20XX was added to my Want To Play list right after I saw the first trailers for it. Basically it can be summed up as “Mega Man, but roguelite.” I’d just completed Mega Man X on my Vita for the first time, and I was ready for something else to fill that platforming action void.
But then a lot of other games caught my attention, and it wasn’t until a random YouTube hiccup brought the game back to my attention that I tried it out. Now I’m deeply conflicted about how to review this. In short doses, it’s great, scratching that old school itch with just the right level of challenge and action. But it doesn’t take long to notice there’s not enough variety of environments or bosses to keep this from getting stale quickly.
In classic Mega Man style, the story casts you as Nina the good robot versus a squadron of evil robots and their minions. You defeat robot bosses and can choose to take their powers. But as an added twist, you might opt to get some extra currency instead, or you might select an extra augmentation to help beef up your robot’s health, energy, or their basic attacks.
The thing is, although gaining boss powers can make the game somewhat easier, it’s also possible to beat every boss with the standard weapons, be it Nina’s buster cannon clone or alternate character Ace’s sword. So it’s not quite the same thing as Mega Man, where you want to pick the boss who annoys you least and then start working through the rest using the boss weapon they’re weak to.
Certainly in other respects, the game feels like a proper spinoff to Mega Man. The jump and shoot technique comes back with ease thanks to muscle memory and the button layout being just right. The platforming mostly feels good, except when it doesn’t (fucking flame jets next to tiny conveyor belts, I’m looking at you, bastards), and the boss fights carry the same excitement, even if the boss designs are all a bit on the meh side.
Each level has secret chests to provide extra boosts or augments, as well as a challenge room that offers more upgrades for completing tests like killing waves of enemies in a time limit, or without taking damage, or outracing a horde of little bat robots. On a good run, these challenge rooms and hidden chests can grant double jumps, extra armor, or new guns. (My favorites are the four way cross shot and the three way spread shot, though I understand there are more to unlock that I haven’t seen yet.) On a bad run, they tend to keep throwing out upgrades for the same body part, like one helmet after another while offering nothing for the chest, legs, or arms.
I feel I should mention the game’s mean spirited attempts at humor. There’s two scientists filling in for Dr. Light and Dr. Wily, and they’re more like Waldorf and Statler in their heckling act between levels. Their exchanges are like: “Good job, I guess you’re not totally useless after all!” followed by the “punchline,” “Yes, just mostly useless.” Bu-dum-pish. Then on the tally screen after each death, there’s a pithy quote that someone must have thought was humorous, but to me just comes across as antagonistic. I’m used to indie humor being off, but this feels more spiteful than funny.
By the way those scientists are also the end bosses for some reason. One or the other being the evil genius responsible for the robots going mad would be true to the story they’re cloning, but both seems kinda dumb. They also add into the problem of the boss designs being bland and uninspired.
Returning to the gameplay, there’s something that can’t be ignored for very long, even with the addition of daily challenges, boss rush modes, and extra characters through DLC. The problem is, there’s only five environments to play through, and even if they are proceduraly generated, it doesn’t take long to start feeling like you’ve played the same level over and over, often within the same run. There’s no big pool of bosses swapped out for an 8 level jaunt, just the same robots over and over followed by your snarky bosses. I can see this being something to put away and come back to every month or so to scratch an itch, but even after a few hours, 20XX suffers from a lack of content.
Keep in mind, what content there is is quite lovely. The levels are colorful in ways that make the old 8 bit Mega Man games look drab in comparison, and the music is catchy and enjoyable even after hearing it multiple times in one session. The controls feel good, and the upgrades system gives a nice incentive to keep plugging away for more currency. The boss weapons can create some interesting combos for more creative players, and the augments can help turn even the wimpy basic shot into a much more powerful weapon.
But I can’t help feeling like this would have benefited from the kinds of updates we’ve seen from other indie games, adding new levels and bosses to flesh out this skeleton with some meaty variety. What’s there is good, but it’s just not enough to keep me plugging away like many other roguelites can do.
In the end, I think I have to give 20XX 4 stars. There’s nothing wrong with it that would sink it to the 3 or 2 range, and I do enjoy my time in it. But it needed more content to raise it up to a perfect game status, and given that the makers are working on the sequel, it doesn’t seem likely that this will ever get the last coat of polish that it deserves. Shortcomings aside, I’d still recommend it to Mega Man fans looking for a clone to play between doses of the real deal.