By Josh Speer / July 10th, 2018
Note: The author backed this game for $35 on Steam.
|Developer||Batterystaple Games, Fire Hose Games|
|Release Date||July 10th, 2018 (Switch)|
|Platform||PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, XBox One|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone – Fantasy Violence|
I backed 20XX back when it went under the name Echoes of Eridu. At that time, I was especially eager for a new Mega Man experience. While it’s true that since development started Capcom has announced a new game in Mega Man 11, I was still very much looking forward to playing the final, polished build of 20XX on Switch. Let’s see how the game has evolved from the early access builds covered by oprainfall in the past.
Let’s get something out of the way from the get go – don’t come to 20XX expecting any plot. As far as I can tell, there is none to speak of. The entirety of the plot is carried out via somewhat primitive (though cute) cutscenes completely bereft of captions or dialogue. While not offensive, they just perplexed me, and it left me unclear exactly what was going on in the story. It’s especially strange because I recall the project having a plot back when it was called Echoes of Eridu. I can only suspect the team at Batterystaple decided it wasn’t worth the effort and instead focused on the gameplay, which thankfully is where 20XX shines.
When I played the game back at PAX West, I said the platforming is tough as nails, and that hasn’t changed. Even on Normal, it’s a challenge (I mostly played on that difficulty, though if you’re a masochist you can try Reverent and toggle on fun features like instant death spikes). The game is as much a Mega Man experience as bullet hell, and you’ll often need to be incredibly nimble to avoid taking serious damage. Come prepared for fire spewing vents, treadmills that want to deposit you into an endless void, spike traps that react to your movement and much more. Thankfully, the longer you play the game and the more you unlock, the easier it becomes to deal with. For one thing, you’ll learn the timing better. For another, you can find Core armor parts to augment your abilities. One of my favorite examples is free flying for 2 seconds with one boot part, or 4 way dashing with another. You can also find parts for your weapon, helmet and armor, so there’s a lot of ways to mix and match. Keep in mind though that if you equip all the Core parts of the same family, such as Dracopent or Oxjack, you’ll be rewarded with an additional ability, such as dashing three times in succession. Just don’t count on being lucky enough for that to happen every run.
But there’s a lot more to aid you besides just Core parts. Every run, you’ll unlock Soul Chips by defeating bosses or Soul Foes that can be spent in between runs to unlock new tools. There are a limited amount of permanent upgrades, such as boosting your starting health or having a feline buddy show up in stages with random items. There are also Augs, passive boosts to your stats (my favorites were Quantum Spook, which let me shoot through walls and shields, and the Charging Magnet, which drew items to me as I charged my weapon) and Prototype Augs, found in the oh so shady “Very Safe Laboratory”. These are like Augs, but with a downside, such as boosting your attack power but dramatically decreasing your health. You can unlock Repros, which are handy little droids that help you out by attacking foes or shielding you. Finally there are Weapons and Powers. Weapons change your firing pattern, such as by giving Nina a 3 way shot or Ace a super close up turbo slash. Powers, on the other hand, can only be acquired after beating a boss they belong to, a staple from the Mega Man series. They also require NRG to use, just to keep players from spamming them. So there’s a ton to unlock, giving you lots of freedom how you play.
As if that wasn’t enough, there are also 3 playable characters with distinct playstyles. There is Nina, the long distance gunner; Ace, the solitary swordsman and Hawk, the in-between character armed with a laser whip. I preferred Nina the most, and enjoyed toying around with Ace on occasion, but initially found Hawk to be pretty disappointing. That is until I discovered Hawk’s whip siphons NRG and he has a long distance blaster. Once you start a run, you can pick one of those 3 to play as, as well as spending Soul Chips to start the run with an item or two (keeping in mind any unspent Chips will be lost forever). Other than that, every item you find in game is totally random. Some you’ll find in hard to reach chests, others you’ll earn from successfully defeating a Glory Zone, and others you’ll find in the game’s shop, called the Scrap Recycler. There you can spend your other resource, Nuts, to get some nifty stuff. Just keep in mind, everything you can find in a run needs to be unlocked first.
It wouldn’t be a true Mega Man inspired game without cool bosses, and 20XX definitely has those. As expected, there are 8 main bosses and a couple hidden final bosses. The main bosses are all primarily animal based, other than the odd ducks like Death Lotus, who is apparently a plant robot, Vile Visage, a giant wall mounted face, and Perforator, an adorable death machine full of bullets. They’re definitely goofier than I expected, but some of my favorite bosses were the complete weirdos, such as the mechanical hamster riding a blade mounted, jet propelled hamster wheel (not joking). Some bosses could have been from Guacamelee and others from Cuphead, they’re that disparate. But thankfully they all offer a unique fight and plenty of challenge. Keep in mind that the later in a run you face a boss, the more powerful they will be, often with fiercer attack patterns and traps placed in their arena. Even the simple penguin boss, Shatterbeak, is an utter terror when fighting at full power.
For the most part, I found the controls to work pretty well. Your primary attack is done with Y, B is used to jump and the R button is used to dash. Once you unlock Powers, they are mapped to your L, ZL and X buttons. My primary complaint with regard to the controls was that I wished you could map any skill to any button. It felt cramped having all my Powers mapped to L, ZL and X, and that’s as a right handed gamer. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for a lefty. And the other issue with controls was that they felt squishy, for lack of a better word. As a longtime fan of platformers, they just didn’t feel quite as tight as I would have liked, though they still work.
The essential loop of the gameplay is the following – you rush through 8 stages, beat the boss, take the items you want (you don’t have to take their Powers), rinse and repeat, then take on the final two stages. An average run of all 10 stages only lasts an hour or so, and you’re rewarded for beating a stage fast with extra items. A standard area can take as little time as 5 minutes or as long as 15 minutes. The only truly long levels are the final two, which border on cruel at times. Though it can be frustrating losing to area hazards or being swarmed by foes, you’ll always be unlocking more stuff with your hard earned Soul Chips, which helps ease the pain. Once I discovered your Powers could affect the environment, some of the hardest platforming challenges became much more manageable. I loved using the Splinterfrost to freeze fire turrets or the Force Nova blast to disrupt laser nuisances. One oddity I encountered was that, while you can increase your health, NRG, mobility and strength, you can never boost your base defense, other than collecting temporary armor points. Other than that, the basic gameplay loop is very solid.
Aesthetically, I found the game delightful. Yes it’s cartoony looking, but that’s not a problem. What was a bit peculiar is that sometimes the splashy design before boss battles didn’t quite synch up with the actual boss model. Other than that, the game is very colorful and it avoids getting too stale with 6 different level styles. Oftentimes the stages look like Mega Man meets Mario Maker, but thankfully it mostly works. I just felt that the aesthetic design lacked a coherent unifying style. Musically the game is punchy and enjoyable, though I do wish there were a couple more tracks just for variety. Be sure to turn your Switch volume all the way up to enjoy it, since it’s pretty quiet otherwise.
While there’s a lot I loved about this game, now I need to spend a little time discussing some rough spots. I mentioned before that the controls weren’t as tight as I’d have liked, and that applies to other aspects of the game as well. The physics do some odd things. For example, more than once an item landed on a conveyor slowly moving down, but then when it started moving left the item flew off, as if the momentum supercharged it. Another time an item fell on a fast moving treadmill yet didn’t move. I was frustrated on occasion by too many blind corners, sometimes wandering into enemy fire before I even saw the enemy. Perhaps my biggest frustration were the tiny flying enemies. They could lock onto my position from several screens away, and often showed up just in time to interrupt a crucial death defying jump or to push me into a laser. One oddity that happened a few times was a stage having a side path that lead to nothing, or an item box showing up in an area I literally had no way of reaching. The very worst was a glitch that occurred while loading the final stage, which forced me to the Home screen and forced me to start a new run instead of continuing. Other than these, which are thankfully few and far between, the game runs mostly smooth, once you get the hang of things. It just would have been a much cleaner experience had they not cropped up.
Normally I would move onto the final summary here, but thankfully I was able to try out the co-op for 20XX with a friend and fellow game journalist Kenny, who works at Hey Poor Player. I would never have thought a Mega Man styled game would be fun with a friend, but 20XX is an absolute blast in co-op. At least if both players are on a similar level. The first time we tried it, Kenny did most of the work, since I had a bad tendency to keep dying. Thankfully, in multiplayer if your partner survives, they can find a capsule that revives you towards the end of the stage. You also share all your resources, so it behooves you to cooperate. Though there is no voice chat in the game, you can send signals to your partner to communicate, such as a thumbs up. You’re also able to teleport to their current position if you’re far apart.
It did seem as though the bosses got tougher in multiplayer, but working together we made short work of most of them, other than the final boss, which I quickly died against and Kenny managed to beat solo. Thankfully we tried multiplayer another time and found things much better balanced between the two of us, with me as Nina and Kenny as Ace. Initially the game lagged, but then it seemed to sync up admirably. Unfortunately, even here I encountered some oddities. One time I got a health capsule from a vending machine and it killed me. Another run I was inexplicably unable to equip weapons that only my character could use. Other than that, though, I really enjoyed playing 20XX with a friend.
In summary, 20XX is a great game that nevertheless has a few rough edges. My only nagging complaints were that I wanted even more. More bosses (hidden or otherwise), more characters, even more levels. Given the inspiration for this game, I would have even liked some mini bosses that perhaps popped up mid stage and offered you Core parts when you beat them. And ultimately, I wanted more plot. Or any plot, really. The game is charming, but it would be more so if I knew what the hell was going on. That said, it’s still very addictive and I would highly recommend it to fans of platformers. It provided at least 10 hours of gameplay for only $17.99, and that’s without unlocking 100% of the items. If you love rogue platformers and want a Mega Man experience on your Switch right now, you can’t go wrong with 20XX. Just be prepared to scream at the game when you die of bullet hell.
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
20XXBatterystaple GamesFire Hose GamesMega Manplatformerrogue-like