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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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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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Mortal Manor

Mortal Manor bids itself as a Metroidvania, but also wants to stand out with a different approach to gameplay. Fortunately, this includes a vast sprawling world and tons of weapons to collect. Unfortunately, the approach also includes instadeaths and enemies that are as annoying as %*#&.

Any indie gem has rough edges and I’m not going to sugarcoat it – Mortal Manor‘s edges are about as smooth as rock golem’s butt. For those with the same sort of patience as an eternal being, though, there’s a massive game here, crammed with varied areas and bursting with weapons, relics and secrets to find.

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Chasm (demo)

We cover a lot of demos and alphas and the like here, and while the demos provide decent entertainment, pretty much none of them over the last three years have since seen the light of day as a full release. So here’s a demo for a metroidvania that is due for release in just one month. Oh, but it’s been in development for six years.

Chasm promises the usual metroidvania fare, and while it certainly is polished with all the right founding ingredients in place, the demo, which turns out to be from the dark ages of 2013, left me feeling a little uninspired.

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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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Remake Roundup: Super Mario Bros. – Part #2

Welcome back to part 2 of our Remake Roundup feature looking at redo’s of the classic 1985 turtle-smashing game Super Mario Bros.

Last time around, we looked at some pretty straight-up remakes that, for the most part, took the original formula and merely spruced it up with better graphics or gameplay elements, but kept things mostly the same.

This time around we dive deeper into the abyss to look at games that take the original Mario concept and start to alter it in more interesting ways. There were no hard rules on what fits for this round, but I generally looked for games that added something innovative but kept the implacable Mario spirit.

Let’s a-go!

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You Have to Win the Game: Steam EGA edition

You have to win the game… Again! Minimalist indie classic You Have to Win the Game was a sweet little hit back in 2012. If there were an alternative universe with a DOS-based 286 metroidvania, this game would have been it. It was one of the first games I posted about, and I loved what it managed to pull off with the otherwise eye-gouging CGA graphics limitation.

youhavetowinthegame_1

At some unknown point, YHtWtG moved onto Steam, and then added a bunch of new features including an equally lovely EGA mode, boasting a whopping 16 colours! It also includes more difficult remixed campaign and a playable cat character, you know, for people who are into that sort of thing. And best of all, it’s still 100% free (note: there’s a $1 option on Itch.io if you want a permanent Steam key, which is otherwise not available for free games.)

You Have to Win the Game | download steam / itch.io

 

Nightkeep (demo)

Nightkeep is, well, as its indiegogo page puts it: “an action RPG platformer inspired by such classics as Castlevania Bloodlines, Demon’s crest and a variety of JRPGs” – yes, please. Ture, it’s yet another retro-style game wearing its influences strongly on its sleeves, but the demo here is polished enough in its own right that Nightkeep looks to be shaping up to serve an interesting mixture of platforming action.

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[Freeware] Mariovania

Let’s face it, Bowser is horribly incompetent. The number of times his plans for world domination have been thwarted by a overweight plumber from Brooklyn should be enough of a signal to call it quits. But what if Bowser… teamed up with Dracula? That is very the question Mariovania answers.

Die, Bowser! You don’t belong in this world! Not quite the same ring to it, but just go with it.

mariovania_1

Actually, considering Drac’s similarly lacklustre record, actually, probably not a whole lot would be different. But the combination of Mario platforming and Castlevania stlye exploration works surprisingly well.

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