Super Meat Boy is considerably one of the best platforming games out there – but also one of the toughest. While it’s built on a simple concept of wall jumping and figuring out each level, it relentlessly hands your ass to you each time around, whether it’s with the placement of buzzsaws or enemies bearing down on you while you try and rescue your beloved from a hostile fetus. (No, seriously, that is the boss of the game.)
One of the masterminds behind that brutal classic, Edmund McMillen, has returned with a vengeance with an all new platformer that will likely have you tearing out your hair as you venture your way through each level. That’s because The End Is Nigh has some striking similarities to Meat Boy, but instead of controlling a swift pile of meat, you’re moving about as an existential pile of dread in a dark world, trying to make good as he suffers through this nightmarish hellhole.
The story doesn’t offer much at the beginning, but as you go about in your journey, you’ll run into some characters that provide a little bit of insight – and even a little potty humor, if you’re into that sort of thing. It definitely has the same dark and dreary personality as, say, The Binding of Isaac, but it makes for an entertaining game nevertheless.
The gameplay mechanics for The End Is Nigh work surprisingly well, even though you’re still going to run into situations where you die on a regular basis. That’s because of the diabolical level design by McMillen and company. To say that it’s tough is an understatement. In fact, in some levels, you have to be incredibly nimble just to make it halfway through some levels. Fortunately, this ties in to a great learning curve with the game, and the sheer feeling of greatness when you finally conquer a level – only to have your butt handed to you in the next one.
The abilities that Ash (the globular creature in question here) can use in the game are pretty cool, including ground pounds, wall jumps and other neat techniques that will help him stay alive just a little bit longer. I really would’ve preferred for him to have more personality, but it seems about right for an end-of-the-world scenario, so I can’t argue too much there.
The End Is Nigh features an impressive 600 levels, including various hidden “tumors” throughout each world (and, yes, you actually find merit in getting tumors, weird), dark challenges that will truly test your platforming mettle, and so much more. You can also take different pathways in some situations, setting up a not-so-obvious solution to certain stages – a nice touch considering how most platforms are a bit on the one-sided design. (Looking at you, Bubsy.) They all tie together into multiple endings for the game, which, like Binding of Isaac, offer a great amount of variety.
The game’s design is a bit drearier than Super Meat Boy. With most of its color sapped out, it allows McMillen and his team to create a world filled with fear and chaos – and it really pays off. The game looks great on both console and handheld formats, and runs at a very smooth frame rate, even as the screen is littered with life-ending threats. The music is impressive as well, really capturing the darkness of the world you’re inhabiting. Don’t go into this expecting “feel-good” vibes, because you won’t get them.
However, do expect some cool retro-based stuff. The classic themed levels within the game are excellent, whether you want to take on platforming challenges with 8-bit levels, or outrun some big Pac-Man like creature as he stomps through one particular stage. These were really cool to unlock, and I want more.
How much you enjoy The End Is Nigh really depends on how you adapt to hard games. If Super Meat Boy pissed you off to no end, this is not the game for you, as you’d be better off with something more kiddie-oriented. However, if you’ve eaten McMillen’s previous works for lunch and insist on attaining the next big challenge, this is definitely the game for you. It’s dark and dreadfully colored, but it’s harboring a number of cool secrets and surprisingly well-designed levels that will put you through your paces.
No, it’s not an essential Christmas title, but The End Is Nigh may be just the post-apocalyptic treat to get some gamers through the holidays. Pour yourself an eggnog and enjoy.
WWG’s Score: Four out of five.
Disclaimer: A review code was provided by the publisher.