In my time going through runs of 30XX, I kept feeling like I was supposed to have some more information than I already did. Like if I started another attempt and kept playing, I’d learn more about some quirks of the game’s story, layouts, and mechanics that would be better explained as I got more familiar with the game. And while I have enjoyed 30XX and gotten more comfortable every time I’ve gone back in, I’m still left with a lot of questions where I feel I wasn’t meant to.

30XX

Batterystaple Games
PC, Nintendo Switch
August 9, 2023

Sidequest was provided with a copy of 30XX for PC in exchange for a fair and honest review.

30XX proudly carries the torch of games inspired by Mega Man X, with a run and jump style of platformer that feels like it’d be right at home in the early ’90s. As the sequel to 20XX from developer Batterystaple Games, 30XX follows a similar base formula of roguelike progression across nine stages, with each new attempt generating a random stage for characters Nina and Ace to fight their way through without dying. And just like 20XX, the game is just now entering its 1.0 release after two years of development on Steam Early Access.

One of the biggest changes immediately noticeable in 30XX is the highly detailed sprite art, courtesy of art director Glauber Kotaki of Rogue Legacy, Chasm and Vampire Survivors fame among other titles. There’s a clear evolution in style here that might invoke feelings of early Playstation games like Mega Man X4 or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for some players. Environments feel incredibly intricate: huge, layered set pieces of Imperial Crown skyscrapers, cave formations, and digitized landscapes contribute to a sense that there’s an entire world just outside of this 2D plane, and it gives each level a lot more depth.

Unfortunately, it’s in 30XX’s art direction where some of the game’s cracks start to show. Characters often unceremoniously enter or leave the field with very little in the way of visual effects, making it feel like they’re just popping in or out of the world. Animations like a character slowly walking into a boss room that are a clear homage to Mega Man are nice, but these run cycles often play after the player has already entered the boss room and some dialogue or other animation is playing on top. These are issues that I wouldn’t really fault an indie developer for having if the game hadn’t already been in early access for years, and where the 1.0 release is intended to serve as a finalized, playtested product.

A screenshot of a level 30XX, where projectiles and explosions are all over the screen, on top of the already-detailed character and background art.

The game’s visuals are stunning! But sometimes overwhelming!

On the topic of visuals, the zoomed-out camera can often contribute to a bit of overwhelm in terms of where the player is meant to look and go at a given moment. The design of each stage definitely lends itself to fast-paced action where keeping track of all the enemies, their projectiles and your own abilities is part of the challenge. And yet, it still felt like there were times where I wasn’t necessarily being challenged as much as I just had a lot to process at once and didn’t know where I should be focusing.

I haven’t had a chance to play the game in cooperative mode so I can’t speak to that functionality, but given the existing clutter from single player, I can only imagine the level of visual overstimulation the co-op experience brings to the table. Some settings do exist (under “Visibility”) to disable certain effects and add highlight colors for the player/projectiles/enemies, which does help make the game more accessible to an extent. But from an accessibility design perspective, having these settings off to the side rather than having visual clarity baked into the design process itself (or giving an option to simply reduce the particle limit, a la Dead Cells) is going to alienate some players even after those visuals are updated.

A screenshot of a level of 30XX, showing player characters Nina and Ace dashing upward in between opposing enemies.

Gameplay-wise, it’s hard to deny the joy 30XX captures that players of other roguelike games are undoubtedly familiar with. Nina and Ace, filling respective roles for X and Xero from Mega Man X, both get their own power-ups for shooting and slashing, armor upgrades, and augmentations that lend themselves to different play styles, to the point where no one run of the game is going to feel the same as another. That plus the gradual progression of permanent unlockable powerups through gathering up enough currency, called Memoria, between runs will eventually lead you to that beautiful snowball effect: the perfect run. When you feel unstoppable, like you’re getting away with breaking the game is when 30XX is at its best.

For players who want a more traditional Mega Man experience or don’t want to deal with the permadeath of roguelike games, 30XX also introduces a new Mega Mode. Here, the stages are still randomly generated per save file but remain the same between sessions, and upgrades stay with the player after death. The approachability this option provides is a nice touch, and makes 30XX one of many new indie games more interested in having the player experience all there is to offer than be thrown off by randomness and difficulty.

30XX’s core gameplay loop being so solid makes it that much more frustrating when parts of the game don’t mesh well with it. I constantly found myself confused as to what each powerup item was meant to be doing throughout my run and what different button presses actually signified due to a lack of meaningful visual indicators. Seeing that a power-up increases CP, or affects corruption, or increases NRG is great… except when I’ve gotten no indication what any of these things mean in the game itself. Even after becoming more familiar with the game, I found myself wary of floating button prompts when I didn’t know what they would do to my character in the process.

A screenshot from 30XX where Nina talks to Alexia. A dialogue box from Alexia reads, "That's obvious nonsense, right? How are we supposed to know any of that?"

And this is what feels like it’s at the crux of the problems I have with 30XX, despite still thinking that it’s a great game in most respects: I never really understand what’s going on. Why am I able to take damage from spikes or falling in the hub area of the game? Why does this character Delta appear in my very first run offering me a challenge for a level I’ve never played before, acting like we’ve been introduced already, only for me to get actually introduced to Delta after being four levels in a separate run? Why is the music mixed so low at 50% volume, with an option to go up to 200% volume that I wouldn’t have seen without pushing up the options more? Even the narrative of the game itself and who Nina and Ace are in this setting are points that never really get mentioned in the text of the game itself, which makes it difficult to care about the overarching narrative and have motivation to push for the incredibly difficult true ending.

Despite the narrative and informational issues, I would still recommend 30XX to fans of roguelike games, and nothing else out there is scratching that same itch for jump and shoot, Mega Man X-style action like this game is. It’s clear that Batterystaple Games has a lot of care for the feedback they receive and is not done working on this game, as new updates are still coming even after the recent 1.0 release. 30XX might not be entirely up to the level of polish necessary to be a true successor to Capcom’s Mega Man X series, but it’s a great start.