Super Meat Boy Forever review – tough and chewy

One of the most beloved indie games of all time finally gets a sequel but Super Meat Boy Forever is daringly different to the original.

The original Super Meat Boy was released over a decade ago now. We’re not usually caught out by that sort of thing but that does seem much older than we would’ve guessed, especially as it was still being released on new formats like the Switch as recently as 2018. Super Meat Boy’s longevity is well earned but it’s not just a great game but a historically important one, as it not only helped to establish the ongoing fashion of ultra-hard 2D platformers but the mainstream acceptance of indie games in general.

That makes the prospect of a sequel rather daunting and the best thing you can say about Super Meat Boy Forever is that it doesn’t go for the obvious. Rather than just being the original again, but with better graphics and more features, this is quite a different kind of game, as it mixes in elements of auto-runners by creating randomly-generating levels and restricting your movement to just one direction.

The layout of the levels is still similar but, apart from brief segments, you can’t ever go back on yourself and must instead tackle all the obstacles as they come, with little prior warning. It’s certainly a brave decision, and clearly a lot of thought and effort has gone into the game, but it becomes almost instantly apparent that the whole thing is a very bad idea.

We’ve talked before about the long acknowledged problem with indie sequels, where even if they’re good, and the original was much beloved, they never seem to sell anywhere near as well. There’s no clear explanation for why this might be, although a sequel does inevitably lose the sense of novelty and discovery associated with the first one.

Perhaps developer Team Meat were trying to tackle that problem head-on but the simplest explanation for how Super Meat Boy has turned out is that it was originally planned as a mobile game (it will still be coming to smartphones and other consoles, but not until later in the year). Plus, a number of key staff have left the developer over the years, to the point where this is almost a new team.

Although there are some amusing cut scenes, there’s little real story in Super Meat Boy (you and your partner Bandage Girl have their baby child kidnapped by Dr Fetus is all you need to know) and instead you’re thrown into a series of randomly generated, 2D scrolling levels. Since running is done for you the only controls are to jump and dash forward or to duck under obstacles or towards the ground.

Your prodigious jump enables some complex wall-jumping and dashes can also be used to attack enemies, so there is more complexity than there first seems, especially as you begin to formulate pre-set responses to many of the recurring set pieces.

The levels are constructed from multiple hand-crafted sections, so the platform placement isn’t entirely randomly, but knowing the creators never necessarily intended a level to turn out the way it did somehow makes your constant failure all the more disheartening.

Super Meat Boy Forever is one of the most vindictively difficult games we’ve ever played, and we say that as fans of everything from Dark Souls to fellow indie titles such as Celeste and Cuphead. There’s something different about Super Meat Boy Forever though, in how little warning you get for any obstacle and how patently unfair some of the random layouts seem.

It’s also very easy to get stuck and just have no idea where to go or what move to employ. It doesn’t help that the game makes no effort to ease you in gently, in terms of either the controls or the difficulty, but the main problem is that the whole auto-runner concept is just a fundamentally bad idea. The original game was super hard but you always felt fully in control, and confident that the levels themselves were designed to be beaten – not thrown together by chance.

Even the tiny graphics somehow magnify the sense of hopelessness, as hours of practice go by with relatively little to show for it. Which is perhaps just as well as the game is actually fairly short, although there are plenty of alternate modes. Rarely have we ever been made to feel quite so incompetent as when playing Super Meat Boy Forever and that goes double for the boss battles, which are the only bit of 100% hand-crafted entertainment but even more pitilessly difficult than the rest of the game.

Some will no doubt appreciate the rock hard challenge but we suspect they’ll be a vanishingly small minority. With some genres of games – survival horrors, for example – it’s not uncommon to wonder whether they actually count as fun in the traditional sense, but that’s not really a question you should be levelling at an otherwise well-made platformer like this. Super Metal Boy Forever certainly isn’t a cash grab but it is a terrible way to start the year and we can’t recommend it to any but the most masochistic of players.

Super Meat Boy Forever review summary

In Short: A hugely disappointing sequel, where the high difficulty, restrictive controls, and randomly-generated levels all contribute to a thoroughly miserable platforming experience.

Pros: The game is undoubtedly well made and the way the levels are stitched together is clever. Amusing cut scenes and cartoon humour.

Cons: Absolutely no fun whatsoever. Punishingly difficulty in the worst way possible, with the random levels and auto-running controls creating an atmosphere of despair and frustration.

Score: 4/10

Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed) and PC
Price: £15.99
Publisher: Team Meat
Developer: Team Meat
Release Date: 23rd December 2020
Age Rating: 12

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