Super Meat Boy didn’t invent the masocore platformer, but it certainly helped popularise it. A bloody chunk of meat makes for a surprisingly charming hero, it turns out, while its precise controls, inventive level design, and instant respawns made a captivating experience out of what might otherwise have been a frustrating one. Its long-awaited sequel, Super Meat Boy Forever, moves in a very different direction, but different is always a bad thing—its full of new ideas that cut right to the heart of the “one more try!” impulse at the heart of this genre.
One of the most immediately apparent (and divisive) changes in Super Meat Boy Forever is the fact that it’s an auto-runner. In other words, your character—be it Meat Boy, Bandage Girl, or one of a number of other weird but weirdly adorable unlockable characters—automatically runs forward, at a set, constant speed. It’s a divisive change, certainly, but one that opens Super Meat Boy Forever up to a whole new world of level design possibilities. When the player’s momentum is predictable and controlled, that very momentum can be part of the puzzle, with hazards and traps designed with pinpoint accuracy around where the player will reliably be at any given moment.
It means that something as simple as changing direction can be part of a platforming puzzle. In Super Meat Boy Forever, jumping off a wall or stepping on a special-marked pad will send you back the way you came, and the game finds hundreds of ways to build unique, creative challenges around that. You might find yourself jumping through a section of platforms that disappear after you touch them, unable to turn around until right at the end, and then backtracking through the now much more dangerous area to continue through a path that was previously blocked. You might have to run away from a chasing buzzsaw, searching for a safe way to turn back and jump over it before it inevitably catches up to you. You might have a maze of platforms and walls that can only be navigated by finding the right spots to turn around.
Super Meat Boy Forever also gives Meat Boy and co a very useful new tool: an attack button. Far more than just a way of killing enemies that get in your way, it gives you new ways of moving through each level. A flying punch doubles as a short burst of extra speed mid-jump, and as a way to extend your airtime. A dive kick comes in useful when you want to shorten your jump trajectory or speed up your fall. A sliding kick is crucial for sliding through small gaps or under traps that would kill Meat Boy at full height.
And like with auto-running, Super Meat Boy Forever‘s level designers never miss an opportunity to build creative challenges around those new abilities: big gaps that can only be crossed with some well-timed flying punches; sequences of hazards that demand rapid adjustment between sliding, jumping, punching, and dive kicking; very punchable-looking foes placed where the extra momentum from an attack is sure to get you killed. When levels start playing with auto-run and Meat Boy’s new attacks in tandem, as they often do, Super Meat Boy Forever‘s level design can be sublime.
Feeding that level design is an element of procedural generation. Each new game of Super Meat Boy Forever pulls together an assortment of levels made up from hundreds of different “chunks”—small, hand-crafted level segments that can be strung together in a semi-randomised way to create a fresh set of levels for each playthrough. A game like this wouldn’t work without the finely-tuned challenges that come from having actual level designers creating the levels; this approach of randomly-compiled chunks keeps that intact, but still allows for a degree of unpredictability.
Throughout all these chunks and levels, Super Meat Boy Forever constantly adds new ideas into the mix. Between new types of obstacles, new enemies, and new interactive elements, barely a single level goes by without bringing something fresh to the table and then exploring it from all sorts of different directions. By the end of the game, you’ll be juggling power-ups that change the direction of your flying punches, solid blocks that materialise after you run through them, items that let you teleport through walls, and all manner of other quirks—platformer levels really get as inventive as they do here.
All this helps to make the core masocore loop that drives Super Meat Boy. Every chunk is a puzzle that requires both figuring out what the actual solution is and then being able to execute it flawlessly—an outcome that will typically only come after lots of attempts, lots of deaths, and lots of learning from those repeated failures. But with instant respawns and regular checkpoints, the trial and error that Super Meat Boy Forever demands rarely gets tedious. Even if it takes 50 tries before you finally clear a chunk, when each of those tries is just a few seconds long, even that many deaths only takes a couple of minutes. On top of that, it’s always very clear what you did wrong, and what you need to improve next time, so each death does genuinely bring you closer to victory.
There’s a suitably gruesome yet weirdly-adorable story to go along with all that meat splattering action. When Meat Boy and Bandage Girl’s cute little baby, Nugget, gets kidnapped by Dr Fetus, they have no choice but to set out to rescue their child—a familiar premise, but one that leads into some weird turns and even manages to get oddly emotional. There are few words spoken in Super Meat Boy Forever, but plenty of blood, plenty of middle fingers, and plenty of moments where Nugget makes toys out of things that a baby really shouldn’t be playing with.
This story, silly though it gets, really comes to life in Super Meat Boy Forever‘s polished cutscenes and the expressive animations of the characters. The crude charm of Super Meat Boy‘s art style is still there, but it’s more refined now. Where Super Meat Boy channelled its Flash game routs, Forever has the feel of a Saturday morning cartoon (if such violence could be tolerated there).
Super Meat Boy Forever is no doubt going to be a controversial game, especially among Super Meat Boy purists. But its new ideas bring a world of new possibilities for precision platforming challenges and sheer level design creativity. Dying over and over again in an effort to master the precise jumps and perfect timing each level demands rarely feels as good as it does in Super Meat Boy Forever.
Super Meat Boy Forever is developed and published by Team Meat. It’s available now for Nintendo Switch (reviewed), with PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and mobile versions to follow at a later date.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.