Mega Man is a pretty difficult series, but the two developers at Maryland-based Batterystaple Games had a bright idea a few years ago: Why not introduce permadeath into the tough-as-nails platforming that Mega Man is known for?
That's the premise of 20XX (pronounced "twenty-ecks-tee-ecks"), which is being developed by two full-time developers at Batterystaple. The indie team took up residence in the Fire Hose Games booth within the Indie Megabooth at PAX East, and we sat down with Batterystaple founder Chris King for a co-op demo of 20XX.
Batterystaple began working on 20XX in July 2013 and ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for the project in the spring of 2014, back when it was called Echoes of Eridu. The studio launched 20XX on Steam Early Access just before Thanksgiving, and the game, which is in alpha, is still evolving. King told Polygon that the build we were playing was recent, but already outdated — artist Zack Urtes had revised the visuals for one of the settings. (Since then, Clemens Scott of Vienna-based indie studio Broken Rules has come on to the 20XX team as art director, so Early Access customers can expect more changes in the future.)
20XX borrows some of its roguelike elements from Cellar Door Games' Rogue Legacy. During each run through 20XX's procedurally generated levels, you pick up items called Soul Nuts. When you die, you return to your safe house, where you can spend your accumulated Soul Nuts to unlock upgrades; any remaining currency is wiped out with each new attempt. If vanilla 20XX isn't hard enough for you, you can enable Halo-like Skulls to increase the challenge with modifiers like "Famine" (no health drops) and "Final Destination" (no items).
We decided to start a standard run of 20XX with King, and immediately noticed some clear homages to Mega Man. The playable characters are clad in blue and red armor, respectively, and the enemies and environmental hazards are as deadly as they are in Capcom's franchise. The screen freezes when you go through the doors to a boss battle. And the jump allows you to stick to and slide down walls. It really comes in handy for many of 20XX's platforming challenges, like the ones in which floating blocks ahead of you start falling, and you have to stick to them as they slide down in order to make it over their tops.
20XX's fast pace is what makes it particularly tough; you can be attacked from all directions, and you have to navigate environmental hazards like spikes while you kill those creatures. Enemy difficulty is one of the main elements that Batterystaple is currently tweaking, with input from the Early Access community. King gave the example of the character designs: Fans didn't like the "chibi" heads on the playable heroes, so Urtes changed their look. And the Early Access version is missing online co-op, which will be available in the final version.
Batterystaple has also benefited from feedback provided by a different source: Fire Hose Games, the Cambridge, Mass.-based indie studio behind games like Slam Bolt Scrappers and Go Home Dinosaurs. The partnership came about because of a chance meeting, King explained. He had joined the International Game Developers Association's Washington, DC, chapter and was presenting an early version of 20XX at a meetup. Fire Hose founder Eitan Glinert happened to be in town and dropped by the event.
After meeting King and seeing the prototype, Glinert brought 20XX into Fire Hose's Indie Accelerator program, and is now serving as an adviser on the project. King said that Glinert plays the game every couple of weeks or so, and that his feedback and support has been invaluable. Plus, Fire Hose shared its Indie Megabooth spot with Batterystaple, and King said that the traffic through the booth over the course of the convention was incredible.
Batterystaple plans to release 20XX on Windows this year, and bring it to Linux and Mac eventually. But King noted that with such a small team on the game, he doesn't want to get distracted with too much, too soon. You can check it out on Steam Early Access.
Correction: A previous version of this article referred to the jump in 20XX as being inspired by Super Meat Boy. The jump is, like most of 20XX, based on the Mega Man series. We've edited the article to reflect this.