to turn left we both had to lean to our left and vice versa to turn right. To jump, we just jumped at the same time. The objective was to collect the highest amount of coins placed along the course, and to get them we had to extend our arms towards the coin so that our avatar would do the same and grab them with his hand. Very easy and intuitive. One of the factors that made this game more challenging was the necessity of collaborating with the other player to jump and lean at the same time. It is easy to imagine how this game can be attractive to play for all the family.

Kinect_hands_on_300The next game had me playing on a mine-cart. This time to begin the game I had to grab two imaginary handles in front of me (represented on the screen) and pull them to get an impulse. From there on I could step left or right, crouch, jump and move my arms and legs to grab the coins along the ride. Both in this game and the previous one Kinect had been taking pictures of me at the moments when my moves were most exaggerated and then showed them to me after finishing the game. It’s definitely funny to see oneself jumping while extending one arm to get an imaginary coin. Besides that, the pictures had comments like “You know Kung-Fu!” or “Jumping non-stop!”.


The last game I tried, the volleyball one, was more simple: all the control I had over the avatar was to hit the ball. All the remaining moves were done automatically so as to avoid two players in the room hitting each other or running around the room like crazy. A small problem that happened from time to time was that if I moved out of Kinect’s viewing area the game, without stopping the play, would show me a message telling me to take one step left or right to re-locate me in a matter of seconds.

Of course the first batch of Kinect games are directed towards a more casual audience: those who are not used to playing videogames, just like Nintendo did in 2006 with the Wii. Microsoft assures that later on they will deliver more complex games directed to the hardcore gamer. Until then, the inclusion of Kinect Adventures (which has about 20 different games, the first two mentioned in this article among them) with the purchase of Kinect will provide several hours of fun, especially when played in group with friends and family.

Microsoft Kinect will come out on November 4th in the USA and Canada and on November 10th in Europe.

ITU Copenhagen Now Playing Videogames

Now playing at ITU – The Ship



One of the things we are encouraged to do in the Game Design Master’s degree is to try out, analyze and comment different types of games. I thought it would be interesting to start a “Now Playing” section where I could comment on our game experiences.

Today in Foundations of Game and Play we were all taken to the Game Lab and were set up in pairs to try this wacky 2006 first-person shooter by developer Outerlight and distributed by Valve.

So what is this game all about? We all jumped into the multiplayer mode without really knowing the objective of the game, and so we spent a lot of time trying to figure out first of all why we had no weapons in an FPS. It took us a while to understand that the weapons are more or less conventional items that you would find in a boat (which is, of course, the stage for this game). And after we acquired a weapon (in this case an emergency axe), we were wondering why we were thrown to jail for having one.

“Alright, let’s take some time to understand this thing”, we said.

Apparently this is not your run-of-the-mill FPS where you go and shoot out anything that moves. Instead, each player is given a quarry, a person you have to kill. All you know is his or her name and the latest place seen in. So off you go, wandering around the ship, talking to different people (who were, of course, other ITU students playing the game) to get their names. Once you find the person you were looking for, you get their face portrait in your “quarry” icon, so you can easily recognize them later on.


Now you just have to kill that person, right? Well, wrong! There are security cameras and guards all over the place, and if you are seen carrying a weapon (even if it is a frying pan, we tested that) you will be taken to jail for about 30 seconds and stripped out of every weapon you had. How do you kill then? You’ll have to wait until your quarry walks into a room or corridor with no surveillance. And of course there is also someone out there trying to kill you, so you have to be careful at the same time.

The idea sounds good, it should make for a very interesting and fun game!

But the truth is, it doesn’t.

Most of the time you are just randomly looking at the “last known position” of your quarry and not paying attention to anything around you, except for when you are looking for a weapon. And to make things worse there is this (pardon the pun) unnecessary needs system. Basically your character gets hungry, thirsty, tired and bored as time moves on, so you will need to eat, drink, sleep, read a book… or even go to the bathroom. But so far the only thing that seemed to affect the game at all was the sleep part. If you were too tired you wouldn’t be able to run or jump until you slept or took an energy drink (you can buy those at vending machines in exchange for some of the money you get for killing someone). That means you can simply play the game and forget about your character’s needs. After all they are more an annoyance than anything else.

And besides that, most of the time your quarry will be moving around areas that are under surveillance. In fact the only moment when you really need to move out of those areas is when you have to kill someone. So most of the time you will just end up being thrown to jail and having to wait for 30 seconds. A stupid decision, seeing how each “round” lasted for very little time. Now, I’m sure you could probably change those settings, but for the first time playing it was just frustrating.

Not a very recommended game. Sure, it served its purpose for our class (we had to analyze a few elements), but ultimately the game feels like a missed opportunity for a gameplay idea that sounded really cool.