Super Meat Boy Forever review – meaty

Super Meat Boy Forever welcomes you back with a slap in the face. A decade after its predecessor redefined hardcore platforming, testing the nerves and wrecking the controllers of a million players in the process, Tommy Refenes, sole remaining member of the original creative team, has come up with a sequel that significantly alters the formula but shows no intention of pulling its punches.

Even the introductory levels will have you screaming at the screen, its teaching methods for newcomers entailing little more than throwing you in at the deep end and unlatching the shark cage.

Despite its enormous success and influence, the reputation of Super Meat Boy has remained pristine, untouched by the stream of unnecessary, successive iterations that have clouded the lustre of the other early-2010s indie milestone co-created by Ed McMillen, The Binding of Isaac.

Whether in an effort to preserve that aura or due to the specific demands of the mobile market (at which it was initially aimed), Refenes has retained the cartoonish gruesomeness but designed a radically different game, migrating to a neighbouring genre and looking to other classics, rather than its own predecessor, for inspiration.

The most drastic departure is that you no longer exert any control over your movement speed and direction. The two protagonists, Meat Boy and Bandage Girl (eventually joined by several unlockable guest stars), rush ever-forward to save their cubical toddler from the clutches of evil Dr. Fetus.

In other words, Super Meat Boy Forever is an auto-runner, hurtling you toward the same thicket of bladed, whirring contraptions over and over again, with nary a moment to figure out how to avoid staining the scene with your entrails for the hundredth time.

One of the game’s most memorable boss fights pits you against a horde of Dr. Fetus clones.

It could be argued that the change foregrounds the original’s core qualities. Super Meat Boy was always about meeting the challenge head-on, with perfect timing on your jumps and a deft grasp of its physics allowing you to complete each hazard-filled level in the shortest time. What Forever does, by transforming a hard-as-nails platformer into a conveyor belt of death, is disabuse you of the notion you ever needed to hit the brakes.

But as exhilarating as it can be when things click, this purity comes with constraints. There’s less room for exploration and a severely reduced capacity for experimentation. Each course poses a question with a single answer, one you’re led to through a process of trial and error, until it’s muscle memory, not a series of conscious decisions, ensuring every button press lands at the correct microsecond.

That is, assuming you understand what’s required of you in the first place. The game’s perpetual motion becomes frustrating when the path forward is unclear, whether due to an unlucky dice roll from its level generator or because some new mechanic was inadequately explained. In these (infrequent) moments of disorientation, instant restarts, and deaths blurring into one another, Forever becomes something the original never was: boring.

A necessary dose of variety is injected in this rigid template via a range of newly introduced mechanics. There are shades of VVVVVV’s gravity fields and Portal’s dimension shifts, self-destructing blocks, expanding platforms and, most prominently, the ability to punch enemies in mid-air, thus extending the length of your jumps.

Not all of those work equally well, and some of the more elaborate ideas (like the directional warps propelling you to the other side of the level) result in some of the immediacy getting lost. But the possibilities inherent in them are fascinating, even if they’re not fully explored because of Forever’s other major break with traditional platforming tropes: its reliance on procedural generation.

You only have a couple of seconds before those rigged blocks explode so better not tarry.

Taking a page out of Spelunky’s book, Refenes has decided to outline the rules and delegate level-design duties to the machine. I’m assuming that’s where the ‘Forever’ in the title originates from: the desire to create an endless playground for die-hard fans – an admirable ambition, no doubt, but one that clashes with fundamental auto-runner principles.

Derek Yu’s masterpiece is about exploration first and competitive high-scoring second. With those priorities inverted but no way to compare your times against other players’ (not even via daily seeded runs – a baffling omission, given that glaring weakness), who exactly is Forever’s Sisyphean gauntlet for?

Moreover, with randomness already imposing upper limits on complexity lest levels start unravelling at the seams, the full potential of some of the game’s best ideas remains untapped. It’s not a coincidence that the most enjoyable sequences of Super Meat Boy Forever, both as spatial puzzles and as reflex tests, are the handcrafted boss fights. Even when they’re frustrating, even when they’re confusing, they demonstrate something of the ingenuity that made the original game special.

And, while the achievement of delivering an innovative, mostly fun variation of a beloved formula that manages to remain cohesive on the shaky foundations of procedural generation cannot be underestimated, ‘most impressive’ is not necessarily a synonym for ‘best’. Still, there is enough here for a few engaging hours, if not exactly forever.


The punching mechanic is perfectly implemented, with a satisfying heft and the liberating ability to extend your jumps by chaining strikes in mid-air. A shame that the randomly generated levels don’t allow it to be as creatively used as in the boss fights, where it really shines.

Verdict: 62%

A fascinating experiment in procedural generation, but Super Meat Boy Forever’s best parts remain the handcrafted ones.

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