It’s a widely held opinion that Mega Man X transcended its humble genre, to become one of the greatest games on all time. Unfortunately, due to oversaturation and a constant desire to innovate (badly), Mega Man as a franchise, retired. In the dire decade that followed, many developers stepped in to claim the crown, Batterystaple Games being one of them. Nowadays, Mega Man has had a resurgence of popularity and proudly sits upon the throne it helped craft. But does that mean we should discard 20XX?
Absolutely not, because 20XX is a corker of a game in its own right. A veritable love letter, filled with enough frivolous extras to make a 90’s gamer blush, with unbridled glee. From the word go, you can feel the attention to detail when it came to recreating the buttery smooth, momentum based movement and combat of its inspiration. Launching yourself across rooms, pits and hazards with a dash-jump is spot on, giving you a hefty burst of adrenaline whenever you manage to string together an intricate dance of dashing, jumping and shooting. If you’ve ever played a classic X game, you will feel right at home here. If you haven’t, fear not because 20XX has a wonderfully short, but informative, tutorial to guide you on your path of glory.
Mimicking the feel of the classics is one thing, but 20XX does something quite daring in an attempt to standout – it aimed to be a Mega Man with no end. A lofty goal indeed, but in order to achieve its ambitions, it had to absorb the infinite potential of the Rogue-lite. This means proceduraly generated levels, randomised loot-drops and perma-death. Terrifying additions if implemented poorly, however Batterystaple managed to pull it off. For the most part.
The biggest issue with 20XX is unfortunately it’s level design. Sure, when you first start playing it’s thrilling, new and refreshing to experience totally different levels every time you hop in. That novelty does wear off after a few hours however, as you begin to see the cracks form. You recognise chunks of a level, it’s challenges and the enemy placement. It becomes predictable surprisingly quickly. What makes it sting a little bit more, is that the levels themselves suffer greatly, due to being procedural. Outside the theme, of which there are only four, stages don’t feel like they are connected. Floating platforms litter the environment in a way that doesn’t feel as coherent as a game with traditional level design. This is a common flaw in all Rogue-Likes, but it seems worse when meshed with this style of game.
Luckily, this is the only real flaw. Whilst the stages can be a bit naff, the weapons and upgrades within those stages are pretty darn good. You have your standard sub-weapons found after defeating a boss, providing utility and new ways to tackle enemies. In addition, you can find upgrades to your primary weapon, providing a miriad of alterations to how you blast your foes. Passive upgrades like health, weapon energy and damage-ups etc. give you a great sense of progression, and are often hidden. There are even run-altering upgrades that can warp the way you play the game. For example, removing your ability to attack. Instead giving you a menagerie of “pets” to attack for you. It is a blast figuring out a build on the fly, and seeing just how far it can take you.
Further altering your run, is the selection of characters you have at your disposal. You start with the lemon-blasting Nina, and sword toting Ace. Each one providing completely different styles, as well as acquiring different weapons. This of course opens up new builds. If you manage to meet the requirements, you will be awarded with a few more characters to boot. As is to be expected, each one comes with a radically different method of play, giving you ample opportunity to experiment. More importantly, it gives you a reason to keep playing, as the game keeps revitalising itself with new content.
Along the way you will acquire various currencies. One will allow you to purchase various temporary upgrades, in one of the many shops scattered throughout your run. Another is for when you inevitably die. Upon death, you will be sent to the main Hub. Here you can spend your credits on permanent boons, such as starting health and energy boosts. A little exploration will reveal multiple vendors in which to spend your currency, the most important being new weapons and gizmos. This expands your pool of acquireables, diluting your selection, but increasing your overall potential. Whatever you decide to splash your cash on, it always feels like you are progressing towards something – instilling that all important “Just one more run” mentality.
Most runs won’t end in glory, nor will they end at the hands of the common grunt. They will instead come to a grinding halt when you encounter one of the eight bosses that stand between you, and victory. Each boss is packing unique attack patterns, weaknesses and creative mechanics to keep you on your toes. They range from teleporting plant monsters, to titanic demon wall faces…with lasers. Each boss also scales, depending on your progress. They are granted not only additional health and damage, but whole new attacks that force you to adapt, or die. 20XX manages to effortlessly sidestep the Mega Man trap of trivial boss encounters, and is all the better for it.
To help round out the package, 20XX packs a few additional modes. It comes with multiple difficulties, if you want to tailor the challenge, as well as daily and weekly challenges with leaderboards included for bragging rights. Hardcore challenges add a number of limitations and modifiers to your run, plus a custom seed mode, letting you add any number of said modifiers. The best addition however, is co-op multiplayer. You and a buddy can team up either online, or locally and blaze a destructive trail. Each player can choose which character they want, allowing you to constructed the ultimate tag-team duo. It is a feature I genuinely want to see in future Mega Man game, it’s just that good.
20XX drops the pixel art of the classics, instead opting for a cell shaded look. Stylistically it is a bit all over the place, with enemies, bosses and stages not always meshing. Character models are clearly inspired by Mega Man X, with Nina rocking a female X look, and Ace being Zero without a ponytail. Animations are mostly crisp, although the run cycle does seem a bit off. Overall, the graphics are a mixed bag. On the plus side, 20XX is not afraid to wear its inspirations on its sleeve.
Thankfully the music is top notch. It goes for a head-bopping mix of modern and retro. Super catchy synth melodies backed by classic 16-bit drums complement the action nicely. Hearts will be racing, adrenaline will be pumping and there will be a serious amount of nodding going on. Being the kind of game it is however, the tracks will eventually get a little bit tedious, so a few more would have been appreciated. Regardless, this is the kind of music you want blaring when you play this sort of game.
Overall, 20XX is a solid game, that manages to take the Mega Man formula, and successfully combine it with Roguish elements to create a refreshing blend of old and new. Whilst it is not quite as endless as one would hope from a game built with procedural generation, it certainly has enough content to keep you going for a long time. If you are in the market for a new platformer, then look no further than 20XX.
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