Cute pixelly monsters? Plucky soundtrack? Arcade-style gameplay? It must be the latest release from Nitrome! Hooray!
In Square Meal, you play a cute boxy monster trying to escape from a sinister dungeon. Well, perhaps sinister is a bit of an overstatement—someone has left delicious food lying about all over the place, after all. Still, there are a number of different monsters patrolling each of the 50 levels, as well as floor spikes, exploding blocks, slippery patches, and other hazards. Using the arrow keys, move around each level and use the spacebar to swallow all of the enemies. Before you can eat a monster though, you must first stun it by hitting it with a block. Use the spacebar to swallow a block, then reposition yourself and hit space again to shoot the block at an enemy.
There are a number of different types of blocks available to swallow and shoot. In addition to the normal gray blocks that behave quite predictably, there are also brown blocks that disintegrate when they hit something, blue slow blocks that lose momentum more quickly, green rubber blocks that will bounce off of things (be careful of the rebound!), and black bomb blocks that give you a short countdown and then explode. The normal gray blocks are usually the best to use—they can't kill you, they don't disappear once used, and they travel quickly. Really, all you need is one of these per level, but you are usually given much more than that.
The five types of blocks and four types of enemies combined with the various other hazards provide enough material so that the fifty levels are for the most part unique. However, there are only a handful that are truly challenging—you'll be able to pass most of them on your first try. I was expecting the levels to become more puzzle-like as they progressed, but only a few took advantage of elements such as the retractable spikes and limited ammunition. There's not even a time limit. Mostly, you'll just find yourself avoiding the monsters until you can get in a position to stun and swallow them. Also, I was expecting one or two more types of monsters to appear that were either faster or smarter than the four that exist, but that never happened.
As a result of these game design choices, much of the challenge of Square Meal comes from trying to maximize your score. You have only one life, although thankfully you do not have to start at Level 1 when you die. Nevertheless, your score resets to zero every time you die, so scoring well will require a certain degree of perfection. If you're not careful, you can also miss points on levels by clearing all the monsters before eating all of the bonus food items, or if an exploding block takes food or monsters with it.
With Square Meal, the folks at Nitrome have once again played to their strengths: classic arcade-style gameplay, cute pixelated graphics and an infectious soundtrack that somehow never quite gets old (although if it does, there's a button to turn it off). There's also a collaborative 2-player mode that can be fun to play with a buddy, although it doesn't really add anything to the gameplay.