To pay homage to what came before is not just a nice gesture, it is a serious responsibility. An artist must carefully pick apart what makes their subject special, and capture that essence in a new work. Not only that, they must then innovate. Add something new and push existing greatness further still. It is a significant challenge—one that the team behind 30XX have now successfully risen to.
Developer Batterystaple Games comes out swinging (and jumping and dashing) with 30XX, sequel to 20XX, their original Mega Man X tribute. With this new adventure, the formula is expanded upon and improved to a brilliant degree. There are stumbles and some not-so-mega moments, but these aren’t enough to take away from the rapid fun that had me coming back for one more run.
One of the most important elements for any Mega Man-like, and indeed the action platformer genre as a whole, is movement. Good traversal is an essential core from which all else is built. 30XX manages to strike just the right balance between weight and speed. Jumps go comfortably high, but not all that far without a dash done right before. To make up for that, wall jumping is snappy and doesn’t even require two walls. You can also dash jump off any vertical obstacle that dares stand in your way. But then, enemies are spry enough that you can’t trivialise them with enough verticality. Through and through, the movement and traversal of 30XX exude a carefully crafted balance, which I appreciated more and more with every run.
That balance falters, however, when the roguelike elements come into play. While there’s plenty to praise here, 30XX makes one big mistake: runs last just a bit too long. No individual level feels bloated by itself, but each is long and challenging enough that eight of them in a single run can feel a bit arduous. Between new enemies that increasingly push your platforming prowess, minibosses that are no joke, and final bosses who demand your best efforts, it can be a lot. The frenetic energy helps avoid total burnout, but dying late in a run definitely took a bite out of my motivation.
Fortunately, long runs aren’t hampered by a lack of variety. To start, 30XX offers two playable protagonists: Nina and Ace. Nina’s a cool blue lass who more explicitly evokes her inspiration, and wields a standard blaster weapon. Ace, meanwhile, dons a red power suit and gets into the thick of it with melee attacks. These form the core of two different playstyles: range and close-quarters. Both Nina and Ace find a variety of weapons to toy with while retaining their natural playstyles.
Even with a gun, for example, Ace ends up shooting short-range buzzsaw bullets that boomerang back to him, hitting most enemies twice in one shot. In that particular run, I enjoyed having some of Nina’s range while still making the most of Ace’s aggression. Coupled with randomised level layouts and even biomes after every death, I consistently found fun new ways to play both characters.
Adding to the mix further are side rooms. These vary between no-hit challenge rooms, Glory rooms with a mini-boss fight, and shop rooms right before a boss. After sampling them early on, I tended to avoid the former two, but I appreciated them being there nonetheless. The shops, meanwhile, ended up surprisingly useful. Of course, a health stop before a big fight is great, but I never really felt like I was collecting all that much of 30XX’s bolt-dollar currency in every run. Yet, I somehow consistently had enough to afford a quick trip to the doctor’s and sometimes even a power-up or two. A balanced economy that works without me noticing again shows the strength of Batterystaple’s craftsmanship. In so many of its little bits and pieces, 30XX is wonderfully well designed.
Of course, no rogue-like is complete without a gauntlet of bosses. While generally sporting good character design, thanks in no small part to 30XX‘s brilliant pixel art style, few of these bosses are super memorable. That’s not entirely their fault, however. Every big bad has an interesting enough move set, and they’re fun to fight. My favourite is easily the multi-cog wheel boss, which has five static cogs firing various volleys of viciousness at you. There’s great verticality and speed to the fight.
That said, even fun bosses are hard to learn here. Given that 30XX also randomises its level order in every run, there’s no guarantee you’ll meet bosses at the same time. Die once, and the opportunity to face that specific foe again might not present itself for a good few runs. Even with decent pace in a single run, the overall pace of progression definitely takes a hit here.
There’s still a good sense of narrative momentum, at least. Between runs, Nina and Ace are sent back to the lab, a fun hub world from which 30XX‘s co-op, upgrades, and small character interactions are accessed. The latter are cute, providing a sense of place in this otherwise grandiose world overrun by all manner of maladies.
What starts as a fun run-n-gun homage to heroes past eventually evolves into a sprawling rogue-like with enough charm and variety to look past its rougher edges. Top tier traversal and comfortably chaotic combat do plenty for Nina and Ace’s adventures. 30XX may explore a dystopian future, but I’m happy to find it here in the present day.
Sarim played 30XX on PC with a review code.