Although Mega Man proper has a comeback primed for later this year, Mega Man X remains buried in the scrapheap. Fans have gone 14 years without a proper entry and can only relive old memories through HD re-releases. 20XX addresses the severe lack of maverick hunting by replicating the formula wholesale. On the gameplay end, it captures the feel of the X series through and through. Additionally, a focus on run-based progression and randomized level design add intriguing wrinkles that mesh well with the classic blueprint.
Nina and Ace act as 20XX’s versions of X and Zero. Both robotic heroes are fun to use, although Ace’s sword attacks lack the indescribable punch that makes Zero’s strikes so satisfying. Smooth, fast-paced gameplay is Mega Man X’s biggest calling card, and I was pleasantly surprised that 20XX felt identical to its Capcom counterpart. I wall-jumped and air-dashed with ease thanks to the well-tuned controls that mirrored the signature feel of its inspiration.
20XX’s more linear, run-based nature eschews the classic formula of choosing levels freely. Like all roguelike games, the objective is to complete every level using a single life. Death sends players back to HQ and the game begins anew. However, players can spend currency earned during runs to purchase permanent upgrades and unlock new items to find during future playthroughs. Helpful upgrades such as a 4-way buster cannon shot and assist drones added entertaining layers of depth to running and gunning. Frequent money drops ensured that I always felt like I was earning new stuff and improving my odds on the next go-around.
I have lukewarm feelings for roguelikes but this approach proved to be more fun than I expected. Besides simply playing well, part of the success stems from the shorter level design. Stages can be completed in under a minute or two, so running through them repeatedly rarely feels like a hassle. I still grew weary of blasting through the entire game several times in a row, but that fatigue rarely lasted long. The nostalgic pleasure of hopping around and blowing up robots kept my trigger finger itchy.
Stages boast plenty of obstacles and challenges despite their brevity. Unlike Mega Man, 20XX features a linear difficulty curve, meaning levels become tougher as the player progresses. I ate it more often than I care to admit. Even still, the challenge felt fair, especially as I gradually acquired permanent enhancements and discovered boss weaknesses.
20XX’s procedurally generated levels offer benefits and drawbacks. One one hand, the changing layouts helps keep stages fresh– an important perk given how many times players could potentially see them. On the other, stages lose the sense of identity that makes many of the Blue Bomber’s zones memorable. This also eliminates the need for memorization that Mega Man levels tend to require. I’ve never minded having to study a stage but I liked having to think on my feet at all times. Unfortunately, the randomization wasn’t perfect. 20XX sometimes spat out nonsensical dead ends that served no purpose.
The more things change, though, the more they stay the same. Players still collect pieces of armor that grant bonus effects, including hover boots and multi-dashing. The solidly designed boss encounters retain the rock/paper/scissors vulnerabilities (albeit less obvious ones) from other boss attacks. The catchy chiptune soundtrack evokes classic Capcom. I wish that 20XX doubled down on that nostalgia by having a more authentic, 16-bit aesthetic. The smooth, Flash-esque sprites give the game a low-rent feel and look bland overall. I could have also gone for some semblance of a plot to rope me in the way Mega Man X’s extensive mythos does. The only hints of narrative occur during crude, brief animations that add nothing to the experience.
Other diversions include daily and weekly challenges, boss rush, and speed run modes. Nearly all of these send players through the same general campaign albeit with varying difficulties or conditions. The lack of significant differences kills the allure to spend any significant time with these modes. A co-op mode simply drops a second player into the existing campaign. Not much changes beyond that, but co-op offers a fun time of action-platforming goodness alongside a buddy.
20XX feels like the discounted bagged counterparts to mainstream cereal. Despite a cheaper-looking exterior, the content’s flavor and overall quality hit the mark closer than expected. Roguelikes can be hit or miss for me but blending it with one of my favorite formulas made for a far more entertaining take on the template. I still wouldn’t choose 20XX over Mega Man X if both were put in front of me, but it provides a satisfying holdover until Capcom decides to pull X and the gang out of the mothballs.
A PlayStation 4 review copy of 20XX was provided by Batterystaple Games for the purpose of this review.