Next on my long list of backlog to complete is Sabotage’s The Messenger, I found this game at EGX last year when Dale introduced me and has been sat on my PC since. Arguably this has become one of my favourite platformers of all time and it’s a game that will instantly grab your attention. It has a lot going for it, it has an awesome look and feel, fantastic soundtrack that gets your heart racing, awesome edge of your seat game play and best of all – it doesn’t take itself seriously with its hilarious humour, witty dialogue and sassy characters. It was truly a pleasure to play through this.

Developer: Sabotage
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: Steam, GOG.com, Epic Games, Microsoft, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox Games Pass (PC)
Release Date: August 2018

Gameplay

The Messenger is clearly a throwback to the early platformers with its 8-bit platforming style seamlessly transforming itself into a 16-bit masterpiece, chiptune soundtrack and one way vertical attack. It is said Sabotage were influenced by the Ninja Gaiden series and there’s a great video of the creators of the series playing The Messenger on YouTube. Who say they have a lot of respect for the game, as it takes it own direction from Ninja Gaiden. Although I’ve never played them myself, I’ll be excited to play them if that’s the case.

The Shopkeeper and his shop of wears

At the beginning you are limited to a jump and slash manoeuvre but as you gain more upgrades you are treated to a number of options to take on your enemies and deal with other threats. You gain magical shurikens, wing suit and grapple hooks, amongst other things to add to your arsenal. However, don’t expect this overload of weaponry and gadgets to make your life easier, you are then burden with tight controls and one slip of the finger can mean the end. This is where The Messenger truly comes into its own becoming fast paced and difficult to keep up with. For example, The Messenger removes the double jump and adds the feature of cloud jumping where you must hit an object in the air to continue your jumping combo. Although a simple feature to get your head around at first, you must then contend with the wing suit, which has the same button as jump but doesn’t have the ability to hit objects straight away. This can become overly difficult when the maps almost get lost under your feet as you run and jump away from your enemies.

Example of a Power Seal Level

During certain parts of the game, there are a number of times where you can go off the beaten path and explore, which normally leads to extra shards or green seals which can be collected to upgrade the Messenger. These will normally spike with difficulty from the main progression route, meaning you will pass many times. However they are completely optional and sometimes can be easily missed, if missed they can’t be retrieved. I can’t personally say what benefit they bring to the game if all collected as I have missed some in my playthrough. Although these can lead to some very frustrating moments and has made me rage quit on a number of times.

These frustration, normally by death are met by one certain character, a friendly but very sassy demon, Quarble. He acts as your surviving light in this very quick and dangerous world, picking you up at your time of need and taking you back to the last checkpoint. However, he doesn’t come for free, eaten up any shards that you collect on your way, until he is satisfied. This is the games way of making sure you don’t spam the system and continually die as any enemies and shards do respawn, meaning that you can’t overpower your character very early on. Although you’re not punished by any shards being collected between a checkpoint and point of death being taken away from you.

Friends and Foes

Quarble and his sassy remarks

Quarble is the perfect example of why I love this game, when you die, you don’t receive a Game Over message but rather are met by a witty remark from your friend reminding you of how hard you make his life. Well I suppose you’d quite annoyed if you’d had over to pick something up over 200 times in the space of a couple of hours. The Messenger doesn’t take itself seriously and has a brilliant sense of humour. This is seen in everything from the characters, to the design of boss fights. You are met with another character the Shopkeeper, who acts as your morale support in your journey, providing you with all sorts of upgrades.

It’s not just the friendly characters and intentional dialogue of the game that brings out the humour, the boss introduction scenes are well scripted and its a shame that you can’t see much of them throughout the game but they do make for some tear-inducing moments.

Look and Feel

The Futuristic Floating Mountains

Sabotage have given us a great example of what you can do with 8-bit and 16-bit graphics. As said before, the game switches between the two forms of graphics effortlessly really creating a seamless experience throughout the game. The two types of graphics also provide two time periods, which shows that every bit of thought was put into the game by Sabotage. The 8-bit portion of the game represents the past of fedual Japan, whilst the Messenger is later transported to the future when the game turns to 16-bit. I really love this dynamic and it really give The Messenger its own personality as an art-form as Sabotage has made this change in graphics represents something.

The scenery is fantastically designed and each segment is stunning to look at. The design of each segment is different offering a number of challenging obstacles. I can honestly say you’ll never face the same level twice. You really have to stop to think about how to progress through each segment, not made easy by the intense music and constant threat of falling or a nearby enemy.

The Music

It’s not just the gameplay that put this game up there with some of the most entertaining games I’ve played but also the fantastic chiptune score from Eric W. Brown or Rainbowdragoneye, who managed to perfectly pace the tracks to fit the intensity of each level whilst also capturing that essence of nostalgia. There’s certain parts that really add to the feeling of your heart racing and put you on the edge of your seat, keeping you fully engaged with the brilliance of this game. Each track was made to fit into 8-bit NES and 16-bit Sega Genesis style which just adds to the brilliance of this score, allowing the music to change from 8-bit to 16-bit as the games graphics do.

The Story

The Messenger begins with the attack of demons on a Ninja village, that never sounds like a good idea, many of the ninjas dying but succeeding in the temporary defence of the village. A “Western Hero” appears to deliver a scroll, with the original Messenger, he appoints you as The new Messenger. Your new mission is too deliver the scroll to the top of the mountain, where you are aided by aforementioned Quarble and the blue robed Shopkeeper.

The Demon King who attacks the Ninja Village

SPOILER ALERT

As much as we try to avoid spoiler here’s at UnCapt, unfortunately there’s a bit of spoiler coming, you’re more than welcome to skip to the next section.

Following what seems to be the final boss, you discover the unfortunate truth of the world and role that you inhabit, expecting the final credits to roll you are instead introduced to the rest of the game. Taking a turn in a new direction, its this direction that is my only problem with the game, it switches to a metroidvania allowing you full access to the map, the mystery of the seals and the empty sections solved. The Messenger no longer becomes a homage to the NES and Genesis era platformers but rather evolves again and adds more. This change is blended well into the story and comes as a humorous shock as you now have to carry on your journey.

However, this forces the player to repeat the previous obstacles as before in metroidvanian style. Where you are now gifted another ability of travelling through time with the use of portals which does refresh the now endless obstacle course slightly. However, this change takes away from the pacing of the gameplay, which up to this point has been an almost linear, quick-paced platformer. Now you must carefully scrounge every block of the map again to complete the task that you have been assigned. This moment disengaged me from the game, it completely drained me of any satisfaction of defeating what I thought to be the final boss. Going through the levels again and thinking to yourself, “have I really got to go through this again”. It’s the loss of satisfaction that drove me to continue to play, feeling I had to complete it. The Messenger doesn’t hide it’s intention to mock the player and play on the emotions and this twist shows just that.

Final Thoughts

Despite its sometimes frustrating and tight controls, The Messenger, is a real great experience to play and I would recommend to any. The fantastic gameplay is well complimented with witty and sometime brilliant dialogue, one of the best chiptune scores ever and original level design. The Messenger never looks to punish the player for failing but rather mock them, bringing me back to the day of co-op being played over your mates house and them constantly bemoaning you and nagging for their next go. Then eventually when you do succeed, you’ll be screaming, “have it” at your screen. It doesn’t just bring back the nostalgia through the use of graphics, music and gameplay but rather the characters interactions with the player and that is what makes The Messenger, one of a kind.

5 Comments »

  1. I really enjoyed it. But I found the bosses very irritating. Motor memory type “git gud” stick at it over and over. And I just don’t have the time for that, unfortunately, so had to abandon the Shop Keeper boss battle. A shame. But, yes, it’s good. I just wish indie teams would provide an easy option.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, they could get quite monotonous at times, especially after the 4th or 5th times of doing and the stupid mistakes would start happening. I think after the Shop Keeper battles I left the game for about 2 weeks before I’d throw my controller out the window but I find a lot of games have those types of boss battles. It was the pace of the game and the humour that kept me going through it. Yeah completely agree, I’m a big advocate for difficulty settings and accessibility to games but I feel without that ‘challenge’ the Messenger would lose a bit of its charm, unfortunately.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I loved the shop keeper character, he was one of the highlights for me. The dev team also has a fancy looking new title on the way, an RPG. So I’m looking forward to that! Just no more slogfest boss battles, please.

        Like

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