Bow before your new master.
Before I talk about this game, I’ll talk about another game: Mutant Mudds. Remember that game? It’s an entertaining little piece of platforming that was originally developed for the 3DS but has since been ported to pretty much every platform in the world (although I’m still waiting on a Dreamcast version). Mutant Mudds is a slow-moving, precision-based platformer that eases you into the challenging stuff, and there is some genuinely difficult stuff in there. Several years later, a sort-of sequel was released: Mutant Mudds Super Challenge. It’s basically the Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels of Mutant Mudds games. It is an order of magnitude more difficult than the hardest parts of the original game, especially if you’re trying to find all the characters, CDs, and gems.
Super Meat Boy : The End is Nigh :: Mutant Mudds : Super Challenge.
Now, if that analogy doesn’t send you running for the hills, keep reading. In The End is Nigh, you control a little black blob named Ash as he explores a post-apocalyptic world. The game’s structure is essentially that of Super Meat Boy, but without the stage menu. Here, each “stage” is a single screen, an obstacle course of varying difficultly, and after getting from point A to point B, you just wind up on the next screen. This gives the illusion of an open-world platformer, but that’s not quite right. Distinct “levels” are available, each containing a certain number of “stages.” You can, at any time, open the menu and warp to the beginning of any “level” that you’ve uncovered.
While Meat Boy feels fast and slippery, wall-jumping with reckless abandon, Ash’s move set is far more precise. He basically runs, jumps, and hangs on to ledges and hooks. From a ledge, he can look backward and vault away from the ledge, usually in an effort to reach another ledge or platform. Vaulting can break certain walls and dropping from a certain height can break through certain floors. That’s about it. Using this limited toolkit, you are expected to survive one of the hardest games I’ve ever played.
Most of the hazards will be familiar to Super Meat Boy fans. Spikes, whirling death machines, cannons, crumbling buildings, more spikes, noxious gas, the threat of drowning, ghosts and skull monsters, door switches, and did I mention spikes are all here specifically to kill you, and kill you they will. You will die literally all the time. You will die hundreds of times. Thousands, even. But the second you die, Ash respawns at the start of the “stage.” Trying again never takes very long and every death is a learning experience. Not one single death feels cheap, arbitrary, or unfair, which is something of a miracle.
Getting through any given stage is a feat unto itself, but of course collectibles are everywhere. If you have the patience, almost every stage has a floating “tumor” to collect. These tumors are often sitting right there in plain sight, but the trick is to maneuver over there, grab the tumor, and survive to the end of the stage. Some stages have alternate exists that lead to bonus stages that contain MEGA Tumors (+5 tumors). These bonus stages are often particularly nefarious. Your tumor collection will come in handy when you find big Gish-looking monsters who will, depending on the size of your cancerous bounty, let you access “The Future,” a blue-tinted nightmare realm that may as well be called “Git Gud.”
You can also find the rare Game Cartridge, usually one per level, that you can play on Ash’s home game console. These carts are akin to the Retro stages in Super Meat Boy and/or Runner 2. They task you not just with survival but also with grabbing 100 gems while dodging perilous obstacles. Generally slower-moving than the normal game, the cartridges were weirdly way more difficult, so it’s nice that they’re entirely optional.
I don’t have many complaints about The End is Nigh. The entire game is more-or-less black and white. I simultaneously like and dislike this. On the one hand, it’s a clean look with no distractions beyond the objects in a given stage. On the other hand, it means the aesthetic never really changes. I genuinely do not like that you can’t select which stage to warp to. The “world map” tells you what tumors you’ve missed, but if you’re missing the tumor from stage 19, say, you have to go through the whole level to get there, and some levels are more tedious than others. Alternate exists aren’t all that clear as well. At one point I accidentally vaulted the wrong way and wound up in a bonus area. I never would have found it otherwise. Most of the time, alternate routes are visible. But now I wonder how many I’ve missed.
There’s also the difficulty. It’s not for everyone. My feeling is that if you got through Super Meat Boy, you’ll also enjoy The End is Nigh. It scratches the same itch, but it feels like a harder game. I enjoy figuring out how to get through any given stage, but making it happen is where the challenge is. It’s a great feeling when you come to a stage and say “how in the world…” and then beat it a few minutes (and several dozen deaths) later. Personally, I love this game to death even if it does feel like beating my head against the wall sometimes.