Alongside other fans, I mourn the tragedy that is the “death” of the Mega Man franchise. Capcom never officially declared the franchise departed, but we know better. The company gave us Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10, but nothing “next gen” or in the very least, an addition to the franchise that could be interpreted as an evolution, such as the leap from Mega Man 6 to Mega Man 7 and then Mega Man 8, or how the Mega Man X series thrust the IP into hyperdrive. It is no insignificant event that Keiji Inafune abandoned Capcom to form his own company and begin a kickstarter for a game called Mighty No. 9, but it won’t arrive until 2016. Batterystaple Games has beaten Infune’s brainchild to the finish line with 20XX, and we at Geeks Under Grace have given it a test-drive.
20XX unashamedly borrows from Mega Man X to the point where I wonder how Batterystaple Games has been able to evade a “Cease and Desist” letter. Nina, the blue arm-cannon wielder and the beam sword-wielding Ace are essentially bootleg X (with a dash of Legends Mega Man) and Zero (with a hint of Protoman) in a roguelike environment.
What does a Mega Man clone fused with roguelike elements look like? Well, it involves procedurally generated stages cycling between jungle, tundra, skyfortress, and factory scenes. The first generation is always random, but after completion, players are given the choice between three different bosses awaiting in three stages that are not always completely different themselves. There are only two constants in 20XX: if players beat a stage in a par time displayed on the top left of the screen, they are awarded two random, low-tier upgrades instead of one; also, bosses always drop the same kind of weapon upgrade, though players have the option of taking it or 10 nuts (the currency of the game), or a health upgrade. For beating a stage and making par time, one can count on three post-boss items.
But before given those options, players must run a gauntlet of a stage that increases in difficulty level with each subsequent boss defeat. If, for example, one encounters the skyfortress as the first stage on a run, by the time it is encountered again after defeating four bosses, the enemy density has increased as well as the hazards and the damage these things can inflict. Damage sustained is a big deal; health does not regenerate between stages, but must be found, and it is rare. Should Nina or Ace die, the game ends, and all powers accumulated during a run are lost. However, players can then respawn and spend “soul nuts” that have been collected in order to unlock new items that can be found in subsequent runs–this is the classic play-more-and-it-gets-better mechanic of a roguelike.
20XX looks like Mega Man, and also impressively feels like Mega Man with its tight controls, but there are some rough edges that I would like to see get smoothed as Batterystaple Games’ project transitions from Early Access to full release. Nina and Ace only have two “alternate” main weapons, and one for each is ridiculously rare. Ace’s range-reducing, but theoretically more powerful, multi-slash feels more like a nerf than a buff. Thematically, the differences between Nina and Ace are limited to gun vs “knife”; in arguably my favorite MMX game, MMX4 (You can’t make me pick just ONE, okay!), X reflects the classic Mega Man character with special powers based upon defeated enemies manifesting themselves as projectiles, in addition to my favorite feature of MMX, hidden upgrades; Zero, on the other hand, gains Street Fighter-style powers, including a “Dragon Punch”-style flame sword, an ice stalactite “spike” move, or a somersault slash. Ace gains none of these things, and his powers beyond his basic attacks are identical to Nina’s. I would like to see more variance.
Another flaw to 20XX is its randomization algorithm. I have unlocked many things after several deaths, but I encounter the same upgrades over and over in a single run. To play with the more fun stuff that requires large sums of soul nuts, I have to start a “casual” run and select three of my powerups as defaults. It is one thing to be difficult, and normal mode is no more challenging than casual besides gaining three powerups to start; if I don’t care about leaderboards and just want to enjoy the game, why would I ever select a mode beyond casual? “Skulls” add objectives to runs, but I would currently not bother to attempt them until I felt confident that good powerups would spawn.
20XX also features local co-op, though I have not had the opportunity to try it. No worries; the game gives me a warning that it might break if I had anyway.
Overall, I think 20XX has the potential to be an adequate proxy for a licensed Mega Man game. We shall see in the near future if it will be remembered as flattery or artifice.
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