The End Is Nigh PC
The challenge comes, if not necessarily from twitchy platforming, from simply figuring out your route
You need a personal mantra for this kind of platformer. Otherwise, you go mad. Ours is borrowed from Einstein: insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Nevertheless, the linear structure of Super Meat Boy involved repeatedly throwing a fleshy form at the brick wall of a level’s end until something finally stuck. Here, the walls are gone. Each screen of The End Is Nigh is connected to another, the map a Metroidvania-styled web of possibilities, and progression is less about persistence than it is simply trying a new approach.
For better or worse, the result is that the twitch platforming on show here is surprisingly, well, sane. Emphasis is often removed from raw reactions and placed on thinking your way around Edmund McMillen and Tyler Glaiel’s eerie labyrinth. Rather than a series of self-contained, ticking-timer races so frantic that completion is sometimes almost an accident, The End Is Nigh is a grand puzzle that you solve at your own pace.
It is easier as a result, though perhaps a little less immediately engaging. Exploring beyond The Split – a level with three exits to reach, each splintering off into its own multiple pathways – is even, dare we say it, relaxing. Screens filled with perilously tiny platforms, poisonous gas, crumbling structures and what look like gently microwaved Chain Chomps flick seamlessly into each other as we bounce the proto-blob protagonist Ash from left to right. When we hit a level that begins to raise the blood pressure, a release valve is within reach. We open the map and warp straight out of the irritatingly sedate moving platforms of Retrograde, back to the The Hollows’ phosphorescent depths.
Being able to move away from a problem and be productive elsewhere is a breath of fresh air in the context of McMillen’s past work. It’s even more delicious when you’re able to trigger a change of scenery without leaving the current level: much, if not all, of The End Is Nigh is built to also be played backwards. Run past the edge of a stage to trigger a checkpoint and you can tackle it in reverse, apocalyptic rubble falling to eliminate certain possibilities while tempting hooks beckon from walls. You can’t wall-jump, so making your way up through tight spaces is done by throwing Ash onto these sharp – and sharply placed – grapnels, where he sits, quivering, while you ponder your next move.
And there are plenty of them to decide between. If you’re moving forward, do you go for the safety of the screen’s end? Or perhaps risk grabbing a hard-to-reach collectible on the way? These Tumours, after all, are Ash’s real goal: he’s building himself a friend to hang out with now that doomsday has arrived, as you do. Choose to double back for a reverse run, and it’s often easier, certain hooks or platform edges becoming useful when viewed from the other side. Occasionally, you’re
Nigh, indeed. As you might expect from a man with McMillen’s back catalogue, there are multiple endings to see, each more difficult to access than the last. While you can certainly consider yourself proficient by completing the main game and cobbling together your new best buddy, doing so unlocks a new set of even more hellish levels to run and a second ending. The third – accessible only by superhuman effort – follows an especially brutal gauntlet that ratchets up the tension in ways we’re loath to spoil. Mechanics remain largely unchanged, the difficulty inflated by admittedly quite artificial means, but persistent platformers will find that the lands beyond the world’s end hew much closer to the bone. able to access new nooks and crannies, where highvalue Mega Tumours or game cartridges (you can warp home to play your collection of sadistic 8bit challenges on Ash’s CRT TV) lurk behind hidden walls.
The challenge comes, if not necessarily from twitchy platforming, from simply figuring out your route: execution frequently feels secondary to planning. The loss of momentum when hanging from a hook and squinting at the potential paths ahead can often feel disappointing, but at least McMillen and Glaiel don’t scrimp on devious red herrings. Springing off a tooobvious hook might seem an obvious solution, for instance, but sometimes you repeatedly won’t make a jump until you remember you can grab the ledge just above, the extra millimetres of leeway enough to finally get you over the gap. Remembering is an issue, however. A lackluster tutorial made up of talking skeletons and hastily pasted signs near the beginning of the game attempts to explain Ash’s abilities – automatic ledge grabs with the trigger, longer jumps from edges and hooks with a D-pad input, faster falls and slides through grates – but is swiftly forgotten. McMillen has shown he doesn’t need to use text to teach – like Mario and Mega Man before it, Super Meat Boy quickly imparted its basics through design alone – so why The End Is Nigh bores its players with signage is a mystery. And a steady drip of little inadequacies flows through the game. We could swear that the occasional ledge grab fails to register when it should. It is hard to remember that the flat edges on either side of spikes, or the slightest contact with the front of a gun will, logic be damned, kill you. It is also a little tricky to track things like seizureinducing flashing bullets on a monochrome background without dying because of the distraction. Less critical, but still jarring, are the things that don’t undermine your ability but blight the experience. Ash, loveable and optimistic as he is, doesn’t patter and smack around levels like his meatier ancestor: he just sort of goes, without any audiovisual fanfare.
Calling this the spiritual successor to Super Meat Boy, then, feels a little disingenuous. McMillen’s breakout hit was an overwhelmingly physical experience – all jabbing thumbs, beads of sweat and corpulent, high-speed platforming. By contrast, The End Is Nigh is played mostly in your head, not with your thumbs. It is, as a whole, smart stuff, and a refreshing new direction for McMillen’s brand of twitch platforming. But the pace is slower, so the stakes feel lower. With exploration now the main focus, the result is something altogether different. But then, McMillen and Glaiel know that lightning never strikes twice; Super Meat Boy had it bottled, and trying to recreate it would have been the very definition of insanity.
MAIN The toothy maw at the bottom is one of several warp points, which transport you to the start of each zone once found. It can result in lots of backtracking if trying to reach a particular screen.
ABOVE The Hollows is our favourite level, all luminous mushrooms and pixel-perfect bounces on glowing skulls, the sound an ultra-satisfying thwack of bone and Ash.
RIGHT As expected for a game made up of interconnected screens, there’s no level timer ticking away in the corner, which we rather miss
ABOVE The hidden cartridge collectibles – one in each world – are reminiscent of SuperMeatBoy’s warp zones, retro interpretations of main game areas. You’re given a finite amount of lives to complete them