Tuesday, July 10, 2018

20XX Review (XONE)

20XX is a procedurally generated Mega Man X clone that promises infinite possibilities of 2D platforming and shooting lemons the likes of which we haven’t seen in quite a while. With great visuals, a fantastic soundtrack, and excellent feeling gameplay, your first few hours with 20XX are absolutely wonderful. After a couple of hours, however, you start noticing a lack of variety in the stages and your feeling of progression hits a brick wall and the game just isn't quite as enthralling anymore. 20XX comes "this" close to being spectacular, but unfortunately falls just a bit short. See our full 20XX Xbox One review for all of the details.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Batterystaple Games
  • Developer: Fire Hose Games
  • ESRB Rating: "E10" for Everyone 10+
  • Genre: Platformer
  • Pros: Great feeling gameplay; awesome music; co-op
  • Cons: Progression plateaus after a while; not enough variety
  • MSRP: $18
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20XX is an indie Mega Man X clone with a few tricks up its sleeve to make it unique. You select a character - one that shoots projectiles, one that uses a sword (and there is a third that unlocks when you beat the game) - and then proceed through 2D platforming levels where you fight a boss at the end and can then take the boss' power to use yourself. You can dash and dash jump and cling to walls, just like in the Mega Man X series. The gameplay feels very precise and is intuitive and is just incredibly well done. You can also play co-op, which changes up the genre even more.

It's not "just" a Mega Man X clone, of course. The biggest, and most obvious, things that makes it unique is that the levels are procedurally generated and the game is also a rogue-lite. What the heck does all that mean? Procedural generation means that the levels are randomly put together so that they are different every time you start a new run through the game. Rogue-lite means that the game features permadeth - when you die during a run you lose all of your collected power-ups and boss abilities -, but you also can earn some permanent upgrades that carry over from run to run. Every run is different not just in terms of the levels you play, but also the upgrades you pick up along the way (you don't actually have to take a boss weapon if you don't want it) so every run really is truly unique.

The idea is that you play the game over and over again, getting a little further (hopefully) each time, and then spending the currency you collect to buy upgrades - either one time use for the next run or ones that are permanent - in order to make the next run easier. This gives the game a very, very addictive "one more run" feel as you do a little better each time so you want to keep going and going. The game also has a fairly satisfying difficulty curve as the levels ramp up in difficulty as you get deeper into a run and the bosses change depending on when you face them.

Unfortunately, the honeymoon period doesn't last very long. The procedurally generated stages start to feel pretty familiar after a while because there are only a handful of themes (basically just palate swaps of the same stuff) and only a few real obstacle types. You start seeing the same types of platforming sections over and over and over again and it starts to feel a little old. Yes, a procedurally generated game can actually lack variety. I was shocked too.

The other problem is that the sense of progression kind of peters out after a while. In a bit of an odd move, your in-game currency only counts for one run, so you can't save it up to buy more upgrades down the road. You reach a point fairly quickly where the next set of permanent upgrades cost way more than you earn on a given run, so you end up feeling sort of trapped in a rut. The answer to this is to get better at the game and go further and earn more currency, but dang does 20XX get HARD in the latter half. After a while I stopped making forward progress through the levels and also stopped earning new upgrades, so my burning desire for "one more run" turned pretty lukewarm.

The result is that while 20XX plays amazingly well and feels great, there's not enough meat to keep you coming back despite the promise of procedural generation and infinite levels. The idea was that instead of memorizing levels and enemy patterns like a typical Mega Man game you would instead learn the core mechanics and be able to apply them to any situation. It turns out, however, that this ultimately just isn't as satisfying as playing through the games the old fashioned way and having repeatable levels you can learn and a predictable upgrade loadout is actually more replayable than a game with "infinite" possibilities.

The presentation in 20XX is fantastic all around with great looking visuals and a ridiculously great soundtrack. Honestly, it was the music that sold me on wanting to play the game in the first place, and I wasn't disappointed there.

In the end, 20XX is an ambitious fresh take on the Mega Man formula that plays absolutely fantastically, but it doesn’t quite have the legs to keep you hooked long term. With that said, it is still a very solid game that is worth playing for 2D platformer fans and Mega Man fans in particular and you'll easily get your $18 worth even if it does burn out more quickly than you'd like.
Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.