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You come to 20XX, available now on Steam Early Access, for the nostalgia of a Mega Man homage done properly, but you stay for the endless replayability. The secret to a small developer succeeding where a Kickstarter juggernaut backed by one of the original series’ creators stumbled lies in perfectly grafting a set of roguelike principles onto Mega Man’s template, ousting some of its most archaic aspects (looking at you insta-death) and peppering the whole experience with a range of hard to obtain but gloriously over-the-top upgrades and optional bells and whistles, including co-op, leaderboards, and daily challenges.
After choosing a character (Ace is stronger but specializes in risky melee combat, whereas Nina’s projectile attacks are weaker but safer) and entering the first randomly generated level, there is an immediate sense of familiarity, both in the way 20XX looks and plays. The crisp visuals find the right balance between 16-bit retro aesthetics and no-nonsense utility—within an instant of seeing something, you know whether to avoid it, blast it, or land on it—while precise jumping and shooting enable the rapid shifts between small-scale warfare and hectic platforming that are required for successfully negotiating the hazards of each level before reaching the boss fight. As per its inspiration, dispatching those provides you with extra powers, each of which is particularly effective against another individual boss.
Apart from these standard power-ups there are numerous other upgrades that gradually unlocked with every run and subsequently become available in stores and hidden caches or are earned by taking on a series of intense combat tasks. The majority of those are fairly conventional: higher jumps, stronger attacks, and so on, but the game stays true to its roguelike leanings and allows for some insane synergies, especially as most can be stacked indefinitely. Complementing those are the “Core Augments,” unique pickups that each belong to a specific set of armor. There is no greater ambition in 20XX (nor, I imagine, a greater pleasure) than assembling one of those and then proceeding to break the game by exploiting the ridiculously overpowered special ability a full set grants you, like supercharging your every attack or providing you with infinite air-dash.
If that seems to run counter to Mega Man’s infamous difficulty, there are a few caveats. Not only is it exceptionally hard to survive long enough in order to acquire them (six hours in, I still haven’t managed it once), but at higher levels, the difficulty is enough to make even such privileged runs a challenge, while retaining an element of that deliriously joyful power-tripping that permeates the most memorable moments of The Binding Of Isaac and Nuclear Throne.