20XX (Switch) review
"Putting rogue-lite action where Capcom's disinterest was."
The first thing I didn’t expect to be concerned about when playing 20XX on Nintendo’s super-ultra portable console, the Switch, was performance. Fortunately, none of its imperfections detract from the tight gameplay, even if they do diminish the polish somewhat. Let’s face it, Indie developers do their very best, and their level of proficiency can vary quite a bit.
This port of 20XX was executed by the original developers, Batterystaple and Fire Hose Games, which is a good thing because they’ve put forth their greatest effort to ensure that the frame rate and gameplay are as smooth as possible. The Switch is undoubtedly no slouch, and certainly shouldn’t have any issues slinging a few bitmaps around the screen at 1080 or 720p. Which it does admirably, thanks to Nintendo’s seamless update system.
Quite apart from being a action platformer and boss runner - I’ll explain the latter part in a moment - 20XX is also a rogue-lite. How that applies to this type of game is determined largely by what it is, and in this case, 20XX is a play alike clone of Capcom’s Megman X. It’s tougher than you might expect, but its target is the die hard fans of yore whose skills are hard won and precision pixel accurate.
In addition to eight smack talkin’ bosses ... more with the smack, less with the talkin’ ... are platform leaping tricks that would make even Meatboy nervous. Dashing is as fundamental a mechanic as jumping, or shooting - for that matter - and greatly improves your chances of reaching the boss before the timer winds down to deprive you of the speed bonus reward. Combine dashing and jumping and you’re more able to dodge attacks and reach otherwise difficult to access platforms.
That’s the action side of this genre. In aid of that, play style is very much taken into account, and you’ll have the option of choosing two - at the start - characters: Nina, who uses a long range arm “N-blaster” to eliminate her foes, and Ace whose melee style “A-Sword” energy weapon hacks enemies to pieces with just a few swings. Both can charge their weapons to increase their damage capability, in exchange for precious seconds, and equip weapon alternatives and armor that will enhance their mobility and more.
Hawk, who was DLC on the PC version of this game, is included and unlocked after you’ve beaten any of the game’s three difficulties: Reverent (easy mode, with three extra lives), Normal (as stated, with no extra lives), and Defiant (which enables the selection of “Skull modifiers” that increase the challenge substantially). Hawk utilizes a whip that steals weapon energy as well as dishing out damage to foes. She’s also a maven of weaponry, employing tools of destruction that range from an automatic energy rifle, flame thrower, heat seeking missiles, an explosive boost jump and a Molotov cocktail style weapon that can obliterate bosses in short order.
Yes, there’s another character on the roster, but he hasn’t yet arrived for the Switch version - at time of writing.
Now, there’s difficulty mode and then difficult curve, which occurs regardless of the mode you’ve selected. The curve is gradual and easy to manage, as each subsequent level grafts on enemies that have shields, occur in greater number, and then take more damage to destroy. Bosses also scale this way by attacking more frequently, and adding new attack to their repertoire. It’s only after all of the bosses are defeated that you might start to feel overwhelmed. Thanks to the consistent difficulty curve, moving between difficulty modes only requires practice, patience and time.
Then there are Augments and Armor Pieces (also called Augs) which are the central pillar of 20XX’s well thought out structure. If you feel the need for a double jump, hover or 4 directional boost, there’s an Aug for that. Arm, Body and Head parts offer extra “chargability”, charge storing, health or weapon energy leeching, and much, much more. Speaking of offerings, how 20XX presents its game mode options after the menu screen is both pleasant and easy to understand. You control a character inside of their apartment, which has four floors that grant you access to everything you can configure prior to entering the “network”.
First time players will be automatically taken through the tutorial, but on the first floor, you’ll have the option of re-entering it, if for any reason you should want to do that. There’s the leaderboard of global scores, and on the right hand side of the top floor there are the challenges: Daily and Weekly with variants that have certain Skull modifiers locked in; Rush Job - the boss rush; and Seed Racer, which lets you set the game’s level seed.
What’s that, you ask? Levels have themes that correspond to their boss, but the arrangement of platforming sections are swapped around between runs, and the seed keeps track of these arrangements. It’s shown on the character option screen, so take note if you want to return to a favorable arrangement, but bear in mind that won’t make the bosses, or regular enemies, any easier between runs.
20XX throws a wrench in the automatic acquisition of boss weapons by letting you choose between the weapon, a health boost or nuts. Choosing one of these will cause the rest to vanish, so choose wisely as some weapons have useful functions outside of their being the natural enemy of another boss. An example of this is Force Nova, a radial burst of energy that can disable energy barriers.
Nuts are the currency you pick up while in the network that you can use to purchase armor and augments from shops and health from vending machines that spawn randomly throughout. A noteworthy quirk is the two alternative vending machines that will give you energy for nuts, or nuts for health. Apparently the latter will actually destroy your character, so be careful!
Soul chips, which you acquire from flashing enemies, are spent between runs on permanent upgrades that increase your base stats. You’ll also be able to choose from a random weapon and augment at the start of the first level, unless you’re playing in Defiant mode. This provides a solid foundation to build upon while you're perfecting your dash-jump and wall clinging skills.
What's worth a mention is 20XX's online play, which - if you have a subscription to Nintendo Online - lets you play with a buddy on another Switch. Unfortunately, I haven't tried the Switch implementation of multiplayer, since I haven't subscribed to the service. If you don't have it, then it's not an option. At the moment Nintendo Online is not worth the cash to me, and since we're getting collections like Megaman X Collection 1 + 2, I doubt we'll be seeing SNES titles emulated on the Switch anytime soon, but I digress.
The developers have used their Kickstarter campaign to good advantage by listening to their community of backers and applying the feedback they received to create the game that fans have wanted for nearly a decade. They didn’t overextend themselves, either, and that is the literal difference between them and the failure that is Mighty No. 9. I mention it because these were the armored boots that both games were trying to fill, and 20XX succeeded, though it’s not without its own flaws.
Putting mechanics first has resulted in a game that plays exactly the way you expect a Megman X title to play, right down to muscle memory, but, inexperience and - well, shall we say a lack of skill, but not lack of heart - has resulted in a game that doesn’t look as good as the franchise it emulates so closely. The characters have that Newgrounds flash style of motion to them, and though it communicates movement fluidly, it does lack the snappy responsiveness of the pixel art titles in the Megaman X series.
It also is apparent that the animators work with flash, but lack experience and knowledge of scene composition. They do their best to remedy this by imitating cutscenes from Megaman X5, X6 and even Megaman Zero 4. That’s a pretty niche reference, since MMZ wasn’t has as big a hit in North America as it was in Japan. I did appreciate it, though, since it speaks to the MMX geek in me.
Now, I haven’t mentioned story yet, because story typically takes last place in platformers. There’s usually just enough motivation to slam your thumb down on whatever passes for “run”, but BatteryStaple and Fire Hose games have taken theirs up a notch by adding some plot elements that serve as commentary. Just think about it: How much sense does it make to throw robotic bodies at a problem until it goes away? You may find your first completion of the game to be disheartening - or at least thought provoking - but it speaks volumes about the thought process that went into the development of this title.
This is more than a tribute of fandom. It is a full fledged game that stands out in its own right, and even steps out of the shadow of its influence. They succeed to provide for the players and the fans, something Capcom had no interest in doing, and we certainly owe them - in part - for the return of Megaman to consoles and PC. You already know if you’re interested in the franchise, don’t let its imperfections dissuade you from playing a sure fire gem of a game.
Community review by hastypixels (November 08, 2018)
At some point you stop justifying what you play and begin to realize what you're learning by playing.
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