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It may look and feel like Mega Man, but underneath lay an incredible – and difficult – roguelike experience.

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I must type this article carefully due to the incredible calluses and bruises that have formed upon my thumbs, which are the painful testament to my latest addiction. After hearing I’d be playing through 20XX, a Mega Man-styled platformer from Batterystaple Games, I immediately dug out my old Thrustmaster 2-in-1 controller, an artifact I had not seen since the glory days of PlayStation 2. It was then that I realized my child-sized hands, whose muscle memory had defeated Wiley and his nefarious jumping puzzles long ago, had grown into clumsy fists of meat that had no right holding this tiny controller of yore. Surely though, it would be just fine for 20XX, so I decided to jump right in.

20XX differs from modern platformers in a few ways, the most obvious being permadeath. There are no extra lives, only the random chance of enemies dropping health, and the game doesn’t care if you fall into a pit of bubbling lava after defeating five bosses already, you’re dead. Some special enemies, who glow blue, will drop collectible Nuts after being defeated and these are the only thing you can carry back to the overworld where they can be used to unlock power-ups that will be randomly seeded throughout each level.

Two playable characters are available: Nina, the girl, and Ace, the boy. Nina is completely based on Mega Man, whose design includes a chargeable blaster, whereas Ace is based on Zero and his energy sword. Nina is more suited to using the unlockable powers in the game and has the energy bar to match, whereas Ace relies on melee damage and his bigger health bar to take down enemies. Co-op is available if you can find an extra controller so you won’t have to play alone, or maybe you’ll have better luck than I did using the currently unstable internet option.

Graphically the game isn’t very power-intensive and that’s a good thing, because while the designs and animations are well done, it is still capable of running on some pretty dated hardware. The music is very reminiscent of later Super Nintendo games with catchy melodies, but doesn’t do anything ground-breaking. The controls are tight and responsive, precisely how a game based on Mega Man should be, and there is very little slipping on platforms, exempting the ice covered ones anyway.

If there is one word I could sum the game up with it would be this: Hard. 20XX is one of those games that is so difficult that it’s hard to binge play. I constantly find myself playing a couple of levels, dying over and over along the way, and then putting the game down for 15 minutes or so before repeating the cycle again. The game just keeps bringing you back and when it does you never know what to expect because each level is randomly generated. All you can do is memorize enemy behaviors and hope you’ll have the right tool at the right time. Perhaps hardest of all are the boss fights, with one robot in particular filling the entire screen with his shots while constantly dodging my own.

Difficulty gripes aside, 20XX is one of those rare games that keeps you coming back, even when it kills you. Especially when it kills you. It’s a charming, aggravating, sadistic platformer that may soon be the death of me. Mega Man fans in particular should give this one a look. Currently it’s still in the alpha stage, but a beta build is set for release on September 15th, 2015, so there’s time for things to get even better – maybe even the spotty online. Before you do, though, just make sure you have an adequate controller handy. Your thumbs will thank you for it.

About the Author: Scott Wilson