Super Meat Boy Forever Review: The Sawblades of Destiny
Meat Boy first burst onto the scene as a flash game before getting the full-sized treatment in Super Meat Boy in 2010. The charming and extremely difficult platformer was one of the major darlings of the rise of indie platformers at that time and, despite containing hundreds of levels, had folks clamoring for a sequel.
Ten years later, we finally got a sequel with Super Meat Boy Forever. But it might not be quite what you expect.
Super Meat Boy Forever still has the same charm and still rewards lightning-quick reflexes, but it's quite a deviation from the original. It isn't surprising when you learn that SMBF was originally a mobile title, as the control scheme and mechanics indicate that origin. It's still a solid game, but fans of the original will probably be disappointed with some of the development choices here.
Super Meat Boy Forever Review: The Sawblades of Destiny
When you look at screenshots or first jump into gameplay, Super Meat Boy Forever looks like more of the same. Cute little cutscenes play at the start and end of each world: Meat Boy and Bandage Girl now have a child named Nugget, who is kidnapped by Dr. Fetus.
You take control of either main character (and many more characters as you unlock certain achievements or obtain optional objectives), running and jumping through insidious platforming levels full of traps and pitfalls.
It even sounds like you'd expect. The soundtrack to SMBF is absolutely incredible, with fun, catchy tunes across each world and a perfect sense of timing on when to kick things up to eleven and unleash some serious guitar shredding.
SMBF is stylish and slick, and it will almost assuredly make you crack a smile. The little homages to games of old, the goofy cutscenes (including the return of Dr. Fetus's love of flipping you off), the clever animations -- this is a game that is almost guaranteed to make you happy, even when it's killing you dozens of times in a row.
The formula starts to change a bit when you hit the actual mechanics of Super Meat Boy Forever. Right away, you'll notice that you don't have complete control over your character; they automatically run forward. This turns the game into less of a platformer and more of a puzzler. You're still going to need quick reflexes and even faster fingers once you do get it together, but longer levels and this new style of gameplay means its unlikely you'll have many levels where you run through without dying on your first try.
Learning how to delay your character so they avoid timing traps and adapting your style to powerups (like floors that invert gravity or a pickup that drops a block you can use to boost yourself up) are the keys to success here.
One thing SMBF does really well is introduce each new hiccup in a really solid way. The first few levels, as expected, teach you the basics of punching, sliding, changing direction and the like.
Almost every level throughout the course of the game adds some new mechanic or wrinkle to adapt to, and they do a pretty great job of intuitively placing it so you just know how it works. This is especially fun when you hit later levels and bosses, which will combine previous mechanics in interesting ways and reward you for putting them all together.
Super Meat Boy Forever also boasts a dynamic difficulty, which is a bit tough to see in action as you're playing. The idea is that there are variations for each level, and the game lays them out in front of you depending on how you've performed so far.
Things are never easy, and this is a nice way to make sure everyone can keep progressing. However, it kind of makes me wish the levels were just laid out to progress through instead of "sometimes you get this variation, sometimes you get this one."
This plays into the biggest issue with Super Meat Boy Forever. It just feels... underwhelming. It's a tiny development team, it's gone through some fits and starts and delays, but this type of valuation has to be expected in making a sequel to a beloved game.
Super Meat Boy had some incredible post-game releases, with tons of new levels adding devious new tricks to things. There's no way of knowing if SMBF will follow suit. But the lower level count and simplified mechanics are a little bittersweet.
Each world has six levels and a boss, plus the "dark world" variations if you beat the finish time goal for each. SMB had twenty levels per world and a boss, plus the dark world variations. The difficult nature of the game is still there, but it's different this time around. Forever tends to kill you more with unseen dangers — since you can't stop to evaluate things, you'll often just barge off an edge or into spikes without realizing what's coming.
This plays into an even more problematic aspect: intentionally doing the wrong thing.
In later levels, I found myself turning my character around at certain junctures, or using a powerup in an odd way, simply because I thought "There's no way a late level like this would make something this simple." It disrupted the flow and the feeling of mastery, simply because I was trying to use my skills and habits I had picked up from earlier level design to try to predict what was coming.
The simplified controls of Super Meat Boy Forever also caused some issues. Most of the time, things are incredibly tight and responsive with jumps, slides and other movements. Once you figure out how to proceed, you can usually tell that it's user error preventing you from moving forward.
This changes with a few things, especially in boss fights. Certain elements shift a bit here, and the timing and rules of these moves aren't very intuitive. Punches and slides work a bit differently when you're trying to beat down the bosses you encounter, and I found myself dying much more than I felt I should due to these changes.
In a game that focuses on split-second timing and muscle memory, these shifts in mechanics made some of the big spectacle boss battles more of a chore than they should have been.
That said, Super Meat Boy Forever has a lot to offer platforming fans. It's still tough, it's still charming, and it's different enough to not feel like it should have just been added on to the original.
Super Meat Boy Forever Review — The Bottom Line
- Charming characters, soundtrack, story, and design
- Nice use of powerups and mechanic shifts to keep things interesting
- Huge variety in levels and difficulty
- Autorunner controls take away some of the best aspects of the original
- Feels oversimplified
- Variable difficulty and shifting levels makes things feel unfinished
It takes some serious bravery to take a beloved title and change the core mechanics as much as Super Meat Boy Forever does. Unfortunately, it isn't made better by these changes. Maybe over time, SMBF will unleash its true potential, but it stands as an inferior sequel at this point.
You'll still get plenty of enjoyment out of it, even if you're a diehard fan of the 2010 title. Just don't expect SMBF to be just like its predecessor, but more of it. It's dramatically different and, generally, not quite as good.
[Note: Team Meat provided the copy of Super Meat Boy Forever used for this review.]