30XX has hit Steam Early Access and it is a delight. Even in its very early state, it is a marked improvement over its predecessor 20XX in just about every single way. Not only does it push its central gimmick, “what if a Mega Man game was a roguelike?” even further, but it introduces some much needed quality of life improvements as well as a few modern touches.
Batterystaple's action title really is that straightforward. You choose between two heroes, Nina has an arm cannon and Ace has a laser sword, and you run through a bunch of themed levels while blowing up robot enemies along the way. Some levels have branching paths which lead to powerful upgrades, killing bosses gives you special weapons based on their abilities, and you keep going until you die.
How 30XX shakes things up compared to Batterstaple's previous outing is obvious the minute you start your first run: the art style. While 20XX had its charm, a lot of the art direction could be charitably called workmanlike. The character designs were elegant enough and unique, but the environment and level designs looked generic and interchangeable; barely above something you might see in a fan game. The sequel on the other hand is full to bursting with late 90s visual pop. The sprite work is great, blending into visually complex backgrounds and giving each level it's own coherent aesthetic, ranging from a highly mechanized clockwork city to a cyberspace take on a gothic cathedral.
But none of this comes at the expense of game feel, which retains silky smooth responsiveness and quick satisfying bursts of action. While being a roguelike means levels are randomly generated during each run, every level retains at least two different unique mechanics and systems to keep things interesting. The tech cathedral sports constantly spawning buzz saw enemies, platforms that disappear and reappear in three different colors. Meanwhile the airport level showcases floating cubes that grant you a double jump when passed through and launch pads that throw you into the sky.
This thematic variety even continues to midbosses and recurring level motifs. Some fights might be a prolonged chase sequence or a sort of test of one of the level's distinct enemy or obstacle types. It's honestly impressive how despite these levels being assembled randomly they feel like polished and coherent experiences thanks to these persistent elements.
The real stuff that make things interesting from run to run are your power-ups. While there are straightforward things you can get that just increase your attack power or health, there's a greater focus on upgrades with trade-offs. For example, are you okay with having higher jump and movement speed at the cost of a weaker blaster or do you drop your maximum health and some of your movement speed for stronger base damage? The armor power-ups return as well for some additional spicy variety, but they're now tied to an equipment point system. If the helmet or chest plate value exceeds your point maximum, you can't equip it. Thankfully, you can dismantle these upgrades to increase this value, as well as swap out armor parts as you collect them.
The last big feature that 30XX has this time around is it's biggest form of homage: Mega Mode. Playing in this mode dials back the game's roguelike elements and makes the whole experience more conventional. Levels are randomly generated, but they are fixed to a save file, and you can select whichever level you wish to handle in whatever order you like. If you die, you are just sent back to the level select screen, keeping whatever powers or upgrades you got from the last level. It sounds like an easy mode at first, but things are tweaked to maintain a challenge. Power-ups are limited just to armor pick-ups and each level feels almost twice as long compared to a roguelike run. They're small but devious twists, giving Mega Mode it's own retro-inspired spirit.
Finally, I cannot stress how great the ongoing support has been for 30XX. A game being in Early Access is stigmatized for good reason, and there are plenty of horror stories out there of feedback going unheard or design choices happening on the turn of a dime, but Batterystaple has been doing a fantastic job at keeping updates and patches at a steady rate. A lot of these updates are more for optimization and balance tweaking, for some reason the owl boss fight would just instantly die for no reason early on, and only goes to show just how strong a foundation this game has. If you're turned off by Early Access but love anything mentioned so far, just know you'll be in good hands if you take the plunge.
30XX has the potential to be genuine smash hit for players who grew up with Mega Man X and have been craving a roguelike successor. There are some rough technical issues to be found, but it is all built around a primary loop bursting with juice and crackling energy. This is one to watch out for.
TechRaptor previewed 30XX on PC using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is set to release on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch sometime in 2021.