Thank you Batterystaple Games and StridePR for sending us this game to review!
Several years back, Batterystaple Games released the fabulous Mega Man X homage title 20XX. It's a lovely game, and most definitely a memorable one. I've reviewed hundreds of games by this point, and 20XX is one I've usually kept installed. So when 30XX came out in Early Access, I jumped at the chance to play it, and I was happy to take a pre-alpha demo for a spin when I had that chance, too. All of that to say, this series has been near and dear to me for quite a while now. It's hard to believe, but they made not just one, but two excellent Mega Man-style Roguelikes!
30XX takes many of the great ideas 20XX pioneered and evolved and refines them. For those who do not know, Mega Man X is a classic video game series that was a sequel to the Mega Man series. The original series was primarily released on the Nintendo Entertainment System (aka NES) in the mid to late 1980s, and were fantastic games. The Super NES came out in the early 1990s, and Capcom's answer to the newer, more powerful console was Mega Man X. Truly a groundbreaking game in many ways, it had massively improved animations, a deeper and darker storyline, and was just a ton of fun. There ended up being a whole bunch of Mega Man/X games, but the X series mostly died out. Fans looking for something more had to play other games with a similar style, or make their own. The developers at Batterystaple Games decided to do this by combining tight gameplay with Rogue-like elements, and after the success of 20XX, they decided to go back to the roots of the genre and return to pixel art, rather than the scaled art style of 20XX.
While it's unusual for me to start a review talking about graphics or art, I think it's important because 30XX is a rather large departure from 20XX in this way. 20XX used a scalable art style, with lots of clean lines and animations that pivot on axes. Some fans prefer the 20XX art style, while others prefer what 30XX has done, going back to its roots. I do appreciate the sharpness and clarity of the 20XX art style, while 30XX's pixel art is amazing in its own right. I would say that there is a lot more detail in 30XX's pixel art, and they did a great job making the environments and enemies look stunning. But I also really appreciate how 20XX looked so clean and sharp - and modern. I also appreciated 20XX's unlimited frame rate, while 30XX is limited to 60fps. Regardless, it is what it is, and you can't please everyone. I doubt most players would dislike 30XX's excellent pixel art regardless. I'm just not sure which game looks more like the prequel vs. the sequel!
The music is actually quite similar, though I don't think 30XX shares many tunes from the first game. It has catchy chiptunes that fit the game perfectly, along with excellent sound effects for all of your blasts and explosions. It's an audible treat, as well as visual if you love pixel art.
30XX stars one of two protagonists that you can play as in this 2D side scrolling action game, Nina and Ace. Nina plays quite similarly to X from Mega Man X (except she's a female robot with flowing hair) and Ace plays quite similarly to Zero, also from the Mega Man X series. Ace uses melee weapons, while Nina uses blasters. In my experience, Nina is much easier to play as, and generally more powerful, as ranged attacks are easy to spam from a safe distance. But either character can become quite powerful depending on how lucky you get with upgrades.
You see, everything about 30XX (like 20XX before it) is randomly generated. You can collect core upgrades, augs, and weapons/powers as you play through the game. Core upgrades cost core points to equip, and include things like blaster upgrades, replacement melee weapons, or improved movement skills and so on. Augs are items you collect that typically enhance a small thing, but can often be stacked, or you can get many that have similar effects, leading to insane power. Weapons and powers are collected from defeating bosses, and are somewhat similar to the weapons you collect after defeating a boss in the Mega Man series. Sometimes they are just an attack weapon, while other times they have other uses, like frozen blocks you can stand on. Ace also collects moves, as his character is more focused on moving around quickly for attacks rather than purely ranged damage.
As you play, there are item boxes that drop pickups, as well as some challenges and mini bosses throughout the levels. While playing, you can also pickup in-game currency drops, called nuts, or another called memoria. Nuts are spent to upgrade during a run, while memoria is spent on more permanent upgrades for the next run. Depending on the mode you play, you may only have one life, so how far you get determines your rewards for next time.
The Standard mode is the Rogue-like mode I previously mentioned, where you only have one life and each level is randomly generated, and whatever you find and earn can only be played through and used that one time. Any nuts you gather should probably be spent, unless you pickup an aug that grants you more damage while holding more nuts! Everything in the game is a risk/reward strategy, or some set of tradeoffs. Some upgrades are straightforward - more health, more energy (for weapons), that kind of things. Others can be a pro and a con, but usually the effect is more powerful or pronounced.
On one of my Nina runs, I found an upgrade that granted me a much more powerful charged shot, at the cost of not being able to shoot normal shots at all. This, stacked with other upgrades like shooting two shots per charge, shorter charge times, larger charge shots, and so on led to a practically unstoppable Nina, as her shots did hundreds of damage per hit. She just walked all over everything (including the last boss) because she just did so much damage. As long as I didn't miss, the enemies just fell over. However, on my Ace run, I had no such luck with synergistic upgrades, and found that run much more difficult.
Having a game over after each death certainly can be frustrating, as can knowing that the next time you play the levels will have a different layout. Fortunately, if that bothers you, you can choose to play Mega Mode instead. This is a mode where each level is generated the first time you play it, and as a player you choose what your next level will be. You can also spend any earned currencies between levels, making planning your upgrades a very different experience than in the Standard Rogue-like mode. Here, you can die and retry as many times as you need to in order to complete a level, leading to a more traditional Mega Man-like experience. This is great for those who find the Rogue-like system frustrating, because you lose almost all upgrades each time you die, only getting to spend some memoria on limited upgrades that do help, but you're still pretty limited starting out.
The final game mode is Community. This is what the name suggests it is: you can play player-made levels! This can easily lead to nearly endless variety, as long as fans keep churning out new level segments. From what I have been able to tell, Standard and Community modes seem to piggyback off of each other, with shared progression. So, if you unlock an upgrade using spent memoria, you can use it in both Standard and Community modes, which is a nice touch. There are both fully-custom levels, as well as custom level block segments that can be used in the randomly-generated levels available. It's pretty neat that community-made content can be integrated into the game's systems in this way.
However, maybe you are like me and still hit a skill wall after a certain point. Thankfully, there are assist mode options if you need them! You can adjust the damage taken from enemy hits, the relative health of your enemies, and the speed the game runs at, all adjustable in percentages. I found several times in my playthroughs that... I needed the help of assist mode. Once hits did less damage to me, I was able to make it all the way to the end. It was just the push I needed after getting stuck unable to progress over and over again. While I certainly recommend you give it a fair try without using the assists, at least they are there if you need them. Any online leaderboard levels or ranked challenges have all assists disabled, of course.
You can play local or online co-op, which is fantastic and works really well. As mentioned, there are online leaderboard-based challenges, with both daily and weekly challenges to take on. There are also boss-rush and seeded modes, where you can share seed numbers with your friends if you want to take on the exact same level sets together from your own copies of the game. The replay value in this game is intense, offering you a different playing experience each time. Even in Mega Mode, you could easily find a different set of augs than the last time, or have the generated boss order and levels be different than last time. There is so much to do in this game that I could see many players enjoying it for many, many hours since each time you play it's at least a little different.
Technically, the game was rock-solid stable for me. The only time I was able to make the game slow down even a tiny bit was when I played a community-made level that gives you every upgrade in the entire game at once. It's insane; one shot literally fills the screen with bullets, and the level throws hundreds of enemies at you at once. It's beyond silly. Other than that, it ran without issue.
30XX also plays flawlessly in Linux and on Steam Deck. It's listed as Playable on Deck; it's not Verified because of some small text you might need the magnifier for. It's nothing that detracts from the game at all. You can play using the keyboard, but having a controller is highly recommended. I played with both an Xbox and PlayStation controller without issue. Some actions use the face buttons, bumpers, and triggers; only the analog sticks (or the D-Pad, if you prefer using the left analog stick on 2D platformers... you heathen) and select/back buttons aren't used.
Morally, 30XX is quite clean. There is violence against robotic opponents as you blast or slash them to bits. The ESRB notes some mild language that I didn't catch in my playthroughs. It's likely either in the datalore section of the menu I haven't unlocked yet, or something someone says, though if so I didn't see it. There is a character in the datalore that seems to take on a savior complex though, using religious-like language to refer to herself and another. This stuff is easy to miss if you don't go poking in the datalore section of the pause menu, though.
Batterystaple Games did it again - they released an absolutely fantastic homage to Mega Man X in the form of 30XX - and in some ways it's almost better. The various game modes accommodate many play styles, the many different ways you can play based on the semi-random nature of the game and its progression, the way Nina and Ace play so differently, the online leaderboards and community levels, it just goes on and on. 30XX offers so much to players, and it's priced extremely reasonably at $19.99. The game was forged with constant input from the community via the Early Access process, and it shows. They could have easily charged more and it would still be worth the price. If you enjoy challenging action platformer games, or have a soft spot for the classic gameplay of Mega Man and friends like I do, you really can't go wrong with 30XX, or its predecessor 20XX, for that matter. They are both excellent, but 30XX is a better game, with more to do, a more flexible core and aug system, and so much more. This game is an easy recommendation. And you can play together with your friends!