Charlie loves her video games as much as she loves dumb, charming JRPG protagonists: probably way too much. You can often catch her spending too much time being emotional over LGBT stories in games. She also thinks Yakuza 6 is the best one.
PC, Nintendo Switch
December 23, 2020
Ten years ago the original Super Meat Boy released and was part of the first big indie wave. It ushered in a return of precise 2D platformers, heralded for their tough as nails nature. After a decade of hard work and rework, the series has returned in Super Meat Boy Forever. Even with a key and curious change in mechanics, its joyously (but also rage inducingly) difficult platforming is worth the wait. Sort of. Maybe.
Much like the original, Super Meat Boy Forever follows Meat Boy and Bandage Girl, two long-lasting lovebirds. Now, instead of kidnapping the romantic interest, the villainous Doctor Fetus has instead captured the pair’s precious little child, Nugget. Off he goes with the adorable infant, and it’s up to you, playing as either of the couple, to make chase through a series of set levels. You’ve got a big journey ahead of you.
Despite being simplistic, there’s honestly quite a charming and funny narrative going on in Forever. In between levels you’ll receive cutscenes that are animated superbly. They’re coloured quite gorgeously and the characters you’re both introduced and re-introduced to have fun personalities about them despite the lack of voice acting. You’ll find yourself laughing every so often with the antics Nugget gets up to in their captivity. There’s even a curious B plot that follows an eye-patch wearing squirrel and his quest for vengeance. Think of these cutscenes as being very Happy Tree Friends in nature – vibrant in colouring, hilarious, cute and also very bloody.
In environments and vibes, Super Meat Boy Forever is the same game as its decade old predecessor. Players will face challenging precision platforming in a 2D plane. Careful jumping will be required to make it out alive, along with the new mechanic of sliding and performing a mid air kick that works as a dash. The environments that you’ll be fighting through are also quite fresh and pleasant. Largely, this is complemented by the popping but equally gross and gory colour scheme and setting along with a bopping and rhythmic rock soundtrack. All of this paints the picture of a fun but trying challenge to take back your young Nugget.
This time around, four worlds are on offer in the game’s main story. Chipper Grove is set within a series of forest levels and is very reminiscent of the first world in the original game. Meanwhile, The Clinic is a series of levels all within an entirely hellish hospital. Blood seeps from walls, flies must be kicked out of the way, and your quirk work is needed to fight your way out of sentient virus cells when they swallow you, or else they’ll steer you directly into those dastardly buzz saws. The last world, The Lab, is even a nod to all the versions of this sequel that didn’t get off the ground. Your intro to the area is clones of Meat Boys in tanks, along with a twisted corpse pile of copies of the fleshy lad. All these environments feel right at home in the world of Super Meat Boy.
“…a fun but trying challenge to take back your young Nugget.”
Boss fights are also once more as frantic and challenging as ever. Your first big battle in this regard has you fleeing upwards from Fetus in a giant mech that wields two killer chainsaws. A lot of bouncing off walls, jumps both big and small, and mid-air kicking of weak points is required. It’s your first (of many to come) real test in the game and goes to show that even with a more mainlined mechanic (more on that in a bit), Super Meat Boy Forever is still the precise and difficult game it was destined to be.
With collectable pacifiers that net you more playable characters, Dark World B-side levels to be unlocked via beating par times on levels, and that familiar (though now more palatable) difficulty, fans will feel right at home in this sequel. That all sounds wonderful on paper for the most part. It is. However, one catch comes with all of this and it’s a big one. A chunk of the franchise’s heart is missing with this sequel. Super Meat Boy is now an auto-runner.
It’s hard to use the word ‘mad’ when describing feelings about Super Meat Boy Forever taking the shift into the auto-runner space. The leap of making a Super Meat Boy game where you don’t control too much of the horizontal direction, only vertical, isn’t big. This is also far from a bad example of a game in that niche. It stacks higher than pretty much all I’ve experienced in the auto-runner field before and functions quite well. Still, it loses a key part of what came with the original entry – experimentation.
In Super Meat Boy, you could pull off insane feats if you tried hard enough. Maybe you just perfectly and miraculously thread the needle-thin gap of squeezing between two ever spinning and ever close buzz saws. Or, you could hug and climb a certain wall only to reach a height quicker than the main provided route. However, in Forever, you’re pretty much railroaded to the one route. Very little creative solutions to levels are on offer, and you can’t enjoy the fun of cheesing levels.
This is where so much of the game will divide players. There’s so many great little nuggets to Forever. Set pieced levels are organised to a tee and done so fantastically. Buzz saws will fly within inches of your meaty body in tense fashion. The new combat options do work. Even the Crash Bandicoot 4-esque gravity manipulation mechanics are creatively challenging. That brief summation should spell out the next best thing in platforming since sliced bread. Yet, it’s the simplicity in only needing the two button input of sliding and jumping that hurts the game. Try as this sequel might, there’s always that magic missing.
Considering this, I also understand the decision. After all, it’s been such a long time since the original entry. So easily could Team Meat have created a game that’s more of the same, but good. Instead, they tried something that doesn’t always work but when it does it shines quite brightly. Credit where credit’s due: experimenting with a franchise formula is something that should always be welcome.
Super Meat Boy Forever is a game many have wanted for a very long time. Depending on personal preference and open-mindedness, it’ll divide many. By no means is it a bad game. Stunning polish and art direction absolutely shine through this time around. However, its streamlined sensibilities have hurt this game exponentially in trying to revisit that franchise spark.
Since Super Meat Boy’s release, platforming juggernauts such as Celeste and Hollow Knight have settled comfortably in the beloved territory. Since then, it’s been a tough and challenging crowd for the indie platforming space. Due to its nature and frankly quiet release, it pains me to say I don’t believe Super Meat Boy Forever will be championed as such and instead be soon forgotten.
There’s plenty to love and adore out of the game’s design and it is a very good game. However, with its dare to experiment, it could leave fiercely loyal fans a bit disappointed.