Who says a game has to be original in order to be good, eh?
I say forget that, and rock your inspirations with flair and finesse, but only in moderation. Yeah, it’s absolutely fine if you want to say, base a game on the mechanics and world-building present in The Legend of Zelda. However, if you’re going to go so far as to name your character “Dink”, who lives in the town of Totiri Forest under the guidance of a fairy named Vani? You might want to prepare yourself with the accusations of plagiarism. Completely unrelated, here’s 20XX.
This here is a platforming run ‘n’ gun rogue-like from Batterystaple Games, developed in collaboration with Fire Hose Games. Fire Hose Games are no stranger to developing games, working on dinosaur-based games like King Kaiju and Go Home Dinosaurs, and collaborated on a few titles like Rock Band Blitz and Ms. Splosion Man. Batterystaple Games however? This is their debut title right here. An alright debut, to say the least.
The plot is just Mighty No. 9, but for smart intellectuals like you or I, who are smart with the money that we don’t throw at Kickstarter. Robots are running rampant throughout the city of err… The Village of City Town, and it’s down to our heroes Ace and Nina to stop whichever doctor thinks this is the best course of action for the world.
Even though the thought of a Mega Man-type game in the form of the rogue-like was enough to send shivers down to the toe-hair, the layout and structure of 20XX is pretty solid. The fear of possibly not being able to go against the right boss yet, is eliminated by giving the player a small selection of characters to go up against next… aaaaaaaaaand that’s about it for decent comparisons to Mega Man. Oh, you can also jump ‘n’ shoot, that’s a good comparison. Anyway…
Platforming rogue-likes are amazingly rare in this indie world of random level generators and permadeath, with only Spelunky coming to mind as the solitary good one. Is it fair to compare the sublime Spelunky to 20XX? Of course not, because Spelunky was mechanically sound, and 20XX has more than one defunct limb on its body.
In truth, 20XX has more in common with Rogue Legacy, the procedurally-generated family tree platformer from Cellar Door. The movement, the combat, the kinda cheap ways you kill bosses; it’s all there. The thing is, Rogue Legacy knew one thing ahead of time, and that was to not under-compensate with the level design, just because the game revolves around the evolution of the player-character.
Nearly every single procedurally-generated level of 20XX consists of the smallest platforms possible, and the game praying that you managed to figure out the timing of the Jump Dash Boost. The game is always asking that you do something, you’re consistently moving, never airing out choices or decisions, with everything always wanting to kill you at all times.
It’s not inherently bad to have so much skill-based movement, because once you finally conquer the timing of those damn fireball spitters, you feel like a supreme god, but there needs to a fair curve. Slamming me into the arena and shouting “Hope you played Mega Man X before, you utter spud, otherwise you’re in for a bad time!” is disheartening, to say the least.
Really, this entire game holds an insane amount of contempt for the player, it never seems to care whether you’re having fun or not, it just wants you to die over and over again. Yeah, maybe that’s supposed to be the point of a rogue-like, but there have been few that exist solely to insult the player. From the way the game taunts you after you die, to the permanent upgrades adding exactly “Bugger All” to your character, it all feels like the game is mocking you.
Every firefight is a claustrophobic squeeze in-between hazards and turrets, the power-ups never feel like they’re giving you any sort of progress within a run, and the weapons aren’t necessarily ground-breaking either. The boss battles, what should be a celebration of movement-based combat and skill, turns into a standstill match of seeing who can tank the most shots first.
One problem that almost knee-capped 20XX right out of the gate, was the lack of variety on display. Barely any weapons, the sub-weapons only being limited to three at a time, the environments dragging on like the corpse of Mega Man attached to this game – there’s not a lot to see. There’s only fourteen foes to fight in-between bosses, and no matter how many upgrades you either have or don’t have, they’ll be a breeze.
Looking back on it, the only time combat ever feels like a Mega Man game is when you’re fighting the minions, since they’re the only enemies not placed in a giant empty room. You get to use your environment to your advantage, you get to truly dash around and feel like some sort of mechanised badass, as opposed to sniping an enemy with the tri-shot weapon.
Look, I’ll be honest, I’ve completed Mega Man games before, alright? I’ve beaten Yellow Devil without the pause trick, I have the scars, but why does this game feel so bloody impossible to conquer? Even when it doesn’t turn into a battle of who bought the best armour to the fight, no amount of dodging and weaving could stop me from getting the floor wiped with my mechanical blood.
Maybe it’s due to the fact that you don’t know when it’s going to end. It’s always a mad dash to a finish that never seems to be in sight. When you’re at the end of a battle, a brush with death occurring, and once the dust settles, you feel like this is going to be the last one before it’s all over, the final push to victory so you can rest. NOOOOOOOOOOOPE, you got another one!
In reality, 20XX is a Mega Man tribute in look only. It doesn’t have the same catharsis in gameplay, there’s no real depth to any of the mechanics beside dashing, and the game’s more interested in pissing you off than it is with providing you with a good time. What could’ve been a barrel of fun turns into an exercise in cynicism and regret.
Still, it’s not the worst Mega Man “clone” out there. Ace and Nina feel more like charismatic characters than Beck and Call could ever be, and that’s without bloody speaking throughout any of it. The visual design is cute, along with the bosses being distinct from one another, and as stated previously, the combat outside of boss battles feels like an actual challenge where the game isn’t laughing at you.
At the end of the day, 20XX is a game that just meets the bare minimum of being quality. It feels like Batterystaple and co. were set on making a Mega Man type game, and didn’t know what to do from there. What ideas that aren’t scavenged from the corpse of Capcom’s once-neglected baby are handled competently, and everything Mega Man related is at face value. Still, if you really, really, really can’t wait for Mega Man 11, then by all means, pick this up.
This review of 20xx is based on the Xbox One version of the game. A review copy was provided.
A roguelike that isn't enough to make you cry for more.
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