Super Meat Boy Forever PC Review
Super Meat Boy Forever is brilliant at what it does. I’m already tired of seeing the constant flimsy criticisms surrounding it because “it’s an auto-runner” and “it’s not Super Meat Boy 2”, which is not at all a fair evaluation of the game on its own merits. Yes, it is an auto-runner, in the vein of Super Mario Run and so on, but it is the absolute pinnacle of that genre in terms of challenge, style, and mechanics innovations. And whilst it isn’t SMB2, it does push players to the absolute extreme of platforming execution and timing just like the original did just over a decade ago. Each of the five main worlds (and special sixth) incorporate totally fresh ideas and continue to build on them over their six-level spans, then further still over their dark world versions, that are infinitely more difficult. If you like demanding platforming, and I’d even go so far as to say puzzle solving for some of the more complex areas, give this one a shot. A real shot. And I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
If you’re not familiar with the concept, an auto-runner is a game where the character the player controls never stops moving forward, unless blocked by an obstacle. It also means the player can’t change direction unless they jump against something and basically push off the opposite way, leaving little room for mistakes around vertical climbing and wall running. This seriously limits the player’s control and forces them to think around many of the problems they’ll face, quickly becoming formidable when combined with the many varied level mechanics. Besides running and jumping, Meat Boy (or whatever other unlockable character you’re using) can also punch and dive/crouch, each of which have specific uses and are important to master. The punch is used for hitting enemies, both acquiring and activating one-use power-ups, and gaining extra forward momentum for a long jump, etc. However, as it can only be done once in the air but is reset upon landing or by making a successful strike, they can be chained to cross huge chasms where failure to meet your mark or correctly activate a special ability means certain death.
No worries, though, death is common and respawning is instantaneous so you can keep working at getting it right (and doing it faster if you want to get an A+ grade and unlock the dark world stages). The other standard move, crouch/dive, allows Meat Boy to slip under low hanging obstacles and hit things easily when on the ground with a nice kick. Even better, it can also be used in the air to immediately divekick at a steep downwards angle, causing rapid decline but still acting as an attack that can be similarly used to activate portals or break through glass walls and so on. More interestingly is that whilst these basic actions are obviously required to get through the stages normally, by utilising them more skillfully in quick bursts, they can also be used for speed boosts to help with the time trials. For example, by quickly jump-punching on a straight horizontal run there’s a clear forward thrust. And by diving downwards against a wall the usual slow sliding descent is made significantly faster. These can be risky, with the slide surge often ending in wall-saw based mutilation, but are also big helps later on.
It’s a classic ‘easy to pick up’ game but with a challenge curve that is nothing short of perfect, and eventually it expects not much less than that back. It’s all done so subtly until all of a sudden you’re juggling way more obstacles like groups of rotating saws, homing plasma balls, and weird spider things that make the edges of the level wrap around and trap you in a loop until you give them a good smack. Then, out of nowhere, you find yourself balancing all of that whilst also stacking a sleuth of world-specific functions such as super-powered uppercuts, direction-altering punches, dimensional portals, and short-distance teleports that can bypass obstacles. Don’t get me wrong, it can be frustrating too. The frustration, besides when the odd power-up hit box acts up or when you miss a flying enemy because they bounce up and down for seemingly no reason, is mostly directed at yourself, though. It’s you who failed, not the game. It’s you who got sloppy and mistimed a jump or didn’t manage a complex combo of interactions that you know you can handle.
It’s clear I adored my time with Super Meat Boy Forever and I even went so far as to finish every level with an A+ rating; which also requires finding and finishing the Warp Zones, and grab all thirty optional pacifiers (that’s bandages for fans of the original). These are optional extra collectibles that often seriously increase the difficulty of the checkpointed area they’re a part of, and frequently require some decent deduction to figure out how to even reach them at all. The bosses I didn’t like as much, when I was fighting them for the first time anyway. In concept they are incredibly clever, as the devs didn’t just fall back on using chase maps, and instead managed to build tight battles consisting of multiple phases that completely flip the gameplay. This is where the lack of control freedom hurt a little. Their uniqueness makes them a little frustrating to get to grips to begin with, but the more you play and learn, the more you start to appreciate them. Going back I have found them to be another piece of excellent level design but they for sure don’t feel like that from the get go. The bosses themselves, as characters, are pretty much inconsequential however.
Although there is a sort of story here in that the vexatious Dr. Fetus decides to, seemingly for no reason, kidnap Nugget – the somehow cute child of Meat Boy and Bandage Girl, there’s nothing too memorable about any of it. Clearly attempting to mimic the message of the quick and crude cutscenes from the original, they pretty much fall apart without the unexpected dark humour that really made them sing. Instead, Forever is better when it pays homage to classic titles like Rocket Knight Adventures and Chrono Trigger during the different world intros. Or better yet, the Warp Zone stages that reward intrepid players with twisted versions of a Mega Man boss fight, fighting King Hippo in Punch Out, and a ‘Test Your Meat’ stage (obviously a play on Mortal Kombat’s ‘Test Your Might’ mini-game), to name a few. The design of each of these is a total treat and it shows just how much love and care went into every detail. Team Meat clearly had an impossible task on their hands by following in the footsteps of one of the most beloved indie games ever made but they for sure gave it their all.
To echo my thoughts – no, Forever is not Super Meat Boy 2, nor was it ever meant to be. What it actually is, is a spinoff that takes the same characters, themes, and approach to challenging the player by pushing everything it can to the extreme that SMB had, and uses them to piece together the best auto-runner I have ever seen. So much so in fact, that it actually elevated the entire auto-runner genre from something I wasn’t really interested in personally, to something I will definitely be looking out for in the future. Now I know what can really be done with it, I want more. I doubt many games will be able to live up to the level of polish this one has, though. From its sharp art and bouncy soundtrack to the sheer insane usage of a world-seeding system that makes it incredibly replayable, It should be held as an industry standard for years to come, just as its predecessor was.