In the wake of Mighty No.9‘s troubled launch, and the mixed reception from critics and players, it seems appropriate that 20XX should be the next point of call for PC gamers. With its energetic, retro soundtrack and Mega Man-like, side-scrolling gameplay style (and by Mega Man-like, I mean it’s incredibly similar, even down to the paused animation as the camera pans across the opened boss entrance, and the sound of the bosses’ health bars being filled, just off the top of my head), 20XX is another game aiming to please fans of the Capcom classic.
Even 20XX’s two characters, Nina and Ace, look like cosplayers of Mega Man X characters. Nina is basically vanilla Mega Man, running and jumping around in her blue armour, shooting her arm cannon. Ace is cosplaying Zero, in his red armour and swinging an energy sword, he cuts a swath through enemies as he bounds around the levels. The two characters’ play styles differ greatly, lending the game an extra level of variety that genuinely affects the way you play. Nina’s long range allows her to whittle down the health of an enemy, whereas Ace requires much more bravery (or stupidity, however you want to look at it) and agility.
But that’s where the first problem lies: the movement is not smooth. Nina and Ace move in exactly the same way, but it feels imprecise, erratic even, without the weight of its inspiration. Power-ups do at least aid in increasing movement speed and jumping height, but all this does is create more problems in later areas of the game. Even the difficulty of the game feels unbalanced right now, too. Playing on the easier difficulty is recommended for newcomers (to be honest, after initially playing on normal I switched to casual and never went back) but even then it ramps up completely at random, then descends into almost bullet hell territory at around level 5-6. Hitting these higher levels results in bullet sponge enemies that bombard the player in droves, with sometimes upward of ten rushing you at any one time. The most common one is reminiscent of Castlevania’s Medusa Heads as well, flying into you at the worst possible moments, but without the standard patterns of Castlevania’s iconic irritants it just feels unfair. Almost as bad as the infamous Ninja Gaiden on NES.
Levels are randomly generated, which unfortunately places some of these enemies in really awkward and increasingly unfair positions, such as in the only place you are able to land a particular jump, and there’s no way to hit them before landing. At one point in a later level there were platforms between deadly lasers, and each platform held a catapult enemy that constantly threw balls of blue fire with ridiculous precision, and flying laser enemies floated above, threatening to rain down beams of death if I drew near. And surrounding all this? Yes, it was the birdlike beasties that liked to mimic those notorious Medusa Heads of Konami’s classic. There was literally no way through all that without taking damage, and guess what? Damage was taken, to the point that I died.
Now, death in 20XX is permanent. It’s not just a (massive) nod to Mega Man, it’s the latest in the current trend of sub-genres: the Roguelike. This made that horrendously unfair enemy placement even more frustrating, as it ended my run and dumped me back in the main lobby. Yes, I could spend what I’d earned in order to unlock new power-ups to collect in my next run, but as these are found at random, it did not soften the blow one bit. It’s not like I could memorise the patterns for the next game either, what with the randomly generated levels. Given that 20XX is in Early Access on Steam, these kinds of issues will hopefully be ironed out before launch, as right now it’s a complete turn-off.
Visually, 20XX isn’t quite as frustrating. It’s colourful and full of detail, especially when it comes to the two main characters and the bosses. The animation is great, but it never has a solid framerate so it often feels too sharp and this accounts for the lack of precision in platforming, when combined with the slightly odd physics, and traversing the levels isn’t as fun as it could be. Those levels are nice to look at though, with fire and ice levels, plenty of industrial zones to accompany the robotic theme of the enemies (another nod to Mega Man), and some greenery in the garden levels – but that’s it. As nice as they look, there’s not enough variety and things soon get a bit samey.
Despite a lot of negativity in this review, 20XX does have great potential. Smoothing out the platforming, making the enemy placement a little less unfair, and a bit of general polish will improve the experience severalfold. Batterystaple Games has already stated that it intends to add a story into the mix, which is sorely missed at the time of writing this review, along with several new features in time for its exit from Early Access, and its community is doing a fantastic job of helping to keep the game’s development moving in the right direction. With this approach, 20XX could well avoid the mistakes made by Comcept’s development of Mighty No.9.
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