It’s been nine years since the release of Super Meat Boy. Once considered a pillar establishing what we now label as “indie gaming,” the Flash-cum-PC title combined a quirky premise and art style with absolutely punishing gameplay, which turned out to be a winning combination.
Fast forward almost a decade. Super Meat Boy Forever is back and hoping to pick up right where it left off. And this time, it’s competing with better versions of itself. In the time it’s been out of the spotlight, dozens of games inspired by Super Meat Boy have come and gone, and by now, there’s no longer a novelty behind what made the game tick. I myself missed out the first time around, as I was busy with other games when Super Meat Boy was in its heyday. With an oversaturated market and a bevy of popular imitators to contend with, can it still hold its own?
Super Meat Boy Forever, as creative director Tommy Refenes tells me, boasts over 7000 levels, a feat made possible by the team’s use of “blocks”—that is, small chunks of arranged obstacles and environmental hazards that can be assembled in sequence to comprise the level. Refenes says this was in part to maintain a competitive edge in light of the changing indie landscape. “The landscape, 2010 vs. 2019, 2020 is insane,” he tells me at PAX West. “There’s so much good content, so many good games, it does feel a little bit like we gotta step it up a bit. Which is why we kinda went this direction because if we just would have done the exact same thing over again, it would have been a little boring.” Instead of being procedurally generated, each game save file itself has its own “seed,” a static and unchangeable level configuration that is unique to that save file. “Our thinking is, everyone will see these different levels and different orders and everything if they’re playing through the game enough. It’s a different way to present Meat Boy and get people back to playing it. You can share your level seeds with people so you can be like, ‘Oh, we’re gonna run this seed’ or something like that, like the daily runs on Spelunky.”
The seed factor makes it easy to imagine a whole new streaming audience around the series. Refenes, however, says this was not a deliberate factor in the game’s design. “I think that’s just a nice perk. Because first and foremost it was like, ‘let’s make something fun and different.’ And if the streaming audience comes from that, awesome. But if it doesn’t, okay.
“I think we have a leg up because we have the Meat Boy name. Meat Boy itself still sells very well and I know there’s a lot of people looking forward to this. We’re pretty up there as far as the top wish-listed titles go on Steam. I’ve written a story and there’s like, 50 minutes of cut scenes, for some reason? Because I don’t know, I like Kojima [laughs]. But I think people are expecting Meat Boy and we’re going to give them that but like, Meat Boy if you had a lot of time and money to make Meat Boy.”
Completing a level of Super Meat Boy Forever feels like a winning poker hand. The rush is intense. In this latest game, Meat Boy and Bandage Girl must rescue their baby Nugget from the evil Dr. Fetus. Each level starts with Meat Boy on auto-run, and as he dashes towards each platform, he must duck, dodge, kick and slide his way through every obstacle, dipping under low ledges, slipping through whirring buzzsaws, and punching through multiple enemies while sailing through the air. The game’s demand for precision, through its famously merciless placement of environmental hazards, creates a high stakes tension that becomes addictive very quickly.
But Super Meat Boy Forever won’t be just about the levels that the developers have created. The level editor will be back, reviving Super Meat World, a community that Refenes remembers fondly. “The level editor won’t be available at launch, but [it] is way better this time. And a weird side effect of having only two-button controls, you can actually get more creative with stuff? Because it’s like a design constraint and you have to find ways to do what you want with it that still feels good.” Players will have the same tools the designers use at their disposal and will be able to create blocks and place individual items. “We’re just gonna turn people loose because that’s where the most creative stuff comes from….the Super Meat World levels were insane and I’m really looking forward to seeing that community being refreshed and making more stuff.”
Super Meat Boy Forever, originally slated for an April 2019 release, has been delayed to an unannounced date.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.