The End Is Nigh is a grotesque, brutal platformer that can infuriate you with demanding gameplay, then reward you with the high of conquering a seemingly impossible gauntlet. That formula probably sounds familiar to fans of 2010’s Super Meat Boy, and that’s intentional. Many of those basics remain in place for this spiritual sequel, but it’s an interesting departure in structure that hopes to evolve what made Super Meat Boy such a fun surprise – though it doesn’t always succeed.
The game follows the story of Ash, a tiny blob who’s on a quest to reclaim the pieces of a friend he has lost in the apocalypse. Ash is incredibly fragile, and each level is littered with deadly elements that quickly (or instantly) murder him. Each of The End is Nigh’s levels takes place on a single screen (larger levels zoom the camera out), making it easy to see what you’re getting into in each level before diving in, or figure out patterns of oncoming bullets or disappearing platforms.
Ash has a high degree of aerial mobility, and has a number of tricks in his arsenal. He can cling off the end of ledges and boost himself off them for far-reaching horizontal leaps. Ash can also increase his downward momentum instantly, allowing him to dodge any number of obstacles and break through fragile walls. This makes levels as much about figuring out how to progress through a series of obstacles as having the reactions to follow through on a few actions, and I enjoyed this mix of puzzle-solving and reflex-testing.
Each world has its own look, theme song, and gameplay hook. One area has you swimming in noxious water and dodging piranhas, while another has you riding on conveyer belts and outmaneuvering cannons that track your location. The worlds feel distinct and offer new sets of challenges. Later stages combine a few of these elements in intensely challenging ways. However, one particularly annoying and frequent trick I noticed later on has you running across an entire level in order to open up the exit (or reach a collectible), then running the entire level again (sometimes in reverse) to leave.
Every level is interconnected rather than self-contained, making the entire game one large area to explore. This also factors into later levels, in which you must find a path that takes you across multiple screens to progress. I enjoy the organic approach to level design when searching for secrets, but this also makes backtracking to earlier levels a chore; if you want to replay a given level, you need to warp to the start of a nearby world and work your back to it.
This backtracking starts adding up as you scrounge around for collectibles. Areas off the beaten path can contain game cartridges which unlock more retro-themed levels, keys you can use to unlock more hidden areas, and Tumors, which work as a reward for completing optional challenges within levels and (in the case of larger Mega Tumors) as a reward for completing hidden areas. These collectibles can add a few hours to each playthrough and are fun to look for, but being unable warp to previously beaten levels made me less likely to search of them.
Despite making players run the same levels multiple times, The End Is Nigh is a worthy successor to Super Meat Boy. It offers the same ludicrously hard and satisfying approach to level design and spices it up with some substantial changes. Its interlocked world introduces some fun exploration, even if it can be a pain to backtrack through brutal gauntlets time and again. But if you’ve found the platform genre a little too lenient in recent years, The End is Nigh will give the fix you’ve been looking for.