The End is Nigh is the latest sadistic game from Edmund McMillen, creator of Binding of Isaac and Super Meat Boy. It could be called the spiritual successor to Super Meat Boy, as it really basically just is Super Meat Boy with some very slight gameplay changes and a visual style that looks a little more similar to Binding of Isaac.
If you’re not familiar with Super Meat Boy, it’s kind of like if Mario drank too much cough syrup and warped well past level 8, into some kind of overly spiky hell zone that kills him roughly every 2 seconds. Oh yes, you will die. So many, many times will you die. You have infinite lives at least, so you don’t have to worry about that, but this is the kind of game where you just need to accept that dying is just part of the game, because for all but the most inhumanly skilled players it’s completely unavoidable.
Oh it starts off deceptively simple enough, but things slowly start escalating until you’re literally surrounded by death on all sides, having to build lightning-fast reflexes to navigate twisting pits of spikes and other deadly hazards, avoid capture by deformed mutant beasts, and try to snag those collectible tumors while you’re at it too.
Yes, I said tumors. This game has you playing as a little blob named Ash, who seems to be all alone in some post-apocalyptic nightmare, and so decides to collect tumors and body parts in order to “build” himself a new friend. There’s one tumor to grab in every room, as well as several mega tumors hidden away in secret rooms in each area, and grabbing them almost always makes things much more difficult on you than simply rushing to the other side of a room and leaving, but you’ll need all 450 of them if you want to unlock the final area of the game.
There are also the cartridge collectibles, which are even more rare and well-hidden. Finding these will allow you to play optional retro-themed levels on your TV back at your home, and these ones are even harder than the regular levels. They typically involve making your way through chunks of 10 rooms with a limited amount of lives, and also have 10 rings that can be grabbed in each room. As with the tumors, trying to grab the rings will make things much harder on you, but you’ll also want to get as many of these bonus cartridge tumors as you can, because again, you’ll find yourself needing them badly later on (which I’ll get into in a minute).
Some of these carts are just ridiculous though. The normal ones are nasty, but do-able, but then there’s the “iron carts”, 4 super secret carts that want you to make your way through 8 terribly deadly rooms with 1 life. I was able to finish the first one with a great amount of effort and then avoided touching the rest, especially after hearing about the cart after that, the dreaded Tower of Ascension. This cart apparently wants you to go through all 4 iron carts back to back, as well as a new 5 room section added on to the end, for a total of 37 incredibly difficult rooms all with just 1 life. FUCK. THAT.
There’s also a set of super tough glitched carts to be found later on and a mega cart that combines all the normal carts into a single run. I do like a challenge, but these are truly sadistic levels that reach well past the point of being fun anymore. Luckily, none of these iron carts are necessary to finish the game, and they only even give you one extra tumor each, so there’s not much point in them other than bragging rights and some kind of sick, secret lust for pain and frustration.
Anyway, aside from those things, I still enjoyed the main game a good deal. There are something like 170 rooms on the main map, another 100 or so in “the future”, another big nastier area that opens up just when you thought you were about to win, and I don’t even know how many extra rooms there are between secret areas and various carts. I’ve heard that there are around 600 rooms altogether.
There’s also one last bit of nastiness in the secret final area, Nevermore. This place needs you to have found all 450 tumors to enter it, then it takes all of those from you and whatever you have left is how many lives you have to get through the final 15 rooms of doom. I had 38 lives when I got there, and it took several tries to get through it all with that few, but I finally did it.
In the end I clocked in at 20 hours, with 96% total complete, and a whopping 6700 deaths! I don’t regret it one bit. This was not just another fun challenge with a ton of content, it was also the first game I played all in portable mode on Switch. I have to say, it looked, sounded, and controlled impressively well all around on both the hardware and software fronts (the soundtrack of re-imagined classical tunes by Ridiculon is pretty awesome and catchy too). There’s just something more fun about playing tough-as-nails, short-burst games like this on a portable, and the Switch seems to be a pretty damn nice portable. This is why you probably won’t be hearing about any Vita games from me for some time.
Also, oh shit did this give me the intense urge to play Binding of Isaac again. Is it finally time to bite the bullet and get Afterbirth+? Uh oh…