BOSTON – 30XX is, perhaps, the best game I played at PAX East 2020. That’s high praise, considering it had to contend with some big-budget entries in beloved series, and fresh new titles from major developers. But this indie sequel captured my attention like no other game at the show. The only reason I’m not yet counting down the days until its release is because it doesn’t have a solid release date.
This side-scrolling action game is a sequel to 20XX: a game that came out a few years on Steam, and received PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch ports more recently. The premise was simple enough: What if Mega Man X were a roguelike? And what if it offered cooperative gameplay? With tight gameplay, attractive graphics and a catchy soundtrack, 20XX was an instant cult hit, and 30XX looks even better.
For my demo, I got to play through two stages alongside one of the developers. The first was a fiery red world where any errant jump could plunge the characters into a pool of lava. I took control of Ace, the sword-wielding robot who resembles Zero from the Mega Man X series; my partner had Nina, who plays like Mega Man X himself, with a long-range blaster cannon.
Right from the first moment, the gameplay was pure Mega Man-style fun. We made our way through the stage, running, jumping and dashing our way past obstacles, as well as shooting enemies or slicing them into pieces. The enemies ranged from stationary blasters, to humanoid robots, to shielded construction equipment, to burrowing drillers. There’s a fantastic variety of enemies in the game, and each one requires a slightly different strategy to defeat. This is where the co-op feature came in handy, as some enemies are more vulnerable to Nina’s blaster; others, to Ace’s sword.
This is all pretty similar to the setup in 20XX. What’s new this time around is how the levels are structured. Like the first game, the levels are procedurally generated, so you’ll never encounter the exact same stage twice. What’s different this time is that the level sections are bigger, so there are fewer of them – but they’re also much more meticulously designed. You may see the same level sections more than once, depending on how many times you play, but you’ll find them much more logical to get through. That doesn’t mean they’ll be easy, of course; just that they won’t have quite as many accidentally-almost-impossible obstacles.
Another big change is the graphics engine. While 20XX mirrored the 16-bit art style from Mega Man X through X3 on the Super Nintendo, 30XX looks much more like Mega Man X4 through X6 on the PlayStation. The core aesthetic is similar – bright, colorful robots with lots of particle-based weapons and explosions. But Ace and Nina’s sprites are more intricate and colorful, to say nothing of the colored silhouettes that follow them when they dash forward. The enemies, bosses and backgrounds are also more detailed than before.
Finally, Ace and Nina have a bigger variety of weapons available this time around. As before, Ace can equip different weapons, such as spears and shurikens, but now each weapon has an alternate-fire mode, which might allow him to create a temporary shield, or hurl his weapon across the screen.
Nina, meanwhile, can combine the various upgrades she finds along the way. In the demo, the dev demonstrated how this worked with two different blaster attachments. The first made Nina’s bolts fire in an arc rather than straight ahead; the second gave her three blasts per shot. Rather than having to decide between these two advantages, they both took effect, creating multiple arcing shots that could hit enemies almost anywhere on the screen. There’s a maximum amount of upgrades you can carry simultaneously, but you can mix and match them any way you’d like until that point.
30XX roguelike elements
As you progress through each stage, you can undertake optional platforming and combat challenges to earn additional bolts. Just before each boss fight, you’ll have an opportunity to spend these bolts on semi-permanent upgrades to your speed, attack power and drop rate for health items. (Unlike in Mega Man X, enemies very rarely drop health, so you’re often stuck buying it from expensive vending machines.)
I say semi-permanent, because 30XX is still a roguelike – or, more accurately, a roguelite, since you do get to carry over certain upgrades between playthroughs. Generally, though, once you fall in a stage, all of your upgrades vanish, and you’re kicked back to the beginning of your eight-stage run. However, defeating bosses will grant you a different kind of currency, which you can use to purchase lasting upgrades back in the hub area. It’s an addictive balance of carrot and stick, which should keep players hooked both before and after they successfully reach the “end” of the game.
30XX looks like a blast, particularly if you can find a partner with whom to play. (20XX supports both localized and online co-op, and 30XX should do the same.) The game will likely come out in 2021, and while there’s no price announced yet, the first game debuted at $15.