20xx is, in all respects, an homage to Megaman X. If you’ve played the latter, there’s a good chance you’ll like this game. That goes double if you’re into roguelike design. While 20xx looks to honour retro games, it also distinguishes itself by implementing modern mechanics which promote replayability and have an eye to the speedrunning community. Born of a successful 2014 crowdfunding initiative, and initially released on Steam Early Access, 20xx has come to PS4 and Nintendo Switch. Let’s dive in and see how good it turned out.
An Ode to the Old-School
20xx has no illusions about which gamers it looks to entice. The story of the game can largely be summed up by its environments and bosses. Two doctors, whose appearance communally callback Dr. Wily and Dr. Light act as the catalyst for the end of the world. Unleashing a horde of super mutated machines and creatures onto the world, it’s up to our heroes to play cleanup. The story is simple, so simple in fact that it’s communicated in a single cutscene. But when the 20xx logo comes flashing down onto the screen, and the theme song comes on, you feel like you’re playing a SNES game.
Like it’s inspiration, players can play the game as one of two characters (with more unlockable and coming as DLC): Nina, or Ace. True to form, one wields an energy-sabre, the other an arm cannon. While the lack of details on these two can be seen as an homage to SNES platformers, it still feels a little jarring. There’s a purposeful lack of emphasis on story of which potential buyers should be aware.
Roguelike, for Better or for Worse
Being a roguelike game, the 20xx experience begins at the “Ark”. There, they can spend soul chips which they obtain by from crates or elite enemies in previous runs. This then unlocks permanent upgrades for their future sessions or provides new items for them to discover in challenge rooms. It’s an appealing loop, which can, unfortunately, feel a little underwhelming at times. Investing a good amount of soul chips to obtain a permanent buff of +1 on your health makes a difference in this type of game, but it’s not particularly exciting. However, the progress which is made incrementally does add up without making it essential to a good run. That’s a refreshing alternative from roguelikes which require you to die several times before achieving success.
From the Ark, the player begins a 20xx run on one of three difficulties. The loop then consists of:
- Arriving in a zone.
- Traversing the zone to the boss.
- Defeating the boss, taking a reward and possibly and time-trial chest.
- Selecting one of three available bosses and moving on to their zone.
And that’s it! Repeat this a few times as needed to reach the stories conclusion, and start again. Depending on your performance, you’ll be coming out of each stage with a bit more health and a new ability (to a total of three during a run). The powers, which are all inspired by the defeated bosses, vary in power and utility. Overall, however, they’re quite impactful.
Enemies in each zone present varying challenges. For example, the Arctic zone is dotted with mecha penguins which glide on air and become a real nuisance when trying to navigate icy segments. Enemies are varied enough that their presence doesn’t become too cumbersome. Add to this the fact that they sometimes appear as ‘elites’ and glow white, providing greater challenge and rewards, and you’ve got loads of possibility for placement and strategy.
While enemy placement has never been a staple of the genre, I found that the procedural generation of levels sometimes through some pretty nasty encounters at the player. While this is part and parcel with the nature of Roguelike games, it felt frustrating when environmental puzzles and enemies didn’t mingle well. You might find yourself trying to pass a platforming segment while being flooded with mobs. It didn’t happen often, but when it did, it felt unfair, rather than challenging.
The environmental puzzles themselves are varied enough. The Skytemple offers a greater amount of verticality, while the superhot facility focuses on dodging lava and navigating smaller corridors. Of particular note are the disappearing platforms in the jungle region. While none of these zone-specific challenges defied conventions, they kept zones unique enough for the game’s loop to feel rewarding.
The catch is this, while there are a good amount of bosses spread across these zones, procedural generation doesn’t always hold up. Once you’ve mastered the stages and their particular puzzles, repeating them to kill another boss feels kind of bland. While other games in the genre presented unique stages themed after the bosses, these depend on inspiring replayability. While some will love that about 20xx, those who prioritize a linear but finite single-player experience may be understandably disappointed.
Bit-Music and Graphics to match
The presentation of the game is itself rather colourful, presenting the player with varied environments and enemies. Each of the major zones you play in, from Agnisort (Superhot Facility) to the Skytemple (Stonetemple Skycity) feel distinct. The game is rather vibrant, and while the animation of the player characters can take some getting used to, it’s not an aesthetic that will please everyone. I say this only because the grittiness of Megaman X was what pleased so many of the fans in the series. It’s done at a half measure in 20xx. While some bosses are horrifying floating faces which call to mind DOOM, others are hamsters in a spiked wheel. It’s a little all over the place and at times just a bit too childish in its presentation.
The overall presentation nails the feel of SNES sidescrolling shooters. The visual odes to the genres that inspired it are visible at several points and will make any fan of the genre smile. The boss room door freezing the player model being only one of the more notable. While the art style won’t please everyone, there is plenty to love in the soundtrack. Each region is animated by an upbeat and nostalgic bit-theme which comes to a crescendo during the boss fights. It’s simple, but it works. Just like the stages of the game, however, it gets a little repetitive over time. Variations of stage themes would have been appreciated.
Replayability at Heart
Beyond its format, one of the greatest elements of 20xx is the emphasis on speedrunning, and challenge runs. From the Ark, the player is presented with a great degree of choices other than a typical 20xx run. From special doors, they can participate in daily and weekly challenges of varying degrees, as well as begin a special boss-rush mode. It’s a thoughtful inclusion, but a necessary one for the rogue-like genre. Players will be happy to learn that the developers clearly had an eye to the speedrunning community, offering useful tools to track and quantify data in runs.
20xx is an homage to an era of gaming that was simple, clean, but fun. Instead of staying stuck on conventions, it looks to innovate with rogue-like mechanics. While the gameplay loop works a few times, unless you’re a big fan of the genre, you’re left wanting more. Ultimately then, whether you appreciate or regret your time with 20XX depends on what you’re looking for. Speedrunners and fans of consistent platforming will find a very entertaining distraction to which they can return once in a while. The game is a great bit of fun in small bursts, but it suffers from the feeling of repetition which is endemic to rogue-likes. While the bosses that animate the game are varied, they lack the thematic distinctiveness of those which inspired 20xx. Its inspiration may also reveal its greatest weakness, a lack of memorability.
20xx is available now on PS4, Nintendo Switch and PC.
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- Consistent art style and presentation
- Daily / Weekly challenges
- Easy to pick up and play
- Repetitive music
- Stages blend into one another
- Graphics / Sound7
- Lasting Appeal9
- Fun Factor10