Mega Man 11, 20XX, and Their Similar Approaches to Difficulty

Over the past few days, I’ve been obsessed with 20XX. Clearly inspired by the Mega Man series of games, 20XX puts its own twist on the run-and-gun gameplay by housing the game in a Roguelike framework. While I gave heavy praise for the ways it stands out, it’s similarities with the most recent Mega Man game run even deeper than I thought.

Beyond being set in the Roguelike genre, 20XX pushes the envelope of how a player can customize their hero. Beyond just collecting boss guns, players can use power-ups (and power-downs) to tweak seemingly every aspect of their hero.

Want to jump higher? Collect the item that increases your jump height. Want a different primary gun? I’ve found at least three different types. Want a different type of jump? Depending on which boots you equip, you can arm yourself with the ability to hover, air dash, or double jump. Want to get weird and dramatically increase your normal attack power in exchange for losing the ability to charge your shots? There are a whole set of wacky prototypes you can equip yourself with that seriously buff one aspect of your hero while sacrificing something major elsewhere. Want to avoid all power-ups and beat the game with your stock robot? If you’re a wizard, you can do that too.

As I heaped praise on 20XX for the extra customization options, I remembered that Mega Man 11 has something similar. Between missions, players can buy a host of power-ups and power-downs to tune Mega Man to their liking. For example, you can buy items that modify Mega Man in more granular ways, such as boots that prevent him from taking damage from spikes or a bird companion that prevents the Blue Bomber from falling into pits. Its inclusion might be the biggest innovation to the classic Mega Man series in quite some time.

Credit where credit is due, the early access version of 20XX on Steam pre-dates Mega Man 11 by a few years. That said, who did what first is beside the point. While they execute on the concept of granular customization in different ways, they both achieve the goal of giving players more control over how the game is played. Not only is it fun to tweak your heroes to your exact specifications, but it has the added benefit of giving players more control over how difficult the experience is.

As much as I love the classic Mega Man and Mega Man X series of games, those games were tough. At most, you might have gotten access to difficulty settings. But for the most part, you were either got good or you never beat them. Being able to tweak gameplay elements such as having a double jump or just a bit of extra stopping power on your main weapon allows you to fine tune the difficulty to exactly where you want it to be in ways that the traditional easy/normal/hard system can’t due to how broadly those settings impact the experience.

When I first beat 20XX on normal difficulty, I was able to do so because I unlocked the super power of being able to avoid damage from environmental hazards such as pits and spikes. This required me to find every piece of yellow armour in the game, which aren’t guaranteed to drop, but it happened for me on this fateful run. Didn’t completely negate the game’s difficulty, as I still only beat the final boss with 1 HP left, but it was great to have the option. Of course, I could have just left any or all of the armour pieces behind to make the game extra difficult.

Power-ups also allowed me to enjoy Mega Man 11 on my own terms. Normal difficulty in that game is still a bear, but I neutralized the pain by investing heavily in extra lives and energy tanks. While I could have dropped the difficulty to easy, that might have swung the difficulty too far the other way, negating the fun that comes with the extra challenge. By allowing me to invest in extra lives and energy tanks, it gave me the control to still take on this challenge while having a safety net in case things went sideways.

From moment-to-moment, you don’t even think about these power-ups as a means of making these games more accessible. It just feels like you’re making your avatar cooler. The fact that you can play the game and not even think about it’s granular impact to difficulty is brilliant.

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