A Shot in the Right Direction
Have you ever played a game with a lot of potential, only to realize that it doesn’t quite live up to said potetial? A game that, say, has all of the right pieces to be excellent, but, for some reason or another, doesn’t end up putting them all in the right place? Well, that’s how I felt with 20XX. I had high hopes for this game going into it. After all, how could I say no to something that takes one of my favorite video game franchises — Mega Man X — and one of my favorite genres — roguelikes (or “roguelite”, if you want to get technical) — and mashes them together into one thing? It had to be good, right?
In the end, I suppose that my initial prediction wasn’t wrong. 20XX is a good game, and I had a lot of fun playing it. But there was something about it that just didn’t seem to completely click. For all of the things that this game does right (and there are plenty, trust me), it still didn’t feel like it did enough. I know that there’s more that a game like this could to to further improve upon the quality gameplay that’s already there. And, until it does, I don’t think that I’ll be 100% satisfied with it.
The More Things Change…
20XX, as I’ve already said, is a game featuring a rather unique concoction that’s one part Mega Man X-style platformer, and one part roguelike. The goal of the game is something that any Mega Man franchise fan is already intimately familiar with — to make your way through eight themed levels as either the buster-wielding Nina or close-range specialist Ace (plus a few more, later on!), defeat the robotic bosses that stand in your way, and, in the end, take down the game’s resident evil scientists.
Do you know the easiest way to figure out if a tribute game is accurately representing its source material? Ask yourself one question; “can I pick this game up and immediately get the hang of it, having only played the source game before?” It’s a simple question, really, but an important one nonetheless. And, in the case of 20XX, the answer to that question is a resounding “yes”. 20XX‘s controls may not technically be a “perfect copy” of its source material — characters feel slightly less rigid in this game than they do in MMX — but, in all honesty, they’re so close that that difference doesn’t even matter. Perfect copy or not, 20XX still features incredibly tight and responsive controls — an absolute must in a game that emphasizes speedy and precise platforming — and is a huge boon to the game overall.
Unfortunately, I can’t quite shower the same kind of praise upon the game’s level design. And that’s primarily because, technically, there isn’t any level design at all. Due to the game’s roguelike status, 20XX doesn’t have proper “hand-crafted” levels, instead relying upon RNG to create a new levels each time you play. Normally, I’d be fine with something like this. Happy, even. But, for the first time in who knows how long, procedural generation in a game has actually left me wanting something more stable.
Let me make it clear that I don’t actively dislike what 20XX is doing with its levels. They’re not bad. But what they are is simple. Mega Man X levels have a certain complexity — a finesse, if you will — that helps them stand out and remain memorable. Part of this, of course, is due to excellent level design. But it isn’t design alone that makes MMX levels good. By and large, most levels also feature some kind of gimmick. And not just any gimmick, mind you, but a gimmick that is more often than not seamlessly integrated into the platforming aspects of each level. While 20XX does do a great job with testing the player’s technical prowess, it does so in the most basic way possible. Missing are the fun gimmicks like underwater levels, branching paths, and robot-crushing trash compactors (actually, I’m okay with that last one not being in this game), and in their place are a plethora of basic traps, platforms moving on tracks, and those infamous disappearing/reappearing blocks. The end result isn’t something that’s bad, but rather something that’s repetitive. And in an MMX roguelike, “repetitive” isn’t a quality that I’m going after.
Randomly generated levels aren’t the only traditionally roguelike element in 20XX. The almighty power-up — or “augments”, as they’re known in this game — plays a crucial role in your survival as well. As you traverse through the game’s 9 perilous levels, you’re bound to come across a number of augments which, when collected, offer varying permanent upgrades for your character. As with most of the roguelikes out there, a good number of 20XX‘s augments aren’t available from the start. During your first few runs, you probably won’t come across anything more exiting than basic augments that increase one of your stats by a small amount. That begins to change the more you play, however.
As you progress through each run, you’ll begin picking up items known as “Soul Chips”. While Soul Chips don’t do much for you in the run that you’re currently in, they play an important role afterward as currency that you can use to unlock new augments for subsequent runs. And, if there’s nothing to unlock (or nothing on sale is to your liking), you can even use Soul Chips to buy previously unlocked augments and slot machine tokens for your next run; a win-win! While I’m still not entirely crazy about how levels are set up, augments do a great job at making sure that each of the player’s runs don’t stay too similar in terms of the characters themselves. This is especially true later on in the game, when you begin to unlock some of the game’s more unique and powerful augments. Just be sure to read the fine print before picking something up, though, because some augments aren’t as benevolent as they might initially seem — especially those brandishing the classification of “prototype”.
20XX also grants players a great deal of control over difficulty level. At its base level, 20XX offers 3 difficulty modes, including “Reverent” — which both eases up on players and grants them 3 lives per run — and Defiant — which cranks up the difficulty. Things go beyond that, though. For some people, such as myself, the game got to a point where it was just too easy. Even on Defiant, I got to a stable enough rhythm that I almost always emerged victorious. Fortunately, the good folks over at Batterystaple Games planned on that happening, and added what are known as “skulls”. And boy, are these things ever designed to take the wind out of your sails.
Skulls are special modifiers in Defiant mode that, when activated, make the game more difficult — with the overall increase in difficulty varying based the skulls that players activate. As you might expect, skulls are brutal as far as modifiers go. Sure, some of them aren’t too terrible — adding more enemies into the game or losing the ability to select levels myself weren’t a big deal — but I’m sure that you don’t need me telling you how awful things get when you decide to do things like have the game run at 150% speed, or make every trap in the game lethal. Personally, I prefer roguelikes to slowly, and permanently, increase in difficulty over time — such as with games like The Binding of Isaac — but skulls aren’t necessarily a bad alternative. They’re a nice way to truly test your mettle after you’ve bested what the standard difficulty modes have to offer. And, for those skilled enough, completing a run with a certain number of skulls on even rewards the player (which is great, because it’s always fun having something to work toward)!
Despite being an homage to Mega Man X, there’s something that 20XX has done — something that I’ve always wanted from an MMX game — that I don’t think that the source material would ever touch. Aside from adding in roguelike elements, I mean. I’m talking about multiplayer. Yes, that’s right, 20XX actually allows players to go through the entire game with a friend. And do you know what the best part about that is? It works really, really well. In fact, I think that I had the most fun with this game when I was playing it alongside someone else. I could see this actually getting frustrating if you had to play with someone who was really bad at the game, but when you have the opportunity to play with a fellow skilled player — like I was lucky enough to be able to do — 20XX becomes so much more fun. Knowing that someone has your back in a high-octane game like this creates a great sense of comradery throughout each adventure, and I highly recommend hopping into multiplayer whenever you get the chance. Seriously, it’s great.
Although 20XX does, unfortunately, wear out its welcome as a roguelike after some extended play, there’s no denying that it performs its duties as a Mega Man X-esque platformer incredibly well. Unless the potential for the game to become somewhat stale after a while is something that concerns you — which, in all honesty, shouldn’t totally be a make-or-break factor — this is probably something that you’ll, at the very least, want to check out if you’re itching for some quality Blue Bomber action.
FINAL VERDICT: 3.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: Batterystaple Games ; Developer: Batterystaple Games ; Players: 1 – 2 ; Released: July 10, 2018 ; ESRB: E10+ for Ages 10+ ; MSRP: $14.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of 20XX given to Hey Poor Player by the developer