When I think back to the countless hours spent on my Xbox 360, among the names that immediately pop up into my head as being one of the biggest contributors to that fact is Super Meat Boy. At the time it was a platformer unlike any other, mocking players with its cruel and punishing difficulty, sublime to control and offering bite-sized levels with the sort of creativity that rivalled that of Nintendo. Put simply, it’s an absolute classic and a game that has definitely stood the test of time as proven when playing the Switch version back in 2018. Now the thought of a sequel to such a brilliant platformer finally seeing the light of day is an exciting one on paper but how does it rank in a time where the genre is far denser (and stronger) especially given its one major change. You know which change I’m referring to…
A few years after the events of the original Super Meat Boy, Meat Boy and Bandage Girl are enjoying a lovely picnic with their daughter Nugget when the evil Dr. Fetus shows up kidnapping her. As you might expect, the pair are in hot pursuit, their journey taking them through a number of challenging platforming stages. The story is pretty standard stuff but made more entertaining thanks to the energetic and fun cartoon animations that bookend each world.
Unlike Super Meat Boy which took on the form of a more traditional platformer allowing you complete control over your movements, Super Meat Boy Forever instead opts for an auto-runner style. Like Super Meat Boy, the controls are kept simple – arguably even more so since you don’t need to use the control stick for forward and backward movement – with the same button handling your jump and attack and pressing down allowing Meat Boy to slide or dive if in mid-air.
Despite the game constantly pushing you forward; you’ll still find plenty of moments where you’ll switch direction or make your way upward through wall jumping and other environmental elements adding complexity to levels. Of course, you can expect an assortment of deadly obstacles like spinning blades of death, crumbling blocks and lasers to have to deal with which are no less difficult to avoid here than they were back in 2010. Boss battles are also a nice inclusion, ending each world with a taxing and satisfying bang. Just like the original, the controls here are super precise which is an important factor especially with a game so focused on reactions and timing (more on that in a moment).
I’m not the biggest fan of auto-runners and that was even back when they were at their height of popularity and relatively fresh as an idea. The style of platformer just leaves me feeling unengaged from the action since all I’m doing is timing button presses as opposed to actually being put in control of a character. That isn’t to say this game isn’t enjoyable. I definitely had fun making my way through five worlds-worth of nightmarish levels discovering secrets as I went but it’s a far shout from the original game and a lot of other platformers on Switch now. Being a side-scrolling auto-runner, also means there’s a greater focus on quick reactions as opposed to analysing a stage and mastering it. As a result, I found the game to be a good amount of trial and error since I was always having to run forward. In the game’s defence, there are plenty of generous checkpoints planted throughout levels so at least I never had to backtrack too far after numerous deaths.
Another big change for the series is that the levels themselves are procedurally-generated this time around. It’s something that certainly adds replay value to the game with every playthrough offering a different experience, however, it also results in levels lacking identity. What I loved about the original was how I could memorise and constantly shave seconds off my times on stages that felt like they’d been perfectly crafted not just to test your ability (and patience) but actively encouraged replays and speed runs. Here, since each level is essentially stitching sections together from a pool of possibilities, I found the overall design uneven, a mishmash of fun and challenging playgrounds littered with sections that felt off or downright frustrating to play.
The game brings back a number of elements from the original game such as the even tougher Dark World levels, secret warp zones, and unlockable characters the latter of which are earned through gathering bandages placed in hard-to-reach parts of stages. There’s a good number of secrets to discover however I am disappointed that characters all possess the exact same move set essentially relegating them to skins.
If you’re after a true sequel to the original Super Meat Boy, then Super Meat Boy Forever will leave you disappointed. While it generally delivers a good and challenging time, the fact it is an auto-runner and the procedurally generated nature of the levels hold it back from getting anywhere close to the excellence of the original.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Team Meat