Tongue, Meet Cheek
20XX is a sarcasm-filled rogue-like parody of Mega Man that strokes all of your favorite memories of the series’ gameplay in fast chunks. There’s no real overall story to 20XX, but it’s got just enough going on to give you a reason to kill experimental robots over and over again. The game offers little snippets of dialogue and the occasional animated scene at the end of a run, but most importantly the game makes sure you know you’re in for a world of sarcasm poking fun at not just one of its inspirations but at classic gaming tropes themselves. The professors that you’re at the mercy of send you off to your death and are the cause of the robot’s getting loose in the first place. Every so often you find the corpse of a previous version of you on the field, and it gives you an upgrade. You even see the different ways our robot friends are disposed of at the end of a failed run in little animations. All of these details that are given to you in bits and pieces paint quite a grim state of affairs for our protagonists.
Doin’ it Right
You play as either Nina or Ace (and there is now a third playable character as well). Nina is our ranged blaster and Ace with his beam sword is our melee fighter. Each starts with their primary weapon, but you can unlock and find other primary weapons later and also boss powers at the end of each level. They vary a decent amount, so they’re worth experimenting with on their own and along with different equipment and stat augment strategies. Outside of the regular rogue-like 20XX runs and their difficulty selections, there are also a number of challenge modes to try your hand in, but outside of one or two of them, I will say they have a way of feeling like filler. Most of the fun to be had was in the main game for sure.
The levels come in a familiar side-scrolling style as you beat up on enemies and navigate environmental dangers. All levels are procedurally generated in one of four thematic zones that ramp up in difficulty each time you visit them as you progress along the eight main bosses. Sometimes the procedural nature of the level throws you for some problematic and unforgiving loops so you’ll want to be prepared and smart with your abilities. Though usually the difficulty is fun, there are times where you feel like the enemies are just a bit too much of the same thing. Bats fly at you regularly and there’s always a bouncing rodent looking to maul you with its spiked wheel. The characters start off a run at a base level, and all upgrades you pick up along the way are reset when you start a new run. Aside from soul chips and the permanent upgrades that they buy you, every run of 20XX will be different. This reset is excellent because the more you let go of attachment to any specific gear combos the more fun you can have with the levels.
Boss battles are really fast in this game most of the time. Sometimes they’re over before you know it, especially so if you aren’t playing as carefully as possible to save health or “NRG” for your powers. Not caring about a few extra hits to your health has a way of feeling like a brute force tactic, but one that’s pretty effective in your early runs. It only feels a bit off because the game almost actively rewards ignoring the strategy and mechanics they’ve built to get the boss kill as soon as possible and earn the timed bonus chest. I found myself spamming my powers and hoping for the best on the bonus chest or next randomly generated level so I could restock NRG.
After you’ve dispatched a big bad boss, there’s a chest drop with an augment and some Nuts to spend on other augments, gear, or at resource restoring vending machines. In the next room you’re provided with the choice of picking up the boss’ power or other rewards, some soul chips, and if you finished before the bonus timer ended, there’s an extra chest with similar rewards in it. Once you’ve looted the room, you pick from one of three levels to go to next. The experience quickly becomes a cycle that you can lose count of as you keep dying and starting again with some new unlock, upgrade, or sense of confidence. The game can be incredibly frustrating sometimes and in that way makes you want to keep going.
A Shimmering Balance Act
The visual vocabulary of 20XX is very obvious to any fan of the Mega Man series, from the playable characters to the enemies, bosses, and the disparaging lab professors who are supposedly rooting for your success. I found myself needing to close up or squint every so often at a text box but rarely was it something pivotal to gameplay. The zones come in four different nature themes. You’ll find yourself traversing through levels generated in either fire, frost, sky, or jungle tilesets that each have their own enemies and expected platforming pieces. You’ll see lava, lasers, poison pits, and flames light up your path to the bosses.
Each boss starts with an animated splash screen which I found to be a weak part of the game’s presentation. The enemy and boss sprites themselves all look pretty neat, but the splash animations have a way of feeling like I’m watching an old flash animation from Newgrounds. There’s just something about the art style that’s somewhat lacking, something that takes me out of an otherwise cohesive visual experience. One of my favorite bits of artwork in the game is absolutely the corrupted version of Light Capsules from Mega Man X. All the different weapons and powers are fairly unique and feel great to play with. Try to pull off this combo yourself: using Ace with the Glaive and a specific leg mod will have you flying around spinning into enemies for a special kind of joy.
Dreaming of Electric Sheep
Often is the number of times you will soothe the frustration of defeat with a sardonic comment at the results screen from some branch of government that exists in this world. I had a hearty chuckle at various moments through this game. Along with the cursed prototype gear that usually hamstrings you in over the top ways, I just loved when I realized that every run of 20XX ends with the total demise of our robot friends and each run begins with a freshly made version of the character we’re playing. There are lots of unique and sometimes ridiculous playstyles you can find yourself in depending on your choices. Cynical, repetitive, and pretty fun once you get into the groove, 20XX is easy to pick up and worth sinking some time into.
~ Final Score: 7/10 ~
Review copy provided by Batterystaple Games and Fire Hose Games for Switch. Screenshots provided by Batterystaple Games and Fire Hose Games.