When I played Super Meat Boy Forever for the first time at PAX East 2018, I was absolutely blown away at how polished it seemed, and even though no release date was given, I felt that it couldn’t be far away. When I followed up with Tommy Refenes, the game’s director, at PAX East 2019, he assured me it would be out by the end of that year, and I could not wait. Now, six years after it was announced and ten years after the original release of Super Meat Boy, the sequel to one of my favorite platformers is here, and for fans of Meat Boy, the wait seems to have paid off.
Super Meat Boy Forever follows the adventures of Meat Boy and Bandage Girl as they try to save their child, Nugget, from the dastardly Dr. Fetus in an adventure that takes them through a wide variety of locations, each brimming with pointy objects just waiting to turn them into red paste. The surprisingly dense story is told through a series of animated cutscenes, lending the sequel a more detailed world than the original. This is a spoiler-free review, but suffice to say, Forever has just as much heart as its predecessor.
Just like SMB, Forever is a tough-as-nails platformer. However, that’s where the gameplay similarities stop. Unlike the original, which gives the player full control over Meat Boy in a single puzzle screen, Forever is an automatic runner with only two buttons: jump and dive. If that sounds more like a mobile game, that’s because it was originally intended to be. However, the gameplay is surprisingly complex, with platforming that’s just as rich as the original. Even with only two buttons, the levels are consistently surprising and fresh, and I never got bored with the platforming.
Although it may not seem obvious at first, Forever’s levels are procedurally generated. Each level draws eight chunks from a repository of one hundred and stitches them together. This works relatively seamlessly, with chunks occasionally blending together and rarely seeming out-of-place. This also gives Forever outstanding replayability. Each new save file has a new seed, and replayed levels progressively get more difficult as you beat the easier chunks.
The chunks are also well-made. Each chunk contains a short, distinct challenge that feels satisfying to beat, and the levels they comprise are each extremely unique and interesting in their own right. Forever is anything but boring, and in terms of raw platforming, it handily beats the original; no easy task. Counting optional levels and the “Dark World” that serves as a much more difficult B-side to each level, there are a whopping seventy-two platforming levels in addition to the boss battles. The main story doesn’t take long to beat—I managed to reach the credits in four hours, and I can imagine hardcore Meat Boy fans going even faster—but to get an A+ rating on every single level would take much more, and with the chunk system, I can imagine losing dozens upon dozens of hours trying to 100% Forever.
Of course, the platforming isn’t perfect. Some of the chunks feel challenging in a way that relies more on memorization and timing, than skill, which makes the difficulty feel so much worse. Especially in some of the later boss battles, there are some pixel-perfect moves that you have to repeat until you pass them. A full quarter of my playtime in Forever was just spent on the final boss. Luckily, these frustrating moments are rare, but they keep the platforming from being perfect.
Overall, the platforming matches or surpasses the original, and that seems to be a consistent theme. The characters and the world have a fresh coat of paint, the story is much stronger, and there’s much more to do in the postgame, even if the main story is pretty short in comparison. So, is that it? Super Meat Boy is widely regarded as one of the greatest platformers ever made, and Forever surpasses it. Does the review end here with a 10/10? Unfortunately, not quite.
First of all, there are unfortunately some bugs. I experienced a few crashes, and there was some strange stuttering. The speed of the game seems to be tied to the framerate, and there are some chunks that have mysterious frame drops. However, I’m sure that many of the bugs will be ironed out with a Day 1 patch or a later update, and I didn’t exactly play on a high-performance machine, so the average computer (or consoles like the Nintendo Switch), will almost certainly have fewer frame issues than my laptop.
However, the entire time I was playing Super Meat Boy Forever, something was bugging me. The original SMB is one of my favorite games of all time, and I was playing something that surpassed it, but I couldn’t bring myself to love it quite as much. When I finished the story, I had thoroughly enjoyed the game, but I didn’t feel much inclination to play through the extensive postgame. What was different? After some soul-searching, I think I’ve nailed down what makes Forever feel different.
When Super Meat Boy was originally released in 2010, it was revolutionary. It took platformers, one of the oldest genres, and brought it to a completely new level. The gameplay was fast, fun, and fresh. The controls were tight, the design was brilliant, and most of all, the difficulty was extreme. I had never seen anything like it, and neither had anybody else. It was fantastic.
But that was ten years ago. The genre that Super Meat Boy redefined has blossomed because of it, and we have seen absolutely fantastic games inspired by it. Games like Cuphead, Celeste, Hollow Knight, The Messenger, and so many more have taken the difficult-yet-rewarding platforming action of SMB and expanded on it. The games that Meat Boy inspired are some of the best games to come out over the last ten years, and its best aspects have been permanently solidified into the genre. This means that Super Meat Boy Forever finds itself at a disadvantage from the outset. It doesn’t take many cues from contemporary platformers, instead solely focusing on surpassing its predecessor. How does anyone follow up a revolutionary game? In this case, it doesn’t seem possible—platformers have come so far that it would take something truly special to transform the genre yet again, and Forever isn’t up to the challenge. I’m not sure if any game is.
If you enjoyed the original Super Meat Boy, you’ll almost certainly love Super Meat Boy Forever. The game is fantastic. However, I can’t help but think that if it came out in 2014 when it was originally announced, it would have stood out much more than it does now. Platformers are a crowded space, and even though Forever can stand with the best of them, it doesn’t surpass them in the same way that the original did.