20XX actually landed on PC last year, but like so many games that appear first on Steam, it got lost in the crowd of similarly-sized indie adventures. But the old saying rings true here: the cream rises to the top. After some success on PC, the game has subsequently landed on PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch, the latter being the platform upon which we've been playing the game on and off for the last couple of weeks.
The first thing to mention is the most obvious. 20XX is Mega Man X-inspired through and through, and if you're a fan of the blue-suited action hero then we can safely say that 20XX is going to be right up your street. Batterystaple Games has built this title with real reverence to the Capcom action-platformers, and there are lots of little touches that fans will appreciate.
The characters in 20XX - Nina and Ace - both come suited in metallic armour that has special abilities. Ace rocks a melee attack via his energy sword, and Nina has a power blaster that gives her a bit of range. The characters feel very different to play, with one forcing a more in-yer-face play-style while the other allows you to stand back a little and play more tactically.
20XX has a lot of roguelike elements including procedurally generated levels, but there's also a roguelite soft progression system which ensures that every attempt feeds into your overall experience. In a system not too dissimilar to the one used in the excellent Crypt of the Necrodancer, you earn soul chips that at the end of your play-through - when you're pushing up virtual daisies - you can spend on persistent unlocks that either transcend each new game you play or give you a boost for the next run. So while you have to start anew after every death (apart from when playing the reverent mode, which gives you three lives), there are things that carry over between lives.
You'll have to get good to start earning the chips you need, however, as it doesn't take long before the price of the unlocks rises above the number of chips you'll earn in a typical run. To make things a touch more challenging, you can't keep your chips and any you don't spend between runs are lost forever, meaning you can't save them up. 20XX is, like the games it's inspired by, oftentimes extremely punishing and you'll have to make peace with that if you're going to get the most out of it. We usually like the stern challenge offered by a roguelike, but perhaps here it's taken a touch too far.
Punishing difficulty isn't helped by the sometimes frustrating controls. Because there's no directional shooting it can be a challenge to line up your shots, and sometimes we'd ended up jumping into trouble as we searched for a line of fire. More than once we found the rigidity of the controls detrimental to our enjoyment. Similarly, just a touch more flexibility in terms of the way the characters move would've helped give the player more authorship over each battle, and given the severity of the punishments we missed having the option to do little things like crouch.
The procedural generation of the levels is a bit hit and miss. Certain stages do start feeling familiar over time and that's probably because here it feels like larger sections have been bolted together. At least, that's the sense that we got from playing. Normally you'd expect a roguelite like this to have more distinctive levels for each new run, but the upside of this less-granular procedural design is that you get more carefully authored scenarios. When it works it's fine, but there were times when we encountered excessively challenging sections that felt unfair.
The traversal is almost as challenging as the combat, and the platforming can be very precarious. 20XX rewards meticulous and measured play, and if you're a bit sloppy or prone to lapses of concentration (guilty as charged right here) then there will be times when you come unstuck as you explore. On top of moving platforms and the like, there are even things like player-seeking bombs that force you to scamper through the levels at speed, and when much of the traversal is vertical hopping, you can probably imagine just how many times you end up dropping a few floors.
Perhaps the best part of the whole game is the boss battles. They're well-designed encounters and not too punishing all things considered. In one example we had to dodge bullets as they sprayed forth from a giant skull while smaller minions attacked. We were hopping between platforms and slashing/firing away at our foes and having a jolly good time in the process. It certainly helps that while battling these bosses and various quirky creatures, the retro-style soundtrack bops along and helps keep you in the zone.
There are a few modes that certainly crank up the replay value. Daily and weekly challenges (both regular and hardcore) are there to give people frequent high-pressure distractions, and there's a boss-only mode if you want to brush up on your skills. However, if you'd like to take the pressure off a little you can go the other way and bring a friend along for the ride in the co-op (there's both online and local - although we didn't play too much because of issues with the joy-con controllers). There are also new characters yet to arrive in the game and set to be added at a future time, their cost absorbed into the initial price and therefore a free download at the point of release.
The sometimes punishing difficulty meant that we found 20XX a tough nut to crack. Those who enjoy carving a path through a challenging platformer will certainly find that here, but there are difficulty spikes due to the procedural generation that we found a little frustrating at times. The visuals are cute, the sound effects and music decent, and the world and enemy designs are certainly very evocative of the games they're inspired by, but a lot of people are going to struggle with the sternness of the challenge. 20XX is a decent roguelite and a fitting homage to Mega Man X, but it's not quite a classic in its own right.
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