Written and hosted by Steve Heller
I’m one of those weirdos who never really played Mega Man. Despite growing up playing games before I could even talk, the little android man and I never really crossed paths in over thirty years of gaming adventures. In fact, most of what I know about Mega Man comes from that HORSE the Band song, and reading all the disappointed comments from fans when Mighty Number 9 failed to deliver on expectations.
So I’m coming to 30XX nostalgia-free, untainted by all those lofty expectations and rose-tinted glasses, ready to take this retro platforming roguelike on its own merits. Today I try to answer the question, is the Early Access version of 30XX Worth It?
30XX is a roguelike action platformer that hearkens back to the 16-bit era with its gorgeous colourful environments, spritely sprites, and some of the best explosions I’ve seen in a long while. Looking at some Let’s Plays of its predecessor 20XX, it doesn’t seem like Batterystaple Games has necessarily changed the vibe in the upcoming sequel, but it does feel a little more dynamic, and to be honest, I just wanted to spend some time in these levels. Whether it’s the clockwork towers, the digital Green Hill zone, or the cyberpunk future-city, 30XX is a joy to walk around just based on its environments alone.
The good news is that 30XX backs up those environments with great design… for the most part. Jumping, dashing, and combat feels great, and considering some of the platforming and projectile dodging you will be doing in some of these levels, that’s a critical factor that needed to be nailed. Thankfully with the very first Early Access release they have that down. 30XX is a pleasure to control, whether it’s dash jumping across a wide gap, wall jumping up a perilous ledge, or just taking care of a slew of enemies. I always felt like the flow was on my terms, which is a harder thing to get right than most people think.
There are two characters to choose from in this build ; Nina who is armed with a blaster and is definitely calling directly back to Mega Man, and Ace who is a robot ninja, armed with a sword and a returning shuriken who in turn calls back to Zero. Both characters feel great to play, each with their own style of dealing with enemies. Personally I preferred Ace , because I love to zoom through the levels and just take enemies head on. While their play styles aren’t drastically different, there are some nice upgrade paths and powers that give you incentive to play with both as you explore 30XX.
30XX is actually very co-op centric. The tagline for the game is “the roguelike action platformer you can play with a friend”, and for the most part it was a lot of fun to make my way through these runs with the co-host of the Pixels for Breakfast Pod, Blue. The game is launching with its own online-coop lobby system, or you can be weirdos like Blue and I and use something like Parsec or Steam’s own Remote Play Together. Despite some lag due to our locations (Blue is in Malaysia, and I’m in Japan), all of the levels were just as playable as a duo, even when splitting apart. When the camera zooms out, 30XX somehow looks even more beautiful. I can definitely see Blue and I sinking countless hours zooming across these levels and more when the game does leave Early Access.
The loop of 30XX is pretty standard. You go into a randomly generated level that will culminate in a boss fight. Along the way you will find Glory Zones which offer an optional divergent path where if you make it to the end, you’ll be able to nab yourself an upgrade item. If you manage to beat a boss you’ll also collect more upgrades, and potentially some Memoria or Potentia fragments for persistent upgrades.
When you die you are sent back to the hub world. Here you can use your Memoria and Potentia fragments to unlock those persistent upgrades, and before jumping back in for another run you can also choose to up the difficulty of various properties for the chance to gain more currency. It’s actually quite surprising just how granular this challenge board is for a first release. On the surface it does seem quite robust, and it should tide over players between major updates to keep them playing regularly.
However I do have a few issues with 30XX. The UI feels rather clunky, and while it does fit the aesthetic, it just doesn’t feel… nice. Compared to everything else visually that’s happening in these gorgeous levels, this UI feels less designed and more functional. While that doesn’t necessarily affect the enjoyment of the game, it does come up more often than you would think as you swap out different abilities as you collect them, especially when you are on longer runs.
That also brings me to another issue I came across, the lack of visual cues for certain elements. Nine times out of ten I would miss chests, because they don’t really stand out that well against the busy environments. This also extends to when you collect those tasty treasures from said chests. 30XX never seemed to explain to me that I had a certain number of power slots and that I would need to choose my active powerups manually. It took me a few hours to work that out, and a simple tutorial could have made that clear. Now I’m willing to admit, I could have skipped over it, or it could have been assumed knowledge from the previous game, but it is something that I personally experienced.
The first Early Access release includes 6 biomes, and all of them are fun to explore, however some of the level generation feels a little unfinished. For instance, on the Penumbra, these platforms that activate based on your jump timing, sometimes their spawn points feel a little off. There was even a moment while playing co-op where my partner Blue got stuck and we couldn’t figure out how to get him out. Or there is this section of Highvault where you are falling down for a long time. It’s actually a cool idea, but most of the time the enemies are facing away from you, and you’re kinda just drifting down, with no incentive to enter those combat encounters. I’m not saying it is bad, I’m definitely saying that it needs a little work.
The boss encounters are always the same for each biome, yet they have a lot of variation that keeps things interesting. The Penumbra zone boss is a small arena where you are dodging flying cogs, and gigantic laser beams as you whittle down the apparatus. The Deepverse biome features the most dangerous game of Snake you’ll play this decade. My favorite was the Highvault where you are thrust into an extended platforming sequence that has you chasing a cyborg owl while dodging electric bolts, giant lasers, and still managing to land your jumps and attacks. They aren’t genre defining encounters, but for the most part, they sure are fun.
Something to note here is that these boss encounters are a solid departure from the base Mega Man X inspiration. Bending to the roguelike convention, they did away with the weakness wheel present in classic Mega Man and instead push for more of a platforming trial which expands upon the gameplay in the rest of the levels. It serves as a final test as opposed to an epic confrontation with a single badass enemy.
Let’s talk about the music for a minute.
The MUSIC IS DOPE
Just listen to it
It perfectly calls back to the time and place that 30XX is using as reference, and it just feels so damn good to listen to. I’m not a huge fan of those retro chiptune soundtracks, mostly because they have been done to death, but 30XX just has a tone that buries itself inside of your earholes, and I cannot wait to hear what other tracks they have in store.
The other big surprise for me is that 30XX is arriving with a fully-featured level creator, complete with a tutorial and links to their discord where there is already quite a bit of discussion going on. I’m not really a custom content kind of gamer, so I’m not going to review it. Yet this is definitely a feature most developers would have left until the final updates, so it’s interesting to see them come out the gate swinging so hard, and letting the biggest fans of the game start making content from day one.
30XX is a fun game, an unabashed love letter to the 16-bit era, and particularly the Mega Man X games. Yet it doesn’t simply stick to that formula, or rely entirely on nostalgia to justify its worth. It’s gorgeous art, slick movement, co-op centric design, and interesting world definitely makes 30XX a game worth playing. It does feel a little rough around the edges right now, but the foundation of this first Early Access release is really solid, and across my six or so hours with the build playing in both solo and co-op modes has been a blast. If you’re hankering for classic platformer action game wrapped within a roguelike, I definitely would recommend 30XX, especially if you have a friend to play it with.