Review: Super Meat Boy Forever
Super Meat Boy was an absolute phenomenon when it released over a decade ago. It was perhaps the first real mainstream hit of the precision platformer genre, merging lessons from classic run & jumps and more sadistic offerings like I Want To Be The Guy to form something that would influence indie games to this day. That’s a hell of a legacy, which makes it all the more bizarre that its own sequel seems to have forgotten so much of what made it good. I don’t know what compels a person to look at the acclaimed challenge and tight controls of the original, and then try to follow it up with a deeply flawed infinite runner. But I do know that it’s a curse that dooms Super Meat Boy Forever to be nothing more than frustration and tedium.
Meat Boy and Bandage Girl are back, along with their adorable offspring, Nugget. Of course, the irascible Dr. Fetus is back too, and snatches the little bundle of gristly joy away. Thus begins another deadly odyssey of navigating levels full of sawblades, syringes, and horrors to rescue the sentient McGuffin. But things are a little different this time. In stark contrast to the compact platforming challenges of the original, Super Meat Boy Forever sends your chosen character sprinting relentlessly towards danger. You’ve got to time your jumps, dives, and punches to match your pace, as well as puzzle out the order of operations to work around your directional limitations. Then you’ll need to do it faster to meet the strict time targets on levels, more carefully to get the sadistically-placed collectibles, and repeatedly to work out the precise moves expected to beat the bosses.
Straight away, if you’re here looking for more Super Meat Boy, you’re not going to get it. As I’ve repeatedly alluded to, the shift to infinite runner takes away a huge element of control that made the original so gratifying. Meat Boy (or your character of choice) is forever sprinting, stopping only when hitting a wall and changing direction only when leaping from a wall. Aspects of the original, like momentum from wall slides and carefully-planned wall jumps are present, and that’s where the game is most familiar. The rest of the time, you’ll have no control over your approach to a pit or obstacle, only the timing of your jump or slide. Early on, this can be maddening if you keep dying over and over to a jump that would have been elementary if only you had the least amount of control over your velocity.
Instead, Meat Boy is given a few new tricks in this one, namely a punch and a slide. The punch is a dramatic change, sending your character dashing forward in midair and destroying an enemy. You can do it again if you kill, leading to sequences where you time punches to levitate over yawning pits. The slide is a logical choice for an infinite runner, letting Meat Boy squeeze under traps he’s too dumb to stop running face-first into. Your movement options are all responsive and allow for entertaining combinations, at least when it’s clear where you should be using them. Instead of the tight, flowing levels of the original, Forever’s levels are randomly-generated, stitched together from sections that offer their own challenges.
It’s really here that the whole thing falls apart, and distances itself not only from the legacy of Super Meat Boy but quality infinite runners. These sections are often poorly-designed, requiring too specific jumps, twisting sequences of wall jumps that can turn you around, and other frustrations. One section literally had a trap area, where if you ran forward instead of taking a small upper path, you were simply doomed to run off a cliff. Some parts require you to sit and wait against walls to time your next moves, which isn’t bad on its own but hurts the flow of an infinite runner. And all of these irritations are only magnified when they’re mashed together into an incongruous level that has no flow between sections, and has to be completely restarted if you miss your chance at a collectible or secret.
I could go on about how aggravating the bosses are, throwing up walls and beams of death that can only be avoided by matching whatever pattern the designer forced on you, or how punishingly tight the time limits are to unlock Dark World levels, or how much worse all of these problems are when you get to the Dark World. But it should be clear by now that Super Meat Boy Forever doesn’t just fail to live up to its predecessor, it fails as an infinite runner on its own. Its greatest sin is certainly being a gross misunderstanding of its legacy, but even removed from that, it’s just not fun for what it is.