Three games are sometimes labelled as having kickstarted a new indie obsession: Super Meat Boy, Braid, and Fez. They are three games made by small teams, though you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re the work of individuals.
Their development and reception are recorded in Indie Game: The Movie, which shows how these indie games get made – through passion, hard work, and not much sleep. It’s not the film’s fault, but it sort of romanticized the idea of the crunching indie developer (and lets everyone know how much Jonathan Blow blows).
It was my first look into what indie games may actually “mean” – I was only 14 and quite liked Assassin’s Creed and CoD. And while Fez is an excellent videogame, it took me years to realise. With Super Meat Boy, that was never the case. I liked it straight away. But that was ten years ago.
After Celeste came out in 2018, a few people commented on its high difficulty and quick restarts, comparing it to Super Meat Boy in the process. This encouraged me to go back to that faraway game after loving Celeste so much. I found it had aged, just like I had, even if it still felt fun to play.
So, with this all in mind, I skipped Super Meat Boy Forever when it launched in 2020. I just had absolutely no interest in going back to this bloody, South Park-esque, dumb-fun aesthetic. But time has moved on. And Super Meat Boy Forever is now on a mobile phone. And I work for the number one mobile gaming site in the world. And I have a job to do.
Super Meat Boy Forever takes the original game and, well, sets it up for eternity. Now, the player character runs automatically, from left to right, and there are only a handful of actions you can perform: jump, wall-slide, punch-dash, and punch-dive.
The levels you face are randomly generated, too, meaning no run-through is ever the same. Obstacles and enemies appear in different places, and everything is just a bit mean about you getting through the gauntlet.
That’s fine, though, right? In a game where someone is called Dr. Fetus and blood splatters everything you touch like spilt paint, why would anyone not expect a bit of infantile trickery? It’s meant to be tough, just like the original.
Well, infantile trickery can’t really occur when everything changes without a purpose, beyond confusion. It just becomes a different thing at that point. And what’s the point in wanting to play something difficult if you can’t learn to conquer it?
The pretty dire discourse around difficulty in games livelily spiked with Dark Souls’ rise to Edge Magazine’s number one videogame of all time in 2015. There’s not much fun to be had in rehashing any of it, but one thing is for certain: Soulsborne stuff is good because you can learn it. Its corners of death turn into allotments with a few too many snails. You can’t learn Super Meat Boy Forever, and that’s a big problem.
Still, there is fun to be had in just tapping a screen to not be eviscerated by spinning death-metal. It triggers some basic chemical reaction when you die a few times at the same spot, then don’t die one time. The lack of blood-explosion pixels is nice.
And that’s how Super Meat Boy Forever could find its feet finally – by being on mobile. Its simple wins you can grab in bite-size chunks sound like they should fit comfortably into the stolen moments you get on the toilet or the commute. And they sort of do, but it depends on how much attention you’re paying.
Before I explain what I mean by that, I want to make clear the two main issues with Super Meat Boy Forever’s mobile existence. Firstly, the lack of buttons make the frictionless gameplay all the more slippery. Secondly, if you don’t pay attention, you die (mobile games aren’t often about giving all of your attention (and if they are, they have to be really good)).
So, the first issue. By making Super Meat Boy an auto-runner and sticking the word “forever” on the end, some of the friction of the original just flies out the window. In the original, the movement feels zippy and grippy, like the player-character is actually connected up to the analogue stick by some rack and pinion mechanism.
Every movement has a tiny bit of weight to it, a tiny bit of surface grip, and a whole bucketload of responsiveness – the first two make you feel like you’re controlling a real thing (grippy), the second two make it quick (zippy). This makes it feel nice.
In Forever, however, these two aspects are completely gutted. You have no direct control over the meat’s movement. It glides from left to right, while you tap the right side of the screen to jump over a razor, hold the ride side of the screen to glide up a wall, or use mid-air taps to perform a dash or dive attack.
So, without direct control, it feels like there is less to do. And this feeling should help it feel like an ace fit for mobile. Mobile games with too much to do may as well be on a big screen where you can give it all your focus. However, this then leads Super Meat Boy Forever to dive straight into another razor.
If you don’t concentrate while playing the game, you die. So, you still need to look at the screen and focus. I tried to play while rewatching Succession, and, well, maybe it’s the show’s fault for being too interesting, but I died a lot. Super Meat Boy Forever isn’t a sofa game.
So, I try playing Super Meat Boy Forever on the tube. I am focusing hard. I die a little, complete a few levels, but still feel like I’ve got too much to think about without having all that much to do with my fingers. I don’t feel in charge. Instead, the game insists on my attention, rather than grabbing it.
To compound all this – and this is of course a personal opinion – platforming sucks without real buttons. I don’t want to play a Mario game with a touchscreen. Even if he auto-runs (especially if he auto-runs).
I feel a bit mean now. Super Meat Boy Forever is definitely a polished product – load times are quick, colours pop, and everything flies along as you would expect. If you like the aesthetic, here’s a load more of it, now in your back pocket. But I can’t imagine the game-playing configuration that could make someone actually have a load of fun. There’s only a slither of fun as far as I can tell. Maybe someone can email me and tell me I’m wrong, but for now, that’s how it seems.
Um… do you ever go back to Super Mario Bros. 3 and just jump around for a bit? This old familiar space, never particularly challenging but beautifully designed, is just a good time. It’s chill and it’s interesting. It can be attention-grabbing and mindless. It can kinda be what you want it to be. It is the videogame, the one that shows you how to do it. Well, anyway, Super Meat Boy Forever sorta feels like the opposite of that.
Super Meat Boy Forever is particularly frictionless on mobile. Combine this with its punishing difficulty and aged aesthetic and it just feels a little out of place, out of time. It’s a struggle to have a good time with it.