Before even launching 20XX, you can immediately gather that the game is inspired by the Mega Man series. The name 20XX, the blue armour-clad protagonist sporting an arm buster, it’s all references to the Blue Bomber. Upon launching the game you even witness the camera pan up to the protagonist Nina standing atop a skyscraper, à la Mega Man 2. 20XX is a game that isn’t ashamed to bask in comparisons to the material that motivated its development, both in artistic design and gameplay. Despite being easily comparable to the Mega Man games (mainly the Mega Man X series), 20XX manages to provide its own unique gameplay tweaks and modes that expertly melds the fluid and frantic platforming of an action platformer with the roguelike staples of RNG, permadeath and procedural generation of levels.
In terms of story, 20XX is extremely paper thin. The game’s intro quickly introduces you to the two main protagonists, Nina, who heavily resembles X from the Mega Man X series, as well as Ace, a saber-wielding robot who looks similar in design to Zero from the Mega Man X games. They witness a city being destroyed by a malevolent group of robots, and are seemingly enlisted by two scientists by names of the Dr Sharp and Dr Flat, to help and destroy the enemies that have been wreaking havoc. The intro to the game is just over five seconds in length, so you aren’t really given much to work with in regard to understanding what exactly is going on. The five-second cutscene is confusing and rushed, falsely leading me to believe that this story would begin to form and take shape as I progressed further through the game, and sadly, no further story beats eventuated. Yes, it can be argued that you can read more about the enemies in the Datalore logs, but this information doesn’t drum up any interest when there is still no decent overarching narrative to be seen. Even an online search failed to deliver any narrative tidbits, instead leading me to find more people that were as dumbfounded as myself. 20XX doesn’t really have a story to tell, and in the few moments it tries to, it’s inherently confusing. Not all game’s need story presence, and thankfully the successes of 20XX’s gameplay means that the story can fall by the wayside.
The intro left me with plenty of questions and zero answers
20XX is an absolute joy to play. As either Nina or Ace, you traverse through various locales, taking out the robotic menaces at the conclusion of each level, taking loot in the form of the robots attack or a health, power or monetary boost, and progressing onwards to the next level. Nina’s method of attack is her trusty N-Buster, which fires ranged yellow pellets, while Ace is a close ranged fighter that has an armour-piercing saber. Both characters jump and dash around each course the same, but the differences in their attack styles set them apart from each other, offering varied experiences. Speaking of variance in experience, 20XX has plenty of variation between playthroughs.
All the levels in 20XX are procedurally generated, meaning there are new level designs, new upgrades and new enemy placements in each subsequent run. Levels sport the same overall motif, but there are differences in the layout of levels in each run, albeit very minute ones. The levels never feel that they change a great deal between runs, but they are differentiated just enough that they never feel too samey. This is a good thing, because you will be playing through the game’s ten levels plenty of times, because this game is truly challenging, even to the most confident players of the action-platformer genre. In 20XX, each playthrough is to be completed within a singular run. That’s right, permadeath in a platformer. Easy mode gives you three lives as opposed to one life in the normal and defiant difficulty modes, but after that, all level progression is wiped and you must start anew. I’d never thought that platforming and permadeath was a combination I wanted, but 20XX makes them a match made in heaven.
Level design varies between runs, but not as much as you may think
After returning to the HQ after meeting your demise in a run, you can use the soul chips you obtained throughout your previous escapade, to buy either upgrades that will appear in future runs, or permanent upgrades such as health and energy buffs that will slowly make the game a little bit easier. Soul chips must be spent after the run they were accrued in, otherwise they are destroyed, so purchasing the heftier priced upgrades may require you to make it a little further in a run. If permanent upgrades are purchased and you feel that they have made the experience a bit too easy, they can be toggled off. When in levels, upgrades can be found via exploration, often in challenge rooms that task you with short length challenges such as defeating a set of enemies in a certain time limit or fleeing a swarm of enemies to reach the end of a miniature self-contained stage. As previously mentioned, upgrades are also found at the completion of each boss fight. You are offered up the attack of the robot you’ve just destroyed, as well as other items such as nuts which can be used to purchase upgrades or health/energy boosts, and also a power up that is usually a power boost or health upgrade. The toss up and the end of each level as to what is the best thing to pick to suit your current run is always an interesting situation to be in, and I often never found myself constantly grabbing the same items. The upgrade system in 20XX allows for various gameplay approaches, and I believe it should be applauded for never gifting players to the point of making the game overly easy.
If you’re struggling, permanent upgrades are the key to success
On top of the main 20XX run mode, which can be played cooperatively both online and locally, you’ve also got access to a myriad of additional modes. You’ve got daily and weekly challenges that offer set level paths that are measured on the leaderboard, as well as daily and weekly hardcore challenges, which have three difficulty modifiers known as skulls attached to them to make the runs even more difficult. Skull modifiers can stop health and nuts from spawning, cause enemies to spawn in greater amounts and deal greater damage, they can even make levels longer. Hardcore mode is an interesting challenge, as the modifiers are particularly harsh and lead to extremely tough playthroughs. There’s also a boss rush mode in the form of Rush Job, where you fight against all the bosses in the game, collecting and purchasing upgrades after each fight before progressing through to the next. Skulls can be toggled on in this mode if you are after an additional challenge. Lastly we’ve got the Seed Racer mode, where you can generate your own seeded level, packed with as many or as little skull modifiers as you like. 20XX’s gameplay is undoubtedly brilliant, and the variety of modes and gameplay options means that there is always something new to try.
Playing through the game with a friend is a thoroughly engaging event
Despite the gameplay of 20XX being top notch, some other facets of the game aren’t as perfect. The game’s soundtrack for example, is good, but not particularly great. The Mega Man games overall had brilliant soundtracks, and despite 20XX managing to create music that felt reminiscent of Mega Man music, it never quite scaled to the heights I hoped it could. No doubt it would be hard to get close to the quality of the past Mega Man soundtracks, but no song in 20XX felt memorable or overly catchy. Another minor gripe I have with 20XX is the art style. Overall I don’t dislike the art design in 20XX, it just looks very simplistic and stale. The lack of detail in the environments are glaringly obvious, making the game almost resemble a flash game. That sounds really harsh and I don’t mean it to be, but in a climate where we get artistically beautiful action-platformers like Cuphead and Azure Striker Gunvolt, I do wish that 20XX was a tad more risqué in its artistic approach. But hey, it looks a hell of a lot better than Mighty Number 9 (it plays better too).
The main game doesn’t look amazing, but I do like the hand-drawn cutscenes
20XX is a magnificently constructed game that effortlessly meshes roguelike elements in a Mega Man X-esque action-platformer. The gameplay loop of making your way through levels and defeating bosses, whilst planning what to upgrade to suit the randomised items at your disposal is insanely addicting. The levels are fun to frantically and efficiently dash through, the bosses are enjoyable and not complete cakewalks, and the addition of permadeath and other roguelike elements is something I never knew I needed to have in a platformer. 20XX is a must play for fans of platformers and/or roguelikes, serving itself up as one of the most satisfying to control platformers of recent memory. Don’t disregard 20XX as simply a Mega Man clone, because it provides an enjoyably unique experience worthy of your time.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch | Review code supplied by publisher