This came up in a discussion of the currently-on-sale-on-Steam Dustforce; I mentioned at the start of that review that I didn’t like Super Meat Boy very much and a certain person (who shall remain nameless) challenged me on this. So I thought I’d just write a couple of paragraphs expanding on justwhy this is, because the reason for it is intrinsically linked to the way I view game design.
Super Meat Boy is a very negative game. Its levels are based around trial and error; while they may be short, a single mistake will throw you back to the start of the level. The level challenges are not based around any inherent skill on the part of the player but rather their ability to learn through repetition, rather like the Skinner boxes I mentioned yesterday. You will repeat the same jump again and again and again until eventually you manage it. You must conform to the unforgiving tyranny of the level design or die. You may gradually get better at the game, but only in the way that a rat given electric shocks will eventually learn to avoid avoid a certain pattern of behaviour. An infantryman in the army may be able to perform the impressive feat of field-stripping and reassembling his M16 while blindfolded, but this is not an activity that I would say relies on skill, as such; merely rote learning. So it is with Super Meat Boy.
Dustforce is a very positive game. The replay system ensures that trial and error is kept to a minimum; at any time you can stop what you’re doing and look at what the fastest player in the world did to complete a level, and while it doesn’t help you physically make the jumps required it at least makes sure you’re pointed in the right direction. The checkpoints and unlimited lives make completing a level fairly easy; it’s completely a level well which is the hard part. You can fluff a level up quite badly and still make it to the end. Dustforce is rather forgiving of failure, and while it demands the same high standards as SMB in order to make progress through the metagame it does not require you to get everything right at once. The player gets to decide how far they want to take things; if the player wants to repeat a level until they can do it perfectly then that is the player’s choice, not something imposed on them by the game design.
That’s why I go for Dustforce over Super Meat Boy. They’re both superficially similar games but they have vastly different design philosophies. Dustforce wants me to succeed. Super Meat Boy takes pleasure in watching me fail. Losing can be fun, but not like that.