You're gonna have a hard time beating this meat.
In 2008 a Flash game about a skinless boy avoiding circular saws through challenging platforming levels made its debut. He was affectionally called, Meat Boy. This was an era where Flash was king, and the popularity and success of the game led to the creation of a successor: Super Meat Boy.
Videogame designers Edmund McMillan and Tommy Refenes teamed up to create "Team Meat" who released the game on Xbox Live Arcade and PC to critical acclaim. The punishing platformer became an instant success and a cult classic, and would set the bar for indie platformers that would follow it. And now, 10 years on, Meat Boy has dry-aged and matured in flavour, and returns for the sequel: Super Meat Boy Forever.
Immediately there is an obvious difference between Forever and the original: Meat Boy does not stop. Much like the name implies, this chunk of flesh can run forever. Unlike the original where the player had full control to navigate levels, now you're stuck running automatically as the level progresses from left to right. It's still a platformer, but I'd refer to this as a "Runner" sub-genre (think Bit.Trip Runner or Super Mario Run). This was very off-putting at first, as it was so different from the indie game I knew and loved, but it grew on me.
Despite the gameplay difference, all the other Meat Boy staples make a return in Forever: iconic characters like Bandage Girl and Dr Fetus, comedic cutscenes with distinct Flash-era visuals, sleek menu and level design, and a (mostly) intense soundtrack this time from Ridiculon, who also did the music for The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. There are also plenty of pop culture references scattered throughout the game, including scenes referencing Metal Gear Solid, Chrono Trigger, and even a Mortal Kombat minigame. I really enjoyed the game's overall style, and the cutscenes are hilarious and at some times strangely emotional for such an absurd game.
The story is much what you'd expect, it begins a bit like this:
That day, so he could save his daughter from the evil clutches of Dr Fetus, Meat Boy decided to go for a little run. So he ran to the end of the level. And when he got there, he thought maybe he'd run to the end of the world. When he got to another world, he figured, since he'd gone this far, he might as well just keep right on goin'. Now you wouldn't believe me if I told you, but he could run like the wind blows. From that day on, if he was goin' somewhere, he was runnin'!
Each world introduces new mechanics to the running gameplay, and the game only gets better and more challenging with each subsequent world. If the player finishes the level under a set time you'll also be able to unlock a "dark" version of that level, which is purely designed for masochists. I finished a few of these dark levels, but they definitely take extreme skill and perseverance. Not for the faint of heart.
Interestingly the level design is randomly-generated based on the player's skill level, which means no two playthroughs will be the same. Some level designs can be infuriatingly difficult, with the need for pixel perfect jumps and dashes, though they are satisfying to beat and make you feel as prime as a cut of marbled wagyu steak if you can finish an area without a single death.
The first world is more of a tutorial than anything, introducing the player to the basic controls and concepts of the game, and overall is pretty bland. I was almost broken by this world simply due to the country jug band-style background music, which is not only grating to listen to, but unfortunately gets stuck in your head. I can still hear it while writing this. Thankfully the rest of the soundtrack is significantly better. However, things ramp up once you face the first boss, and these boss fights are where the game really shines.
Each boss plays out like a level, but requires a series of very precisely-timed jumps and hits while you dodge boss attacks and navigate traps and obstacles. And there is no doubt you will die against these bosses. A lot. Throughout my playthrough I would have died hundreds of times against the bosses alone, but with each death you can make a little bit of progress that makes the subsequent try just that little bit easier. It requires some fast twitch reactions, particularly the final boss, which I will not spoil, but was SO SATISFYING to finally defeat.
It'll probably take you about 5 hours to complete the game from start to finish, however there is a lot more content for those who can tolerate the difficulty. Each world has a time limit to beat, a dummy/pacifier to collect (which allows you to unlock new characters), and a dark world version for gamers who think Dark Souls was a walk in the park. This game is definitely designed for completionists, and I think after beating the story, I don't have the guts to touch these levels again.
If I could compare Super Meat Boy Forever to a cut of meat, I'd say it's a rump steak: satisfying, filling, and somewhat flavoursome. There are many better cuts of meat available (Bit.Trip Runner 2 being an A5 Kobe beef sirloin steak), but at least a rump steak is cheap and still tasty.
So, why should I play it?
You enjoy challenging video games.
You're a fan of platformers or "runner" style games.
You enjoyed the original Super Meat Boy and its characters/humour.
But why shouldn't I play it?
You become easily frustrated by failure.
You're new to platformers and not ready to die hundreds of times.
If you want to play the exact same style of game as the original.
This review is referring to the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A review code was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
Ben 'Qualbert' Schuster
Ben is a game reviewer and collector with a passion for the Australian games industry. His favourite game is Ōkami and he spends most of his time playing JRPGs and indie games. You can read more of his reviews and retrospective articles at qualbert.com