In recent years we've seen the revival of many classic platformers, from Crash Bandicoot, to Mega Man, and even Bubsy for some reason. Missing from all of this is X, Mega Man's successor - a character who has only appeared in cross-over titles and legacy collections. While it may be fun to fight against Sigma as X and Zero in Marvel vs. Capcom, it would be nice to have a new high-speed platformer that's familiar to fans of the X series.
This is where 30XX comes in and tries to quench the platforming thirst that every fan of the X series has. And where some imitators have tried to follow the formula with little-to-no innovation, 30XX goes out of its way to innovate in ways that make the standard Mega Man style feel outdated.
There are plans to add additional characters to the game, but so far two characters are available to play: Nina and Ace. Nina plays similarly to X, however, she's uniquely able to combine two special weapons together to create additional unique attacks. Ace's close-range style and attack-chaining, meanwhile, make him similar to Zero, although as with Nina he has unique attributes that make his playstyle fresh, as he's able to charge the first slash of his blade or replace it with a different weapon entirely.
In Standard Mode, 30XX places you in stages in a random order. The layout of each stage is also somewhat randomized so that no two playthroughs are ever exactly the same. Each level is made up of individual zones and these dictate the type of chunk or an individual portion of the level you'll have loaded out for you. So for example, if a level calls for a vertical section you'll always be given a chunk with vertical obstacles, but the arrangement of enemies and the placement of the stage tiles within that chunk will vary, essentially making a stage somewhat different each time you play it, while at the same time still being cohesive.
As 30XX progresses farther along through its development, more and more chunks are planned to be added to the game, with perhaps some developer-verified chunks from players using the in-game chunk editor being thrown in as well.
There's also a Mega Mode, which changes things a bit so that each of the level's chunks is loaded in and when you lose a life you're sent back to the level select, giving you a chance to retry areas you've failed without having the entire map regenerated.
As if endless variations to the game's level weren't enough, also included in 30XX are various augments that further customize how the game is played. In a similar fashion to later games in the X series, you can apply a wide range of different power-ups to your character, adding more attack power, heath, or modifying how your primary fire functions entirely. These power-ups can be found in various locations as you play.
The main issue with these add-ons, however, is that they make the game significantly easier. The stronger you become, the easier the boss battles become too, and with the right set of upgrades you can potentially take bosses out in under six hits. It would have been better if boss damage resistance scaled up in relation to player damage output, or better yet (and in-line with the game's themes), bosses could have their own random set of augments based on whatever the player has available. This would add more variance to each boss fight, making them more unique and challenging (they're the only static part of the game that the player can memorize).
30XX's two-player mode only compounds the issue, further nullifying the game's challenge level. That said when it's functioning as intended, playing with a friend certainly adds more enjoyment to this already fun game. Racing through each area together as quickly as possible, or strategically having one player go farther ahead to clear enemies when the other player is low on health, only adds to the entertainment.
That being said, there are times when the online admittedly feels like it's held together with glue and rubber bands. There are times when player two will be locked behind the wrong side of a mini-boss door, or sometimes enemies won't function properly at all, such as the snake mini-boss in Legacy's stage, which will clip through the terrain instead of following along its path. I even encountered a bug where the host's game thought the second player was using Nina when they were actually playing as Ace, so from the host's perspective player two's sprites wouldn't load, nor were the abilities for Ace available after defeating a boss.
Despite these issues, the core gameplay is very well put together. The only truly annoying issue in terms of the base gameplay is that firing while dashing as Nina doesn't set your shots lower to the ground. This is important because you cannot crouch in this game, and there are plenty of enemies that become harder to hit because of this. Outside of that, 30XX offers a lot in terms of replayability; there's always something that feels new with each playthrough, not only in terms of the obstacles you'll face but also how your character plays and feels thanks to the augment system.
If all of this somehow wasn't enough, you also have the ability to spend different currencies collected within the game to make things more difficult (or easier, if you prefer), such as increasing the amount of damage spikes deal (which confusingly includes other types of stage hazards, like energy beams), increasing boss health, and more. It's just a shame that there's no option to have the boss health scale on its own without having to modify it before you start your run.
It doesn't end there either. The pixel art is better than that found in Mega Man X4, for example, with the game's colors being more vibrant, and in contrast with X5 and X6 the environments are animated as well. The only issue with the visuals is that there aren't any start-up or recovery animations for characters. In the X series, which it's so heavily inspired by, while there was never a start-up on the Mega Buster specifically, there were clear recovery animations. You can also see X lean forward as he dashes, however, Nina immediately begins his dash on the very next frame. Adding these extra frames of animation will not only help the game look smoother but also help to tone down how overpowered the player is.
Complementing the visuals is a great chiptune soundtrack, which sounds clean and is pretty catchy, and there are no scratchy or otherwise grating sound effects. Despite that, the sound effects are a mixed bag on the whole - the grunts made by Nina and Ace as they take damage, and also Nina's charged shot, all feel like they're missing something. There was always something satisfying about X's Mega Buster, as each charged shot screamed out of the cannon. Nina's buster on the other hand feels a bit muted. At least you won't be listening to a high-pitched ringing noise the entire time you're charging your Buster though. And pausing the game adds a bassy reverb to the music, which is another small plus.
When it comes to the most important elements - the level design, how the game plays, and whether it entices you to come back and keep playing - 30XX is fantastic. There's more than enough here for anyone who enjoys Mega Man games. It could perhaps do with a bit more time in the oven before I recommend jumping in, but on that front, there's even more good news: 30XX is set to receive constant updates from developer Batterystaple far into the future.
This review is based on a digital copy of 30XX for the PC, provided by the publisher.
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