During my hands-on demo of Super Meat Boy Forever at PAX East 2018, co-creator Tommy Refenes casually reminded me that the original Super Meat Boy was released in 2010. That caught me off-guard.
It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s been eight years since the game took the indie scene by storm. Maybe that has something to do with the fact it’s been ported to almost every gaming platform in the years since its release, but it probably has more to do with the game’s surprising longevity. It’s just as fun to jump into Super Meat Boy as it ever was.
That longevity does raise a bit of an issue, though. How do you develop a sequel to a game that has, until this point, proven to be timeless? Super Meat Boy Forever’s answer to that problem is elegant and effective. It turns Super Meat Boy into an auto-runner.
Refenes mentioned that part of his desire to turn Super Meat Boy into an auto-runner was based on the fact that many players usually never stopped running. As such, it just seemed natural to allow players to constantly move without requiring them to hold down a joystick or button.
However, the change was also based on his desire to make Super Meat Boy a more accessible experience. I was initially concerned about the use of the word “accessible.” After all, much of the fun of Super Meat Boy was based on the game’s extreme difficulty.
It turns out, though, that accessibility doesn’t translate to “easy” in the case of Forever. Instead, Refenes uses that word to describe the appeal and design inspiration behind Forever’s two-button control scheme. Yes, Forever only asks that you jump, punch, and dive your way through each level, but it turns out that Super Meat Boy doesn’t require much more than that.
In fact, Forever feels remarkably similar to the original Super Meat Boy in just about every way that matters. Levels are still brutally challenging and beating them requires quite a bit of trial and error alongside some amazing reflexes. Unlike Super Mario Run, which diluted Mario to the point of distilling the heart of a 2D Mario game, Forever’s auto-run system retains almost everything that makes Super Meat Boy one of the quintessential platformers of the modern era.
What’s really impressive is what the shift to autorunning adds to the Super Meat Boy experience. Whereas the most challenging Super Meat Boy levels of the past sometimes felt like elaborate puzzles, the challenges of Forever never really stray far from pattern recognition and quick reflex requirements. In that sense, it almost feels like a blend of the rhythm genre and the classic platformer.
The potential downside of this arrangement is that it leads to even more trial and error than we’ve seen in the past. Finding the ideal way through each level’s traps can take a few tries. Furthermore, death feels even more punishing than it previously was simply because dying can get you out of your rhythm. You have to imagine that problem will be even more pronounced on the game’s highest difficulty levels (of course, those who play on Cruel mode should know what they’re getting into).
Yes, Forever has multiple difficulty levels. The difficulty seems to mostly relate to how challenging the randomly generated levels are rather than any kind of altered mechanics or punishment system. There’s also a mode that will assemble levels tailored to you based on which sections of the game you struggled with. Refenes noted it leads to the creation of your personal hell. (I said that I’d be disappointed if “Personal Hell” isn’t the final name for the mode and he said that he thinks that’s exactly what he’ll name it.)
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a competitive multiplayer mode planned for the game at this time. It’s easy to imagine how this title might translate to a SpeedRunners kind of competitive experience, but for the time being, the focus is on the game’s other modes.
Regardless of which mode you choose to play, Forever feels like a rare kind of sequel. It’s a game that somehow manages to provide what you’re looking for when you see the Super Meat Boy name while also freshening things up just enough so that you don’t feel like you’re playing the same game you’ve been playing for the last eight years.
We’ll know for sure whether Super Meat Boy Forever can live up to that promise when it releases for consoles, PC, and mobile devices later this year.