The Messenger

I’d been shrugging off the hype surrounding The Messenger for quite some time. I thought it was “yet another Ninja Gaiden” pain-inducing simulator which I wasn’t all too fond about enduring. Turns out, I was wrong. And good thing at that, too, because The Messenger is a cracking good adventure.

Ninjas are masters of disguise. All good ninjas know looks can be deceiving and The Messager is no exception. What at first seems like an innocent arcade port to the NES evolves into so much more as you progress through the game. I won’t say more (although reviews and the Steam page already spoil it a bit), but suffice to say this is no ragequit-difficulty platformer.

At first glance, The Messenger gameplay appears much like an authentic 8-bit arcade experience, most notably like Ninja Gaiden, a game famed for its incredibly punishing difficulty. A few hours with the game, however, showed that while the early game has its fair share of platforming, it’s not quite as sadistic about it. The death system is generous – there are no lives or continues, death merely sets you back to the last checkpoint. There is a toll in the form of a helpful demon who will eat a set amount of gems you collect after your grisly death, as a form of compensation for saving your ass. The upside to this is that you never actually lose your existing gems.

Later on, the game does begin to amp up the challenge more significantly, and you are at some point expected to have a pretty solid grip on your abilities to get around. This is sometimes combined with the classic “pass a particularly difficult room or two, die, have to repeat the two rooms, die, repeat ad infinitum” problem. Mostly, though, difficult segments are spaced out between checkpoints so this sort of malarkey is relatively infrequent. It’s only near the final phase of the game that you get some particularly sanity-bending challenges – though these are limited to the optional green collectibles.

Your crouching-dragon style “cloud step” ability is the most critical of your movement tools, and the one which you begin the game with. Any time you hit an enemy or a candle, you can jump again. This is a clever way to subvert the typical double-jump feature of most metroidvanias and it works better than it sounds on paper. Get it right and you can continuously jump, and slash enemies, barely touching the ground. Indeed, the game will expect this from you later on, so it’s best to get used to the ability from the outset.

There are a number of new abilities that you gain as you progress the story, which expand upon your cloud-step. This includes the typical ninja ability to climb walls (as all ninjas do, natch) and later, to glide across particularly long spike pits, among others. Most of these are essential to your progress, but there are also optional upgrades available at shops which infrequently appear at certain checkpoints, adding power like raising your defense or health.

With a stronger focus on plot and the inclusion of an upgrade system, one would anticipate something a lot more like a metroidvania. But it’s not quite a metroidvania in the purest of sense. When you begin The Messenger it retains a stage-based level approach of which the levels are linear in nature. When you start, there is no open exploration or world-map to deal with. At this point, the most fitting comparison would be to the excellent Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, as the two seem to follow very similar philosophies in approaching their adventures.

Having said all that, there’s more. Much more. The Messenger goes beyond the veil once you reach a certain point – introducing new elements into play that significantly expand upon its base. However, at the risk of selling the game short, I’ll refrain from elaborating further – it’s much more exciting to discover it yourself as you progress.

Perhaps then, I’ll simply put it this way: the first part of The Messenger is already a cracking good time. Whether you even progress past the first “phase” of the game or not, there’s a good number of enjoyable hours to be had, that it’s really a worthwhile experience on its own. And if you are curious but wondering whether there is more to the game than meets the eye, rest assured that, yes, indeed there is. (and if you really need to cheat, just check out the post tags for some hints)

The Messenger | buy on steam

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Gun Princess 2

Every now and then I get a flash memory of some old obscure freeware indie game I played way back and decide to re-find it in the dusty corners of the interwebs.

I downloaded Gun Princess 2 and spent quite a bit of time re-exploring it. Then I realised I’ve never actually played Gun Princess 2 at all. Whoops. Lucky then, it turned out to be quite good.

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Aground

Mining the internet for a decent survival/crafter game these days is much like the process of mining in the games themselves: an increasingly tedious grind of repetition that requires ridiculous amounts of resources to cobble together even the simplest of shelters before you die of dehydration, starvation and, possibly, boredom.

Thank the pixel gods that Aground chose not to choose life; it chose something else. It brings out that obsessive pleasure from mining an entire island into a gaping hole in the ocean, without taking so long about getting around to letting you do it at ridiculous speeds with power tools.

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Draiva

Draiva’s chunky low poly cars are pretty retro, but since that wasn’t quite retro enough, it also features cars from your favourite 80s shows. Racing against Ferraris and the Delorean with your feet in that car from The Flintstones? Sure, why not. Speaking of that, I never quite understood how Fred could turn corners, by the way. I mean, have you seen those “wheels”?

Draiva is a strictly arcade fare, with more in common to Micro Machines than Gran Turismo, and even though it’s a pretty simple little alpha, it’s endless random generated tracks are fun to play with.

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Playthrough: Helherron #4 – Goblin Cave

Welcome back to my playthrough of old school tactics RPG Helherron, where I slowly make my way through this unforgiving forgotten tactics RPG.

Previously I took my first steps through the starting village after having undertaken the painstaking process of creating eight characters who hopefully won’t die painfully. Today, that last bit might change as I set foot into the first dungeon. Right outside of the town we find the cave, and enter. Before we can blink, wouldn’t you know it, we are assaulted by a pack of goblins.

At the beginning of a battle in Helherron, you get a chance to position  your characters freely within a tight starting zone. Naturally I move my melee fighters: Grogg the dwarven fighter, Zitz the troll barbarian, Bender the golem barbarian and Chops the lizardman monk, to the frontlines. Freeman, a hobbit thief, hangs back with a bow, while the magic users: Friday, a fairy mage and Alisia, an elven priestess, stand at the back. It’s on!

Speed plays an importnt role in this game, and as you’d expect, the Thief proves to be the fastest, going first and critically hitting a goblin archer. Nice. Next up is the priestess Alisia who successfully manages to cast “weakness” on a nearby goblin warrior, which will apparently cause him to cause less damage for the next 2-3 turns. The Fairy mage goes next, shooting a magic dart at the goblin warrior for minor damage. Interestingly, she can shoot right through friendly characters without hitting them, so friendly fire isn’t an issue in this game (aoe damage might be a different matter).

Next it’s time to move the slow frontliners. “Guard” is Helherron‘s equivalent of X-COM’s “overwatch” – meaning the fighter will attack anyone who comes near, and its a very importnat feature indeed. Once enemies get close, the melee troup step up to bat, sending goblins staggering backwards before collapsing in bloody heaps (the game actually describes is as this). First blood, and amazingly, it wasn’t mine.

My Shaman is an interesting character, being an average spell caster but with the ability to summon creatures. Except that at level 1, with only a 50% chance of success, my spell doesn’t just fail it critically fails, and the caster becomes stunned, probably shocked by his own incompetence. Spell-casting is thus a slight bit more nuanced than the fire-and-forget system of most games.

From here, the battle goes pretty smoothly, especially thanks to the theif’s tendancy to score critical hits, the goblins generally go down in one or two hits.

Of ourse, this was merely the game’s very first battle, so it isn’t too demanding. Still, it is entirely possible to characters to die, so you need to get the gang working as a team pretty much from the outset.

The next battle occurs just a few yards down the tunnel, and ups the ante already – more goblins, and they are accompanied by dogs.

My Shaman conjours up a… killer chicken? Well, it’s something, and surprisingly, the killer chicken even pecks a goblin to death. This summon won’t be useful for long into the game, but for the first dungeon it’s handy to thin the herd a little. Summoned animals at this level are generally weak, but a handy tactic is to summon them in front of ranged attackers and spell-casters as this tends to tie them up on melee for a turn.

A few arrows and a “strange herb” that needs to be identified in town are the only interesting drops from this battle, but overall we’ve gotten off to a good start.

Just north, we find our first side quest in three hobbits looking for their brother who went missing in the caves. If we find him, they promise to reward us with a ring. My hobbit theif rolls his eyes. We accept the quest for the precious.

Venturing further into the depths, we stumbled across a small cave with more goblins, but lure them back into the corridor, which turns out good for us strategically. In Helherron, it’s often essential to kite enemies on the map until you have a more advantegous geographic location.

They dropped an unidentified amulet which I picked up for later.

Finally, in the north-western corner was a spider’s nest. Fearing the worst, I ventured in and engaged the giant spiders waiting within. Our melee fighters, backed up by ranged and magic attacks, made relatively short work of the spiders, even with their annoying webs.

We’ve cleared out the first floor, and are ready to descend into the second level.

Random thoughts:

  • So far, combat is easier than I remember. I remember struggling even with the very first battle, many years ago. Perhaps I’ve just gotten much better at tactical RPGs (I replayed all the gold box games last year), or maybe the newer versions of the game rebalanced things a bit to make the starting areas more easy. It’s probably a bit of both.
  • My hobbit thief is making for a surprisingly excellent archer, only missing one shot in four battles, and often scoring critical hits.
  • For now, melee fighters are the MVPs of battle, rarely missing and often doing heavy damage with knockback effects. Spell casters are less useful as they have barely any spells, and hybrid casters (the shaman and monk) have very low casting success rates, around 50-60%.
  • Melee fighters being the MVPs, that is, with the notable exception of Bender the golem, who can only move 2 steps and rarely reaches anything to be of use. I’m not sure what stats affect movement, if any, so levelling up may never improve movement. Later we should get movement-improving equipment.
  • Characters seem to gain experience per action, rather than a fixed amount per battle. This means I need to make sure to all characters have some input into battles. My magic users are “feeling the bern”, as they tend to skip a lot of turns to conserve mana. This will hopefully change after a few level ups.
  • Magic users can “boost” their spells, up to 20x the power, at a higher MP cost and lower casting chance, making even low level spells potentially useful throughout the game. I’ll go into more detail on battle mechanics and spell lists in a future post.
  • Spells and ranged attacks don’t seem to have range limitations, as far as I can tell. Presumably, though, they are less effective beyond a certain distance.

I won’t be going into this level of detail for the whole game, in future summarising things, particularly battles, more and only covering important battles in detail, or explaining new mechanics, etc. in more depth.

Helherron | download

City Clickers

A minimalistic effort befitting the jam it spawned from, City Clicker is a clicker-style take on the classic Sim City formula. It some ways it works, and it some it doesn’t, but as an experimental gameplay concept it’s worth spin for those interested in innovation.

I found this article sitting in my draft box for an onscenely long time, so in the spirit of modern city management sims, let us reduce, reuse and recycle by publishing this historical post.

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Aggelos (full release)

We took a look at Wonderboy in Monsterworld-a-like Aggelos way back in early 2016. Now the full game is out. My how the time flies… Coincidentally, it flies just like you will fly, double jump and air dash your way through Aggelos.

I’ve spent a few hours meditating in an elemental chamber after playing the game, and now I’m ready to put cosmic thoughts to the mediocrity of the digital page.

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MicroAces

Remember Micro Machines? They were these somewhat forgettable tiny cars that took off in the mid 90s or so, followed up by some much less forgettable arcade racing games on systems like the Sega Megadrive and PSX. They were chaotic fun.

MicroAces remembers, and has faithfully replicated the PSX-era game, racing a variety of super tiny cars across everyday objects like kitchen tables. Oh wait: any similarities to objects in the game “are purely coincidental,” an opening screen disclaimer tells us. Right, so, this isn’t related to Micro Machines at all, sorry. Instead it’s a completely different game about racing super tiny cars across everyday objects like kitchen tables. Glad we cleared that up.

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Nogalious

Nogalious is yet another game that promises to bring back the golden era of 8-bit gaming. Hear, hear, I say. Unfortunately, they were referring less to something like The Legend of Zelda and more something akin to Elf. I enjoyed playing around with it, but in its current state, it felt as confusing to play as it is to spell.

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Bronze Age

I fully expected an alpha or short demo when opening up Bronze Age. A good 4-5 hours later, when I should have been sleeping, yet another horde of rat riders was gnawing at my gate while my citizens decided to rebel against me and destroy that essential happiness-giving brewery. I knew I was in this for the long-haul.

Bronze Age is a work-in-progress civ style game, but there’s already a lengthy, challenging game here (admittedly helped in part by the steep learning curve).

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