By Tom Tolios / February 22nd, 2016
|Release Date||November 25, 2014 (Early Access)|
In September of last year, oprainfall had a chance to sit down with an early access copy of BatteryStaple Games’ Mega Man inspired platformer 20XX. The game follows the area and stage progression themes of the blue bomber’s legendary adventures but adds a few extra wrinkles that make it a unique enough experience that fans can find plenty to enjoy.
With the release of the most recent patch to 20XX (still in early access, by the by), a few balancing issues have been addressed and an entirely new system has been added in the form of the Core Augmentations utility. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. First off, let’s recap exactly what this game is and how it works. I also encourage you to read Phil’s early impressions piece from September 2015, as he offers his own excellent perspective on the game.
In 20XX, currently available on Steam as an early access title for $15, you have your choice of one of two armored warriors, one that can fire projectiles and another that attacks with a sword. They both have their own strengths and weaknesses and are well suited to the particular playstyles of different gamers. So for those of you that favor a more traditional approach with killing at a distance, Nina is your girl. And for those who want to get up close and personal and make with the hacking and slashing, Ace has you covered.
Once you’ve chosen which character you wish to play, you can initiate your run by selecting either ‘Normal’ mode or ‘Casual’ mode. The difference between the two is that in ‘Normal’ mode, you have to gather all your power-ups as you go. On the other hand, in ‘Casual’ mode, you can equip up to three of the aforementioned Core Augmentations before you head out to save the world. There are also various challenge modes you can partake in for greater rewards and to test your skill, as well as options for single and co-op play, which is a really nice addition when you want to share the adventure with a pal.
Once you’ve selected a mode, you’re off on your mission, which is to destroy a series of robots that are terrorizing the land in a variety of environmental climates, such as jungles, arctic wastes and industrial zones with smelting pits and conveyer belts. Each of these areas is populated with enemies that you have to pound your way through to reach the stage’s boss. You’ll also engage with enclosed rooms where you find yourself attacked by successive waves of foes, and if you succeed in destroying them all, you get an extra reward.
As you go, you find crates and machines that you can interact with to either obtain or purchase upgrades, which remain with you for the entirety of your run. When you have to buy an upgrade, either from a mid-stage vendor or a machine of some kind, you have to spend a mechanical form of currency called ‘Nuts’ (as in ‘nuts and bolts’). Nuts are dropped by enemies you’ve destroyed, and they appear with enough frequency that, for the most part, you’re never really broke when you come across vendors.
Once you defeat a stage’s boss, you are given the option to purchase a permanent passive upgrade for use in the current and future play, such as ‘increased damage’, ‘jump higher’ or ‘move faster,’ or you can acquire the boss’s weapon, which lasts until you either die or win the game. You’re also given the option to perform a few other upgrades, provided you have the currency, before moving on to the next stage. Once you’ve obtained all the buffs you can afford, you choose one of three random bosses to take on, and you’re immediately thrown into the next area.
There are endless pit traps you can fall into, but there are lots of ways you can get around those. The ability to dash with the tap of a button, wall jumping, magnetic ceilings, Portal style teleporters and more will help you navigate these otherwise lethal traps. And even if you DO fall into a pit, don’t worry about it because you only lose a single point of health and end up where you were last standing to try again (until, of course, you run out of health). This is a great mechanic because it allows you to immediately retry a difficult stretch. In a sense, you have as many lives as you have HP. This is perfect game balance for a roguelike in the vein of 20XX, which needs to give you at least SOME additional chance to overcome a challenge right after failing it. That opportunity is finite, but with a little patience and dedication, you can succeed.
The game has Mega Man’s DNA in its code, but there are some key differences. Firstly, every enemy zone is randomly generated, so you have to rely more on reflexes and split second timing than on stage recognition and exploiting enemy spawn points. Luckily, the screen shows enough of what’s ahead of you that as long as you apply some tactics and have grasped a basic understanding of the control’s responsiveness, you can overcome most of the platforming challenges.
This is not to say that 20XX ever becomes ‘easy’, but much in the same way that Dark Souls, or even Mega Man for that matter, eventually becomes familiar through dedication in mastering the tools at your disposal, 20XX can feel incredibly rewarding. It’s the kind of game where you’ll need to spend your Nuts in a fashion that compliments your playstyle in addition to becoming better and better at reacting to challenges on the fly. If you grasp the philosophy behind excelling at 20XX, you should eventually do just that.
The other important difference between Mega Man and 20XX is that there is no return to the hub between stages and no save state for boss progression. You have to complete the game and take on the final challenge in one go or you have to start all over, but his isn’t as bad as it sounds. Regardless of the challenges you face in 20XX or the elements that may be killing you again and again, the ability to acquire permanent power-ups makes your next run easier. And even though the stages are never exactly the same when you revisit them, enough of the assets are reused upon random level generation that you start to see some gauntlets over and over, and they get easier with repetition and improved traits and gear.
This is where the grinding element of 20XX really separates itself from the rest of the pack in this genre. It’s almost an RPG in that sense. After you’ve completed a run, you are returned to the mission hub and can visit its market, which allows you to spend any Nuts you had at the end of your game on buying up your passive buffs, called Core Augmentations. Most of these stack, so if you want to keep buying up improved damage (for example), you’re free to do so.
Now keep in mind that the Core Augmentations can only be equipped at the start of a ‘Casual’ difficulty game, and you can only start with three, but the ability to gradually turn your character into a juggernaut as you play helps the less skilled as well as those who need the rust knocked off (like myself), to advance further in the game, see more of the progression and, most importantly, enjoy themselves.
Core Augmentations can also be picked up from item boxes as you play, boosting critical abilities even further. So if you’re doing well, by the time you reach the end of the game you’ll be a rather formidable hero. Once I obtained the four-way shot, which seems to be a fairly random (and powerful) ability, I was steamrolling 20XX. But I still didn’t finish the game on that run, which is actually a good thing: no single weapon in any game should, by itself, ever guarantee victory. 20XX establishes you’ll need to be good at all of the game’s various challenges in order to beat it.
The music is pure chiptune heaven, being lively and whimsical at times and intense and driving at others. BatteryStaple Games has done a fantastic job with not only composing the OST but in implementing it. I had a wonderful understanding of this game’s identity just by paying attention to the music, and that is about the best thing I can say about any game soundtrack. The developers knew exactly what they wanted this game to be and their ambition shines here.
The graphics, likewise, are inspired and tributary at the same time, with the enemies and their attacks easily the rival of anything Capcom ever did with any iteration of Mega Man. The stage graphics are skillfully rendered, with a colorful and vivid presentation that brings each stage to life in a lush panorama of sensory perfection. The game is a sheer joy to look at, from the beautiful animations to the clever and inventive attacks of its many enemies.
If I have to register a single complaint about 20XX, it’s that the bosses seem a bit too easy for the most part. I was able to pound them into submission with little regard for my wellbeing by just mashing on the button while facing them. I ignored the minuscule damage they were doing and was easily able to heal back to full on most occasions either in the post boss reward phase or by simply playing judiciously upon entering the next stage.
Perhaps that’s a testament to how powerful some of my builds ended up being when I faced them, but I simply felt that this could have been a more refined aspect of 20XX. The boss designs are fine: some strategy is required if you want to come out unscathed, and the environments give you everything you need to beat them even without significant upgrades, but it just seemed incongruous to me that I died more often from falling into endless pits than because of anything bosses could bring to bear.
But don’t let that last hangup dissuade you. I spent about 5 hours with this build of the game, and after about 20 minutes of becoming familiar with it, I couldn’t put it down. Overall, 20XX is a marvelous product. It’s an engaging game, filled with love, passion and devotion to a genre that has seen a resurgence on the indie scene in recent years. For my part, I have no problem calling it the equal of Shovel Knight. Or even many of the games in the Mega Man franchise itself. This is a must buy. And at 15 bucks on Steam, it’s practically thievery. Buy it today. BatteryStaple Games has triumphed in this reviewer’s opinion. And with more patches on the way, this game is only going to get better.
Preview copy provided by the publisher.
20XXBatterystaple GamesSteamWindows PC