20XX for the PS4, developed by Batterystaple Games and Fire Hose Games, is a throwback to the Mega Man X series of games, with a roguelike twist. The game is dripping with a 16-bit era feel, but with so many more bits!
Gameplay is a series of “runs”, each run consisting of 8 procedurally-generated levels that end with a robot boss. Some levels feature multiple quirks, such as ice platforms, or magnetic panels that cause your character to walk on the ceiling. Each level also contains optional paths that are typically more hazardous, but which provide additional goodies for the player, such as new power-ups (called “Augs”) or nuts (currency that can be spent during a run).
You can play as one of two characters: Nina (the blue Mega Man surrogate) whose basic attack is a ranged blaster, or Ace (the red Zero clone) who focuses on melee attacks. While both characters have unique upgrades to their basic weapons, they share every other aug.
One of the exciting features of 20XX is the inclusion of both local and online multiplayer, where as each player takes control of one of the characters. So if you ever wanted to be a jump-n-shootin’ man with your buddy, now is your chance!
The controls are responsive, and the action moves quickly. You’ll run, jump, shoot, and dash through the levels. One interesting note is that falling into a pit doesn’t result in a Game Over screen, as your character will simply reappear at the last stable platform with one point of health removed. Once you realize that the punishment for falling down a pit is minimal, you’ll be burning through the levels at a breakneck speed. To further reinforce the quick pace of the game, each level features a timer. If you finish the boss before the timer expires, you unlock some additional loot at the end of the stage. Being able to quickly navigate a stage with several minutes of time left feels simply amazing (and looks cool to boot!).
The end of each level features a boss fight. The order in which you fight the bosses is mostly randomized. You start a run in a random level, and once you defeat the boss in that level, you’ll be presented with three more bosses (randomly selected from the pool of those remaining), allowing you to pick whom you go after next. Once all eight are defeated, you’ll be presented with another area, which we’ll avoid discussing here for spoiler reasons.
A unique aspect of the boss fights is how they progress in difficulty. Since you can potentially fight any boss in any order, they scale in difficulty depending on how many other bosses you have already defeated. This usually means more health in the later parts of the game, but the bosses can also be more aggressive at this point. It was actually pretty neat to see how a boss faired when fighting it first, versus fighting it as the 8th boss.
Defeating a boss rewards you with the opportunity to claim their weapon, but you can pass it up in place of some extra nuts or another aug. As you would expect from a game emulating the MMX series, each boss has a weakness to a weapon from another boss. The exact result of the weakness varies a bit from taking more damage to suffering some status effect, such as freezing the boss in place for a moment. The bosses are fun, and each have their own gimmick. However, once you’ve learned their attack pattern, they’ll rarely be a major danger. I eventually stopped picking up the weapons from the bosses, as the basic attacks were more than sufficient on the normal difficulty.
The game is a roguelike, so death means you lose everything…sorta. “Soul Chips” are another currency available in each run that can only be spent back at the Ark, which is the main hub you’ll enter between runs. Soul chips allow you to permanently unlock new Augs that will become available during future runs. The soul chips act as the main progression system in the game, making you potentially more powerful by providing you with more Augs to find in each run.
Soul chips may also be used to purchase items for your next run, such as starting Augs, or some tokens that can be used at slot machines that may randomly appear in a level. Unused Soul Chips are lost at the start of a new run, so you may as well spend them.
The soul chips, and their associated perks, are the driving factor of replays: dying simply means you get to spend your soul chips on some new goodies, and try again! Rinse, die, and repeat!
The narrative in 20XX could be described as “minimal” at best. The occasional, short cutscene hints at the protagonists being in a lab, with each run through the game portrayed as an experiment that is monitored and commented on by the researchers there. Cutscenes are shown to the player at certain milestones, such as defeating X number of bosses in a single run. While cute at times, there really isn’t much here in terms of story. Then again, maybe that’s a good thing, as the lack of a heavy narrative means you’ll be jumping right back into the fray without scrolling through bland dialog (looking at you, later entries in the MMX series).
The visuals in 20XX are a joy to behold. Animations are fluid, and the sprites are bold and beautiful. I was initially disappointed at the lack of a more pixelated style for a true 16-bit era feel, but quickly got over myself. Most of the visuals are sprite-based, but some objects, such as Nina’s shots or pit hazards, have a distinct bloom effect that emits a harsh light. My one grievance with the visuals is that the bloom is too intense at times, which I found to be rather distracting, and hard to look at.
The music is fun and reminiscent of the 16-bit era (are you tired of me saying this yet?) . The soundtrack is comprised of mostly chiptune. While enjoyable, I can’t really recall any of the tracks off the top of my head: it’s possible that they are randomized per stage, or maybe I just didn’t notice. Regardless, when I was paying attention, it certainly did enhance the gameplay. The sound effects (charging your attacks, hitting enemies, etc) were distinct and felt right. The sound design for 20XX as a whole plays well with the rest of the experience.
Overall, 20XX offers a fun platforming experience with enough randomness to keep from getting stale. Being able to continuously unlock new Augs, and the quick nature of the game, left me saying “alright, just onnnnne more run” way too many times.