Into The Spine Of: 20XX

More than just a doppelganger.

There’s no mincing words here: 20XX is an unabashed Mega Man X clone. This indie title feels just a lot like the classic series, and it’s not trying to hide its inspiration. But in a world where it’s been over a decade since the last Mega Man X title and only a collection of the older games to look forward to, 20XX can be a very welcome addition to any series fan’s collection… especially with its unique mechanics that help keep the game fresh.

20XX isn’t a straight action platformer like the Mega Man titles the game apes off of. Instead, this indie title adds some roguelike flavor to its take on the Blue Bomber’s adventures. Players have only one life (or three on the game’s easy mode) to get through eight stages of increasing difficulty, but there’s a catch: each time the level order, layout, and bosses to fight change. Memorizing levels will get you nowhere here. In order to fight your way through them, you’ll need a little bit of luck in getting a good set up, and a lot of skill to get to the end.

The randomized nature of each 20XX run leads to some interesting strategic choices, as well as some frustrations. At the end of each stage, you’ll get to choose one of three stages and bosses to tackle next. But don’t let the choice fool you… you will eventually have to beat every boss you see pop up. However, as you get farther in your run levels will become longer and harder, and bosses will get new tricks that make them much more difficult.

So, you have to decide what’s best for your playthrough and playstyle, which bosses are better to tackle and at what times. For example, I find the Astral Twins easy to tackle in the earlier stages, and their skill is great throughout the whole game, so I try to take them out as soon as possible. When I tried to defeat them during the latter half of the run, they gained a number of new skills… and my run ended right then and there.

On the other hand, there are some stages I found harder to get through than others. Dealing with enemies and environmental hazards of the fire stage proved to be more difficult than the slippery platforms of the ice stage, but I generally found the bosses of the fire stage easier to handle later on (with the exception of the aforementioned Astral Twins) than the ice stage. So, I always had to come to a decision: Tackle a harder stage with an easier boss, or deal with the more difficult fight late in the run?

I honestly love that 20XX makes me think about these things, and the answer doesn’t depend solely on a boss’ weaknesses, but also on your playstyle and skillset. I personally prefer playing as Ace, essentially the Zero rip-off of the game that uses sword and other closer range weapons. Since I use him more often, that means I am more worried about enemies that can snipe me from afar and are able to dodge as compared to someone who plays as Nina, who has the more traditional blaster weapon. I can do far more damage in a hit with Ace, but that doesn’t make a difference if I can’t hit the enemy in the first place. This makes certain bosses way more difficult, and if I don’t knock them out as soon as I can, I could jeopardize my entire run.

Once you die in 20XX, that’s it. That’s the end of the run. You’re returned to the main hub of the game with nothing but your Soul Chips, a relatively rare currency that you can gain by defeating certain enemies and completing stages. These can be spent on permanent upgrades that will help you on every run thereafter, new items that will begin spawning, or even items to just take with you. It helps to even the playing field a bit too, as the permanent upgrades and new items will definitely help with players getting farther and farther with each run. Additionally, it provides a sense of progression, in spite of constant deaths and failure.

If playing randomized runs begins to get old, there’s more to do in 20XX, as well. You can try daily and weekly runs to get on leaderboards, as well as a boss rush mode and even the ability to insert a seed code to try out a certain set of levels. Perhaps you get a seed with a set of levels your friend ran through and you want to see if you can do better? You can do so with a seed run.

There’s also the option to play co-op with another friend, but unfortunately I did not get the chance to test this out. Given how difficult later stage get I imagine co-op gets super hectic… I’m not even sure if it would be recommended for those that want to finish their runs. But, the option is there, and it’s sure to present some interesting scenarios.

While I do find 20XX a lot of fun mechanically, it’s not a perfect game by any means. For one, the art style is really bad, and it can do a lot to repel potential buyers with its poor menu icon and general amateur Flash game looks. 20XX plays well and deserves that chance, but first impressions matter and this title does not give a good one.

The other major issue I have is likely exclusive to the Switch version. There’s only limited options to change around controls, and that has hindered my game a bit. Dashing is relegated to the R button… being used to pressing the bigger ZR button for most games, I was hoping to be able to switch the buttons around, but that wasn’t the case. I could only either relegating the dash to either the Y button (making jumping, dashing, and shooting at the same time nigh impossible), or to double tap a direction (always a poor idea).

This leads to an inconvenience with the Pro Controller I eventually got over, but with the Joy-Cons and its smaller buttons I had a lot of trouble hitting the smaller button. I’m not sure why the ability to change control schemes around as needed isn’t available, but it’s sorely missed.

All in all, 20XX is a game worth your time, in spite of its off-putting art style and other minor issues. It’s a great action platformer that replicates the Mega Man X games well, and keeps itself fresh with the ever-changing levels. Give this game a bit of your time and money, you won’t regret it.

A copy of 20xx for Switch was provided by Stride PR on behalf of the developers. Make sure to visit the official site for more information.

By Elizabeth Henges

I'm actually an accountant, but I like being a multifaceted nerd. I enjoy writing about nearly anything, but I'm partial to video games, cats, and trying to find neat little doodads.

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