4 out of 5
Produced by: Danny Baranowsky
Label: digital release
Super Meat Boy – the whole shabazz: the game, the design, the music – is representative of a notable time in gaming history, when independently brewed games were becoming more capable of achieving a high profile, as well as kicking off an eventually giant wave of retro styled games with expansive chiptune soundtracks, many of which were curated and / or sold through services like Steam, or Humble Bundle. SMB wasn’t the first “new” game to look or play like it does, nor is Danny Baranowsky’s surprisingly complex and fun soundtrack without company from the same era, but again, it was around this time that a lot of us were broadening our video game perspectives beyond AAA offerings, and Meat Boy was a gateway experience to that. Which wouldn’t be the case if the experience wasn’t so notable.
Without delving too much into the game, its pixel-precise demands and sense of constant, jittery momentum could often amount to millions of rage-chucked controllers, but something keeps you smirking with joy as your little meaty character instantly re-spawns, if only to jump and die again. That ‘something’ is equally designer Ed McMillen’s cutesy / bloody look to things and… Danny’s soundtrack. 8-bit bouncy tunes may seem fairly disposable, but just as labels like Data Discs have re-offered older game score material that some smart souls recognized as accomplished compositions, guys like Baranowsky – making a name for themselves plying away at smaller fare (it’s not like Meat Boy was a guaranteed hit) put an astonishing amount of effort, backed by no less skill, into material that then gets DIY releases, or often digital only. It’s a different world. And when you open your ears to it…
(Now he talks about the music)
The digital version of the SMB soundtrack contains all the level music (light and dark), the warp levels, and some fun / humorous remixes, stretched across 34 surprisingly breezy tracks. It’s missing (I believe) some extra bits and bobs that were on the limited physical release, but you’re still absolutely getting the core experience with this version. What’s firstly most impressive – wrapping back around to how the music enhances the game – is the sense of flow the album creates, from the silly intro to the bouncy first world music, incorporating slightly more ominous or aggressive themes from world to world until you realize you’ve transitioned from a somewhat strictly digital sound to electric guitars and drum sounds, warped through the game’s main, jaunty theme. There’s inevitably some repetition throughout, but that Baranowsky can navigate
20+ levels and offer up unique tracks for the majority of them is amazing, especially given that half of those – the “dark” world tracks – have to maintain elements from their paired “light” world versions. And they do; and once you realize that (assuming you didn’t, initially, like me) and listen to them in sets, it’s doubly amazing how Danny is able to manipulate seemingly simple tune combinations, and it can put a fresh spin on the listen.
The warp levels, done up in blocky pixel art, have accompanying retro tunes, which can be a fun reminder of how far this chiptune style of music has come, but also show off how much is capable within the constraints of the genre; these tracks maintain each world’s style, pared down to (as it sounds) 8-bit limitations.
The bonus remixes end up being more amusing than required – some of the remixes with vocals go on for a few bars too long, perhaps – but none are bad, per se, although not being central to the game they are, clearly, extras, and disturb the album’s flow. Still, considering you can pay as low as 2.99 for such a bevy of music…. Well, you can still complain, that’s your right. And so the review ends, calling attention to its lack of conclusion.