STAFF REVIEW of 20XX (Xbox One)

Tuesday, August 14, 2018.
by Royce Dean

20XX Box art 30 is a weird age. For those younger than me, 30 is the number that starts to signify the slow and inevitable decline into a life filled with bran flakes, prune juice and shuffleboard. For those that are older, 30 is still the spry young whipper-snapper that they aren’t and wish that they still were. I’m not complaining really, but it’s awkward sitting at either table knowing that to the people present I’m either trying to be a “fellow kid” or not a “real adult”. What I can say for certain about 30 is that it’s a near prime age to be one that has grown up in the golden age of gaming. Sure, I missed out on Pong, Atari, Coleco and the great E.T. crash that forced nerds to band together in abandoned computer parts warehouses; eating their weakest for sustenance until everything blew over... but that's fine. What I did get was the NES and everything beyond.

While iconic games, and the figureheads that occupy them, continue to be born to this day, the NES was very much the cradle of life as we know it; the golden goddess on a cloud telling us we’ll receive her blessing if we promise never to go outside or touch another living being. During that era we were met with faces that continue to be relevant in popular culture like Mario, Link, Samus, Simon Belmont and of course, Megaman. These characters and games raised an entire generation and stoked the flames of passion along the way, inspiring those who became the adults they would become to throw themselves at the gaming industry, like mosquitoes to a man that chose the wrong week to go camping.

So, much are these games beloved that, when the holders of these properties sit on them too long, smaller independent developers make games to honor their fallen heroes. The most recent in line to uphold the legacy of the blue bomber is 20XX, which takes place in the year 20XX or something.

Megaman is a name that most gamers will have, at the very least, heard of before. Typically, when it comes to Megaman there are two camps. You’ve either dabbled but overall have indifferent feelings towards it, or everything you own is blue and you’ve named your first child “Protoman”. Megaman has a crazy loyal following filled with such crazy loyal fans that they declared actual war with Capcom after they stopped making the games for a time. From the vacancy came games intended to fill the role Megaman had held, most notably was Mighty No.9; a game developed by the original creator of Megaman. It flopped. People were sad. Shakespeare returned from the grave and wrote a tragedy about it. Don’t look that up. But then others took up the mantle and we ended up with 20XX, a game that looks, feels and plays exactly like an old Megaman game on a SNES would. There are loads of worlds, bosses, power-ups... and its crazy hard.

When a game that wants to pay homage to another, and does so in its purest form, you get an experience that takes you back to playing games in a that era. That sounds appealing on paper, but it can be divisive for a number of reasons. Firstly, games made during gaming's infancy were restricted by tech, and had technology been better, we wouldn’t have had the physical limitations you commonly see in older games versus their newer counterparts. To put it plainly, games get better over time for a reason. Second, the further back you go, the more players you’ll alienate having never played the original. What this really boils down to is a game that was made by people who liked a game, for others that liked that same game (a.k.a. a very specific nostalgic crowd). Of course I just said it; homage games are made for the people that like that game! What’s the problem? The problem is that despite my long history of gaming, my enormous laundry list of titles tackled, my surprisingly burly thumbs... I’ve never played a Megaman game. 20XX has been a hard pill for me to swallow.

Megaman was one of the first action platformers, and 20XX faithfully recreates that experience right down to your inability to aim your shots in any direction that isn't forward. Crouching isn't an option either. Instead, success hinges on your ability to move, jump and position your character masterfully around oncoming threats and projectiles. Levels feature a slew of various enemy robotic creatures and tricky platforms to navigate. And, just like you'd expect to see in a Megaman title, defeating powerful enemies and bosses grants you a boon in the form of new weapons and power-ups which are nothing but pure fun to play with. Unlike that which 20XX is based off of, up to three power-up items can be held at a time. These power-ups range in effect from increasing your total maximum health during play to increasing the damage output of your basic attacks. Power-ups you pick up are only good until you're all out of health, because when you die it's game over man. Time to start from the beginning again.

Something that does stick around after a tragic run killer is currency. 20XX features a small hub-world where you can mull around and access the rest of the game's content. Currency you earn while playing is vital in making your life easier as you play again and again. With it you can buy permanent upgrades to your attributes like health and damage, or pick up blueprints to build a companion robot that will drop in from time to time and throw you some goodies. This currency can be used to buy temporary power-ups, the same you'd find by playing, to start your journey off more smoothly. Additionally, and most interestingly, 20XX offers you two ways to play in the form of its two playable characters. Nina is your long Ranged character preferring distance over anything else, and Ace is the user of an energy sword that fares best when up close and personal. Other characters have been made available for DLC, but these are the two you get with the base game. As you can imagine, who you choose greatly alters how you go about completing the challenges you face.

Beyond the standard adventure mode, there are a number of challenge modes to put your mettle to the test against. Two of these modes are challenges that are commonly seen in games these days and need little explanation; Boss Rush mode and a Speed Run mode. Speed Run modes are as classic as games themselves and finds itself quite comfortable within the walls of 20XX. Boss Rush, a more recent addition to the halls of gaming, has you Battle the games bosses in a back-to-back-to-back fashion until either you're dead, or they are.

Four other challenge modes are available and rank you based on score, with two having daily leaderboards, and the other two weekly leaderboards. Both the daily and weekly varieties of this score based gameplay have “hardcore” modes for the bold. In hardcore, the regular gameplay is made more challenging with the application of affixes. These affixes change from day to day (or week to week), changing how you approach the day’s (or week’s) challenge. Health numbers, damage numbers, and volume of baddies all have a chance of being manipulated via these affixes, so players beware.

I'm a man of artistic appreciation. This is the section that most games get points from me, and 20XX is no different. While 20XX isn't going to blow the minds of anyone playing with its visual fidelity, it has a good look and it sticks to it. In many cases, simple art styles are best because they don't cloud up the screen with unneeded visual noise, which in turn lends itself to a better play experience. As you would imagine, like all of the other elements of 20XX, lines of similarity can drawn between what you see here and a Megaman title. Edges are crisp, colours are bright, and the character design is great.

20XX’s pace is upheld by it's punchy music, and though it's great to hum along to while playing, I find I cannot recall a single note of its tunes outside of the game. To call the music unmemorable would be unfair, but the number of action platformers that subscribe to the electro-rock genre is numerous, so over time they've all blurred together. My only wish is that the main protagonists looked a little less exactly like Megaman and Zero, but I suppose that’s the point of 20XX to begin with.

Despite my sounding somewhat negative, 20XX is actually a very good game built upon a solid and well tested foundation. Most of my grievances come from a personal place made of emotion and lack of experience with the source material. Still, there is the part of me that struggles to see a need for games that intentionally limit themselves to a set of old rules that no longer exist. 20XX is a game, more than most, with a clear audience in mind and flaunts that with no shame. We also live in an age where difficult by design games are making a resurgence, so perhaps there is a chance that 20XX will open the hearts and minds of a new generation of young gamers. What kind of young gamers you ask? Well, gamers who will look at all kinds of games, not just the AAA, and say yeah “I'm going to totally beg my parents for that until they are fed up with me and cave because I've been an annoying little twerp for the past month”. Just like I was all those twenty-some-odd years ago. Sorry Mom. Sorry Dad. Okay... maybe I'm not that sorry.

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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