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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Treasure Adventure Game has been around for at least five years and is by and large an excellent metroidvania adventure. So it’s a bit of a crime that we haven’t covered it yet.
With a full-blown commercial redo now released, I thought it was high tide to don my paper pirate hat and mention the original freeware gem that inspired it.
The remarkable thing about zero-budget indie RPGs made by guys in their basement is that can compel us to still play them under the shadow of top quality million dollar triple-A ventures. Case in point: I recently acquired The Witcher III, and yet here I am, playing Sigma-Finite Dungeon. That’s not to say the Witcher isn’t great, because it is, but there’s always room to indulge in that sense of old-school satisfaction that pushing yet another pixelated goblin to its death in a spike trap elicits.
Sigma-Finite Dungeon is an intoxicating mashup of Final Fantasy Tactics party-based battles with roguelike dungeon crawling, with a party to equip, skills to leverage, and monsters to slush. It’s not quite as deep as FFT or Nethack, but its tactical combat provides some solid satisfaction.
I have a confession to make: I don’t really miss JRPGs all that much. After gluttonously gorging on Final Fantasy‘s heyday (6 and 7 in particular), Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana and more, I’m incredibly blessed. But I don’t really want more.
Yet… If it’s one thing I really do miss from those days where trifling matters like paying taxes were not on my radar, it is the FF5/Tactics style job system. That shit was awesome. JRPG derivations are a dime-a-dozen now, but this one enticing element is never authentically replicated.
Magna Driver heard my call, though, emerging at my darkest hour. It may be a prototype-level demo, sure, but that same addictive crack-like quality of the job system is still there, and I devoured it gleefully for about an hour until I had unlocked every job and ability for each character.