Category Archives: Arcade

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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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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New Retro Picks: Steam Summer Sale #2

With a few days left, time to slip in another set of picks for the Steam Summer sale.

Last time I pointed out a bunch of games I largely already owned or ended up buying and playing due to the sale, that turned out decent enough. This time, I’m pointing out some games that I haven’t yet played, and probably games that most people have never heard of – so this is a good chance to discover some new obscure games.

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Bold Blade

Those anime protagonists sure know how to wield a massively oversized impractical sword. You’d think that by the time they actually manage to lift it, a ninja would’ve already stabbed them in the face a few times, but apparently not. Nevertheless, Bold Blade puts my theory to the test, with gameplay entirely swiveled around (pun intended) the art of sweeping a screen-clearing hunk of metal through wave after wave of monsters.

Bold Blade clearly channels the impractical sword-wielding antics of Ginormo Sword, but where that effort happily jumped into a lo-fi psychedelic deep end without abandon, Blade is far more polished in appearance and follows a much more grounded 90s arcade approach, and I could easily see myself playing this on the SEGA Megadrive as an angst-filled teenager, when giant swords where the best solution for most problems.

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I Am Overburdened

A title that serves as both an expression and description of gameplay, I Am Overburdened is, in principle, about everybody’s (non)favourite part of RPGs: having too much loot and struggling to juggle what to keep and what to ditch.

Should I go for those +5 gloves of nail-biting or stick with my powerglove of uncanny referencing?

The game doesn’t exactly deliver on this promise, per se, though. Funnily enough, this is a far better outcome: instead resulting in a fast paced arcade-roguelike-ish affair with an extremely streamlined loot system and minimal inventory tetris. Unlike its namesake, I am Overburdened is a simple pleasure to run through, albeit (for a commercial release) a relatively short one.

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Sample Action Game 01

With a name like Sample Action Game 01, expectations aren’t exactly going to be high, but where it lacks in the creative naming department, Action Game 01 more than delivers in terms of actual game. There’s not just a completely full freeware game to be found here, no, there’s oh so so much more.

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Tail Gunner

A loy-poly flight sim/shooter, that reminds me (in my head) of that one scene from Indiana Jones 3. Sit in the cockpit of an old-timey fighter planes and shoot down enemies before they shoot you.

tailgunner_1

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Battle Princess Madelyn

Despite Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts being a classic example of the platforming arcade genre, we haven’t seen a whole lot of new retro-style imitations of out there. There have been other attempts, of course, but Battle Princess Madelyn is probably the first real notable one, oozing style and substance. The game feels like G’n’G, if a late Playstation-era developer picked it up – adding some more RPG-esque plot and adventure, and of course, a cute magical animal mascot.

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Torn Sails

A minigame featuring everybody’s favourite nautical misfits, Torn Sails is more of a quick party game than epic seafaring adventure, but a fun one.

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Indie Dev Story

You are sleeping on a mangy mattress in a room with nothing else in it but an old laptop, with no money, and no prospects. What do you do? Quit your job, of course.

indiedevstory_1

a photo of my apartment, yesterday

That’s the premise of Indie Dev Story – the soul-crushing joy of the gig economy in a punishing sim/clicker game wrapping, where you rather recklessly try to beat all the odds to support yourself and release a killer game within a month.

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