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20XX (PC) artwork

20XX (PC) review

"Don’t be surprised if X shows up in the rumoured Wreck-It Ralph 2 as a downtrodden, neglected hero, crying on Zero’s shoulder."

X is pretty sparingly employed these days. Don’t be surprised if he shows up in the rumoured Wreck-It Ralph 2 as a downtrodden, neglected hero, crying on Zero’s shoulder. Batterystaple and Fire Hose Games saw the need, however, and swooped in with the spiritual successor to Megaman X4 that is actually a psuedo-random level generated rogue lite? Oh, and the only reason I stopped at X4 is because apparently everyone stops there.

Except I really enjoyed X5 and X6. X7 and X8 were trash, though, and a mistake. Well, I suppose X8 was okay, but the music was just distortion, and not the good kind. Thankfully, the developers of 20XX spent three long years reinventing the gears that made X such a joy to play, and one of the longer running franchises in gaming history.

Looking back, I suppose the fact that Capcom tried to inject so much story into X5 and X6 made it too narratively heavy for the majority of players. Ironic, because we really did want to know more about their histories. I guess we just didn’t want things to become so mechanically complex. Anyway… 20XX doesn’t make that mistake, you’ll be glad to hear.

Meet Nina and Ace, stand-ins for X and Zero respectively, with weapons and tactics to match. The differences are that armour parts are called “cores”, and collected randomly during each “Run”. A run consists of eight anthropmorphic robot bosses and a multi-stage final boss. Nina’s armor is blue and she blasts things with a buster-like arm cannon. Ace is red and he swings a mean buster-sword type weapon. Seems pretty straight forward.

Nina is generally regarded as easier to play, whereas Ace provides an added layer of challenge for veteran players. Frankly, though, those are the only differences between them. They each use collected Powers in the same way, and all core upgrades perform identically. This means all you need to do is chose the one that suits your play style. Ranged or melee? The choice is yours.

20XX’s rogue-lite mechanics manifest in two ways. You begin each run on a random stage, after which you choose one of three of the bosses still undefeated. Cores and items are also randomized, and their variety is limited at first, as well. As you complete runs, or don’t, you’ll amass “Soul Chips”, the in game currency for new armor, weapons and items. When on a run, you’ll collect nuts that will pay for these items when you encounter a store.

Of course there are other ways to collect these pickups. Occasionally a pile of armor from a previous “contractor” will appear, and bestow a valuable armor piece. Random chests appear in hard to reach places, as well. Most importantly, 20XX has a persistent upgrade system. These “augs” give you permanent upgrades to your Health and NRG, access to alternative weapons and more. You’ll get the benefit of these each run, unless you choose the easiest difficulty.

Which is another point: There are three of those. Each seems a natural progression to the next. Beginners should definitely start with the lowest, and speed-running untouchables the highest difficulty. If you’re the kind of player who can beat Megaman X in a single sitting but not any of the others, well, you’ll be comfortable in the middle, like I am.

The perk of having access to gear randomly means you can acquire beneficial gear sooner, instead of at a preset location in a fixed arrangement of levels. The permanent upgrades give you a piece of armor and alternate weapon like the “Super Reach Spear” (Halberd) at the beginning of each run. Nice.

Somehow the developers have evaded the worst parts of roguelikes: Daft runs with no fun pickups or rewards. They also avoided a painful aspect of having a large variety of upgradable gear: The upgrade curve is actually quite low. You’ll probably have your choice of several core parts in a single run, if you can afford them, but choosing them is a matter of preference, not survival. Your skills and patience will determine that.

20XX is nice to look at. No, it’s pretty. Characters are animated in a manner similar to flash games, but the way they’ve recreated player movement is a pleasure to play. Your reflexes won’t lie to you: This is exactly how X and Zero moved in X4, and that makes 20XX so much easier to play. Enemies are colourful and smoothly animated. Platforms stand out from the background and are spaced in a way that feels natural to leap to with the “always on” dash.

See, there’s a subtle feature the developers didn’t miss. The utility of the dash function. You can manage the first few bosses, or even first five, without a boot augment because the dash jump will get you just about everywhere. It’s a skill worth mastering, and it will carry you through the game. I’d even call it an essential movement mechanic.

There are options, such as the four way air dash, hovering, flight and genre standard double jump. Everything is represented here, and the devs have implemented some fascinating “what if” abilities, too. What if, for instance, Nina (X) had a buster shot that traveled forward and diagonally in two directions? Or four ways? Ace (Zero), for his part, can utilize a glaive which gives him a spinning attack with impressive reach and tactical opportunities. There’s his plasma blender, but you’ll have to get in real close to see what a mess it will make of your foes.

A standout feature of 20XX is difficulty scaling between levels. The first level is always the easiest, whereas in the X games each had a preset challenge. As you progress with Nina or Ace, destroying robot bosses and mastering powers, the complexity of the next level increases. Platforms will move faster, be narrower and have obstacles like lasers between them. Each boss is going to be tougher, too. They’ll have obstacles on the wall – or floor, spit out more projectiles to avoid, or even split into multiples of themselves. Enemies also scale in this way. Flying enemies appear in flocks while ground based enemies hit harder, use shields and more.

Of notable mention is its multiplayer feature. My first reaction when playing was “Isn’t this what you’ve always wanted but never got?” It’s like they looked at every players’ wishlist and just started checking off the boxes. I didn’t follow the development process, but it’s easy to imagine that’s exactly what happened. As it stands now multiplayer is not completely functional, but even a week after launch it has received a lot of attention.

Buying it now wouldn’t be a mistake: Batterystaple and Fire Hose are dedicated to this title in a way rarely demonstrated by independent developers, and my opinion they deserve millions of sales. I would frankly love to see this ported to the Nintendo Switch, PS4 and Xbox Whatever. The message this game delivers is that “gameplay matters”, a point neglected too often in a console jungle littered with Gigaflops.

I would be remiss if I ended this review without mentioning the soundtrack. While not as catchy as classic Megaman bip-blop themes or Rockman’s hard rock sounds, its chip style soundtrack does the job admirably, and doesn’t irritate in repetition. However, it does feel like it’s trying just a little too hard. The OST isn’t quite worth an inclusion into your music library, but it’s a nice pickup for the discount you’ll get on its full price of $19 (CDN / Steam) for the bundle.

hastypixels's avatar
Community review by hastypixels (August 18, 2017)

At some point you stop justifying what you play and begin to realize what you're learning by playing.

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