Ten years ago, attempting to conquer Super Meat Boy became a weekly ritual for me and my friends. We’d take turns throwing ourselves at the latest torturous arrangement of spinning blades, lava, missiles and near-impossible wall jumps until we couldn’t take it any more, passing the pad around until someone finally made it one level further. Mistime a jump and you’d explode in a splatter of red that stained the level, etching a record of your failures on the architecture. It’s one of the most difficult games I’ve ever played, and yet I remember it so fondly – I can still summon the exact layouts of particularly cruel levels, and the rush I felt on conquering them.
Super Meat Boy Forever was originally conceived as a smartphone-friendly version of the original, but over time it evolved into a sequel. This time Meat Boy (or Bandage Girl, the damsel elevated this time around to a player character) moves under their own unstoppable momentum, and our job is to jump and dash at the right time. The levels are now randomly generated, with enemies and layouts that remix themselves every time you start a new game. In theory this makes it infinitely replayable, a fount of continual, unpredictable challenge – but it loses so much in the transition that I didn’t feel like returning to it.
The pain and the pleasure of platformers such as this is their precision: the controls must be so tight, the jumping and running so perfectly predictable, that your failures are always your own. In Super Meat Boy Forever, though, enemies can turn up in especially unfair places, and the architecture of the levels sometimes feels thrown together as opposed to carefully placed by human hand. Its difficulty feels vindictive rather than playful, and oddly soulless, like trying to beat a computer at chess. For all its challenges, it felt as if I could feel the creators cheering me through the original Super Meat Boy’s death chambers, willing me onwards. Here, the algorithm is coldly indifferent to your efforts, and, despite the offbeat art and quirky vibe, the game is a punishing gauntlet that’s not worth running.