20XX Hands-On Preview: A Mega Man Game Minus Mega Man

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Let me paint you a picture of two different titles.

When I hear the title Echoes of Eridu, I’m reminded of the late 80s/early 90s and the, let’s say less enlightened, state of sci-fi/fantasy paperbacks. You know the ones. The women have hair teased out in every direction and, whether the setting of the story is outer space or the English countryside, they’re dressed in skintight spandex bodysuits. If we’re lucky, there might be a unicorn or a spaceship to spice up the scene.

Echoes of Eridu was never a sci-fi/fantasy story from my childhood years. It’s actually an in-progress video game that’s now known as 20XX.

20XX should also evoke feelings of the late 80s/early 90s, but for a slightly different reason. According to Capcom, every game in the Mega Man X franchise takes place in the year “20XX,” so any game that carries that title instantly makes me think of side-scrolling platformers, arm cannons, laser swords, robotic baddies, and spikes… so many spikes. Batterystaple Games’ 20XX delivers all of those things and much more. Changing the name of their in-progress platformer was just one of the many great decisions they’ve made so far.

Platforms: PC
Publisher: Batterystaple Games
Developer: Batterystaple Games
Genre: Mega Man-Style Platformer… Minus Mega Man
Release Date: Late Summer 2015
ESRB Rating: Rating Pending

20XX takes place in the far-flung future of 2090 (wait a minute…) on an Earth that has been ravaged by a robot uprising. Or rather, on an Earth that has fallen victim to an “efficiency AI” created by a futuristic retailer. Like Skynet, the artificial brain in charge decided that a more efficient future could be created after the total extinction of the human race. Thankfully, a few people managed to survive, and now, two of those souls have volunteered to receive cybernetic implants to battle the remaining robots. So yeah, not too far off from the Mega Man of old.

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Nina, the blue cyborg, has an arm cannon that she can charge up to unleash a robot-busting wave of energy. Ace, the red cyborg, wields a laser sword to cut down enemy robots up close. Both characters can also dash and wall jump. Playing through the PAX East demo, I was treated to a variety of themed levels, including a “volcanic transmission center” (the fire level), an “arctic data center” (the ice level), and a “botanical research station” (the plant level). All of these similarities should no doubt make every Mega Man X veteran feel right at home. But aside from a comparable premise and near-identical gameplay mechanics, the two games are just as different as they are alike.

Instead of employing purpose-built levels, 20XX is using a roguelike approach for its world-building. Levels are procedurally generated using a random assortment of pre-made chunks that whiplash between precision platforming and enemy-heavy shootouts. While the levels themselves are randomly put together, they never feel haphazardly designed, and every chunk flows logically into the next. You can’t see the seams at all. This whole-level approach to the game’s design does wonders for the included co-op mode. Yes, if you’ve ever wanted to play through Mega Man X with a friend by your side, 20XX gives you that chance. But rather than force players to exist in the same piece of screen real estate, 20XX uses a specialized 3D engine that allows the camera to zoom way out when the players get separated. This means that a more experienced player can pave the way for a newbie, and it also eliminates the automatic death that usually happens if one player gets too far ahead of the other. And from a purely visual standpoint, it’s a ridiculously impressive effect. Seeing the whole level spread out before you is seriously cool.

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Part of the reason why this effect is so great is because of the amazing art style Batterystaple has applied to 20XX. From the enemies to the environments to the main characters themselves, the design ethos of Mega Man X will be screaming at you from every corner. But rather than feel like an Asylum-like knockoff of the real thing, 20XX feels like… well, 20XX. The art style includes a lot of bright colors and solid lines, so 20XX looks like Mega Man X filtered through the high definition sensibilities of game design in the 2010s. While 20XX looks and feels like Mega Man, Batterystaple has added their own touches in wherever it can. For example, the iconic disappearing/reappearing platforms fade in while also changing shape when going through their reappearing cycle. And magnetic platforms allow players to take an upside-down route throughout the levels at times. They’re little changes, but they make 20XX stand out on its own.

The massive amount of special weapons and powerups also make 20XX feel a bit different from Mega Man. Sure, at one point I was surrounding myself with a Leaf Shield while shooting Metal Blades, but many of the weapons are original, including a large boomerang and a slow-moving (but powerful) bullet that takes up a quarter of the screen. And rather than carrying every weapon the game offers (which would be impossible as there are over 100), players can swap out special weapons at a safe house between levels. Players can also use the safe house to switch between Nina and Ace if they’re looking for a new challenge.

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And speaking of new challenges, 20XX’s Skull System will definitely change the way you look at Mega Man-style platformers. Skulls can be used to make the game considerably harder by in dozens of different ways. For example, one Skull adds more enemies to the screen while another makes those enemies harder to kill. If procedurally generated levels weren’t enough to make the game feel different every time, the Skull System takes it to a whole new level.

While it might seem that 20XX doesn’t stray very far from the Mega Man series, it still feels unique as it’s been so long since the world has seen a new Mega Man game. Mega Man 10 was released in 2010, but the Mega Man X series has laid dormant for over a decade (Mega Man X8 debuted in 2004). But even without Capcom’s blessing, 20XX is still a great Mega Man game. And if Capcom won’t (or can’t) give us a sequel starring the Blue Bomber, I’m glad there’s someone out there who will. Between 20XX and Mighty No. 9, 2015 is definitely shaping up to be “The Year of Mega Man,” even if we have to subtract out Mega Man to get it.

20XX is currently available through Steam’s Early Access program and Batterystaple plans to release the final version of the game in late Summer. After that, programmer Chris King told me they’d also like to bring the game to “any console that’ll have us,” so that’s something else to look forward to.

After playing 20XX, we spent a lot of time talking to Chris King about the game. Read the full interview here.

This entry was posted in PC, Previews, Top Story and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.
John Scalzo is Warp Zoned's Editor-In-Chief and resident retro gaming expert. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at john AT warpzoned DOT com.

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