After 10 long years Super Meat Boy is back, this time as an auto-runner in a sequel that channels much of the original except for what I loved most about it: snappy controls and tight platforming. In the year of Spelunky 2 and Hades, it’s a letdown to see Meat Boy return without the key aspects that made it great.
Super Meat Boy Forever was originally announced back in 2014 as a mobile game. Then one half of the indie duo Team Meat, Edmund McMillen, left to go focus on other projects, leaving co-creator Tommy Refenes to reboot the project by himself for consoles in 2017. Other developers were eventually recruited, the new Team Meat announced a release date of early 2019, and nearly two years later it’s finally here.
Out last week as a timed exclusive for Epic Games Store and Switch — the game will eventually come to other platforms — Super Meat Boy Forever forces your smiling blood-patty to run forward at a constant clip while you duck, jump, and punch your way through procedurally generated enemies and obstacles. Instead of the tightly wound death dungeons in the first game, Forever’s levels are more sprawling, side-scrolling affairs full of randomised hazards that lock in everytime you generate a new game world. None of these elements is bad on its own, but they don’t really come together to make an arcade platformer I feel like coming back to.
Mostly that’s because of how the game controls. Being burdened with a constant momentum feels at odds with the free-bouncing flow 2010’s Super Meat Boy excelled at. You can change directions by jumping off walls or running into ramps, but for the most part Forever is about decoding the exact combination of jumps, punches, and wall sliding to get through a given barrage of buzz saws and then executing them to guide Meat Boy through to safety, as if remote-controlling a fleshy rocketship. There’s a disconnect between the puzzle-solving and actually performing the solution that just left me cold.
It doesn’t help that Super Meat Boy Forever feels especially floaty, made worse by occasional slowdowns when a lot of stuff is going on. I’ve had framerate issues playing it on my Asus Zenbook, which appears to be isolated to some wonkiness around certain PC settings. I haven’t played the game on Switch, but there it’s locked to 1080p at 60 fps and appears to run just fine based on GameXplain’s time with the game.
Forever does have one bright spot: its boss fights. Instead of always being propelled forward, boss stages give you enough tools to navigate a confined area and take down villain Dr. Foetus’ contraptions by manoeuvring back and forth to hit weak spots. These encounters are cleverly designed and fun to figure out, even when racking up dozens of deaths in the process. They were also the moments when the original game’s brilliance show through the most.
The original Super Meat Boy was part of a new wave of indie homages to genre classics. Two years before it, Spelunky came out. In 2011, Supergiant Games released Bastion. This year, all three have seen direct sequels or spiritual successors, with Hades building on and yet far surpassing the foundation laid in Bastion. In this context, Super Meat Boy Forever feels especially disappointing, offering not even just more of the same from a treasured classic, but instead a weirdly compromised spin-off whose auto-runner conceit feels stifling without bringing anything exceptionally new or worthwhile to the table. It’s hardly a terrible game, and it’s still rife with cutscenes that tell a breezy new chapter in the Meat Boy-verse. But it’s still a bummer.