There’s nothing quite like Mega Man X… Except 20xx, which takes the Mega Man X formula and dials it up a notch.
Lately I’ve been waist-deep in The Talos Principle, a first-person puzzle game with a philosophical narrative about AI and humanity. I really enjoy it, and I’ll talk about it on Sunday; today’s Casual Friday, so let’s make with the light and breezy good feelings, eh?
I’m a Mega Man fan. Ever since renting Mega Man X from Video Outlet for the Super Nintendo back in the 90s ($2 for 5 days, too good to be true), I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for the technical prowess, fun, and stylistic edge X brought to the Mega Man franchise. Now, with Kenji Infune departed from Capcom and Mega’s future all but sealed, we have to search for other titles to scratch our Blue Bomber itch. Admittedly, most of the hype and attention’s gone to Mighty No. 9, the game created by Inafune and Comcept USA, a title (and company) which has caught some hot water from the press.
We’re not talking about them today.
I generally don’t buy titles in Steam Early Access. I don’t have any sort of grievance against buying games that aren’t finished yet, I just have so many titles in my backlog that I make it a personal preference to only purchase games that are finished. But when Cory Galliher, a fellow writer over at Popzara.com, told me about this game he’d recently played for review, I checked out the gameplay video on Steam. The rest was history.
As a game developer, you can’t completely steer your franchise based on the whims of the fans, I understand that. Still, Capcom’s recent history with Mega Man places them squarely near the top of my “Top 5 Game Companies That I Have No Idea How They Continue to Survive” list. They just might be on the top of that list. Time after time, Capcom passed on great opportunities to make memorable, innovative titles out of the Mega Man franchise, and it’s not as if there were a shortage of good ideas out there. Come on, the Mega Man Battle Network franchise was about an entire society using avatars in an internet world to live and fight virtual enemies and spawned 5 DIRECT SEQUELS AND A SPINOFF FRANCHISE; how the hell did that not become an MMO on the Gamecube once its Network Adaptor became a thing? Mega Man X was lauded when it came out for its deeper story and style; why don’t we have any Mega Man X games that really leverage the darker tone of the Reploid world and tell a decent story? (Don’t talk to me about Mega Man X: Command Mission, the RPG released for PS2, Gamecube, and XBox; I enjoy playing the game, but not dealing with its story.) Fans were asking for these things, but Capcom seemed to give zero damns.
Battery Staples Games created 20xx, the title of which is a reference to the year in which Mega Man X takes place. It’s not a thought-provoking RPG or an MMO, but damn does it deliver on what fans crave from Mega Man titles. Playing as Nina, the blue robot with the arm cannon, or Ace, the red robot with the beam sword, is satisfying with every dash jump and charged shot. It makes no mystery of how much it borrows from the reference franchise; with controls, enemies, and music that feels easily like a SNES Mega Man spin-off, the game simply FEELS right. Meta references abound, from the difficult setting called “Rock” that kills you when you touch spikes (Mega Man’s name in Japan is “Rockman”) to the currency used to purchase items, “nuts,” (the analog to Megaman and Bass‘ bolts), it’s evident the creators loved the franchise they emulated. This is no carbon copy though; the tweaks Battery Staples made to the formula make the game feel fresh with each play.
First off, 20xx’s roguelike gameplay model changes the level paths and layouts with each run. There’s no set story or layout: levels are procedurally-generated, and there’s no password system to save your progress. Old-school Mega Man games required memorization to get through tough areas; instead, 20xx creates levels based off of sets of baddies and obstacles specific to each game world. When you defeat a boss, you don’t automatically get the boss’ power; instead. you’re presented with a choice of three buffs, one of which is the power from the boss, while the others may be increase maximum health, weapon energy speed, or so on. Whichever one you pick, the other two vanish, and you choose your next level from one of three branching options. Each level gets progressively harder, and you don’t recover health or energy between levels, creating a difficulty unique to the game. But if you think the going’s getting pretty tough, you can bring a friend in to help tackle the enemies with both online and local co-op.
One of my fondest Mega Man memories comes from playing Mega Man X3: X gets captured, and his brother, Zero, who we’ve seen in the last two games, has to rescue X from the enemy forces. X3 offers you the first opportunity to play as Zero, and it feels SO POWERFUL to run around slashing enemies with the Z-Saber that you almost have to smile when you do it. But I was disappointed when I saved X and Zero ran ahead off-screen; I wanted the brothers to tear up the enemy army together. 20xx fulfills that wish.
The game’s still in Early Access, and the netplay component in particular is in “very early Alpha,” but damn, is it still fun. My buddy and I stormed through levels, learning more about the enemies and defeating bosses. Netplay still feels “very early Alpha:” we had a few segments with absurd amounts of lag, and sometimes when one of us died (read: when I died) we encountered some bugs with with the game’s revival chambers meant to bring me back into the game. But I imagine that’s part of the deal when playing Early Access games; they’re not done yet, but you’re still able to have fun with them.
Maybe it’s just that I have a serious hankering for retro games right now (I’ve been putting Batman: Arkham Knight off to play more Banjo-Kazooie from the XBox One Rare Replay collection), but 20xx is going to get plenty of play time from me coming up. And it’s really going to make me put a critical lens over Mighty No. 9, which raised almost $4 million on Kickstarter. I watched the recently-released speedrun of the first stage, and though I really like the arcade-style feel of getting points and trying to rank on the leaderboards, I’m not sure how it’ll compare to the free-form, exploratory approach 20xx provides. Though Beck, the main character of Mighty No. 9, can play co-op his with partner robot, Call, according to a SiliconEra article, both players will feel a specific role or function during gameplay. In contrast, co-op in 20xx feels free and exploratory; sometimes we’d rush through sections together, other times we’d split off to explore and try to find bonus items, and it was fun to have that openness. I guess time will tell how those experiences will feel after Mighty No. 9 releases.
Damnit, I ended up talking about that game anyway.