Jump. Shoot. Die. Repeat. As our resident Mega Man Maniac, I was pumped to get the chance to take a look at the sequel to one of my favorite indie projects in the last few years, 20XX.
Developer: Batterystaple Games
Platform: Steam (Early Access)
Wearing its inspiration on its sleeve, 20XX emulated Mega Man X the best it could while switching up its classic pick-from-eight-bosses formula. Instead, 20XX embraced the growing trend of roguelike games, giving you random level progression tied with a steep, but fair difficulty curve. The game had a great concept but fell short of feeling quite as tight and responsive as those that inspired it. Still managing to deliver on a promising concept, 20XX saw a good reception and has a positive score on most sites. Now, when I heard we got a preview opportunity for 30XX, which I’ve been following the development of, I was ecstatic to see how they managed to improve the formula. Oh man, color me impressed right off the bat.
Shifting the visual style to something that feels hauntingly like Mega Man Zero or ZX, I was immediately impressed by the more unique looking visual style that stood on its own. I always complained 20XX looked almost flash game-esque with its visual style, lacking cohesion between levels and generally just looking kind of uninteresting. Gone is that complaint, instead replaced with striking pixel art and beautiful parallax backgrounds, all accented by a soundtrack that stands out the more you’re exposed to it. I haven’t even touched the gameplay yet, and I’m already sold on the experience I’m about to have.
But then you start a run, hands-on your controller (please don’t play platformers on a keyboard unless you are a sadist), and you begin to control your character.
My god, I consider myself a bit tough on the ole run-and-guns sometimes, but 30XX manages to hit every single nail on the head. Quick, snappy movement with a super satisfying dash and everything that comes with it. There’s something about these kinds of dashes that just feel so right, and have you running full speed through the most dangerous of sections just because it doesn’t feel right to not utilize such an awesome tool at your disposal. Dash jumping around obstacles only to climb a wall Mega Man X-style never stops feeling good. 30XX gets all of this right, and the entire experience is elevated because of it. The thing you do most, movement, is an absolute joy to partake in.
Beyond the movement, we have two characters at your disposal, X and Zer… I mean Nina and Ace, who play very differently and have some stand-out things about them compared to the characters they are inspired by. Nina is the true and blue, jump and shoot lady of this game. She will be hopping around, shooting lemons at enemies from afar or charging up her shot for big damage. When she defeats a boss, she gains their power, free for her to use as long as her energy reserves allow it. But one of my favorite things about her is one of the things that really set her apart from the Blue Bomber: her ability to mix powers in order to create new combinations, which she can do on the fly. Say you have an octo-directional attack—always good to have when your main attack just goes straight ahead—but you also have a power that when you press the button, it shoots up and when you press it again it splits apart and shoots to the left and right. If we use the splitting power as a modifier to the octo-directional attack, now we get an attack that we can shoot in eight directions, and when you press the power button again when it’s mid-flight, it will split into the same attack but shooting in the same eight directions from the single projectile. It’s honestly pretty wild to see, and I cannot wait for them to introduce more powers so I can experiment even more to make crazy powers that can adjust to nearly any situation, my example is just one of MANY ones you can use!
Ace is our close combat specialist, flying through enemies like a red blur, slashing them to bits and utilizing different techniques in conjunction with each other to progress through levels with a speed and lethality that is hard to match. Ace can get different weapons as well, like a spear he can throw to create a platform. You assign the different powers he gets from various places to button combinations, and the energy that powers these techniques replenishes itself as opposed to Nina’s finite supply. This allows him to very freely use his abilities instead of saving them for a rainy day or a boss fight, and lets him have a whole lot of freedom in how he approaches the challenges that a level presents. The far better movement presented in 30XX compared to its predecessor has done Ace a world of good. I find him an absolute blast to play as, and it feels like an entirely new experience compared to playing as Nina.
Even with all of their strengths, both characters can be powered up far beyond how they come stock. Imagine Nina with an unlimited three-way shot covering the screen with bullets, Ace having a bonafide air dash, as well as everyone having more health, being faster as well as stronger. This is the reality of the end of a good run, you can be EXTREMELY strong with the right combination of power-ups. For those of you who don’t really enjoy the crippling setbacks of a traditional roguelike, 30XX also gives you the option for a more traditional Mega Man experience where, even when you die, you won’t lose everything and you have the option to actually select what boss you want to fight! I think this is a great option for more casual fans who don’t want to start over every time. You will unlock more upgrades as well as be able to get permanent power-ups with limited resources you collect as you do more runs as well.
Also new to 30XX is a full-on level editor so you can make the run-and-gun level of your dreams and subject your friends to your tyranny and unfairness of level design! I’ve always wanted to play with that myself, so I will absolutely be dropping some time into making my own level and trying out others as well. 30XX has so many things in it that I didn’t know I wanted until I saw it and that is always a great feeling to have as things just seem to fit right into the overall vision of the game. Another fantastic thing about this is that all of the main game is accessible with local or online co-op! Team up with a friend and help each other out through the game as you destroy countless robots and do tons of tricky platforming.
I am super impressed with 30XX, and I only see better things coming from its continued development through the early access program on steam. A love letter to the games that inspired it that manages to absolutely nail some of the key factors that brought Mega Man into the limelight (let’s not talk about his modern treatment in general) while simultaneously doing its own spin on the formula to great success. This is a title to keep your eye on without a doubt if you are a fan of these kinds of games!