What I'm Playing: The Messenger

Joseph Caddick delves into his love of metroidvania games with this Switch gem

Joseph Caddick
24th April 2020
Image: IGDB
With quarantine in full force and the usual essay procrastination, I’ve had a lot of spare time on my hands recently. The only problem’s been finding something to fill that time, so I’ve went back to some games I hadn’t completed. Right now I'm playing The Messenger, a game I was lucky enough to get for free on the Epic Store a few months back.

As the menus and music make obvious, it’s an 8-bit indie platformer. Don’t let the art style fool you, what starts out looking like a Ninja Gaiden wannabe quickly becomes something completely different, graphically and otherwise. Level design initially follows the 2D platformer standard of working your way through themed levels to beat the boss at the end.

There's your standard forests, caves and mountains, but some unique concepts along the way About a third of the way through, this changes and they open up, taking on a Metroidvania style with lots of backtracking needed to advance. This is when the level design gets more creative, with unique puzzles that make use of new elements introduced to you.

Levels are built around these abilities, so previous sections become easier once you’ve unlocked new powers

Throughout your journey you’re given a lot of extra powers to make movement and combat that much easier. You start off with the Cloudstep, which is a second jump after hitting an airborne target, but you soon get the ability to stick to walls, and even a rope dart which works like a grappling hook. Levels are built around these abilities, so even if old sections seem easier once you’ve unlocked new powers, new areas are designed with them in mind and put you to the test. Some of the later levels can be brutal, requiring perfect timing.

Something that The Messenger has over the older games it was inspired by is the sheer amount of content. Most NES games can be completed in a few hours (if not less) if you’re good enough, but this game has taken me around 16 hours to play to 100%. A fair amount of this time was taken up collecting the 45 Power Seals, which are secret collectibles hidden at the end of numerous hidden platforming challenges, some of which make the bosses look easy.

They’re not the only secrets though; there are entire secret stages you can find by collecting certain items, a great use of the Metroidvania style of gameplay. On top of all that content, there’s also a free DLC which I’m currently playing through, and it’s definitely got a few difficult bosses already. In fact, one gave me more trouble than any boss in the main story.

One of the game's main strengths is that it’s so charming. Not only is the soundtrack amazing, but every track has multiple variants, including quieter versions for when you're underwater, a detail I always love to see in platformers. The tracks themselves are really catchy, especially when you can spend so long looking for secrets.

For me, the dialogue is the star of the show in this game. The fourth wall is repeatedly broken in hilarious ways. I love that type of humour, and this game has it in spades. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and makes fun of a lot of the tropes you’d see in the games it pays homage to, which adds to the fun of it all. It feels like a love letter to older games, pointing out their flaws in the dialogue whilst the gameplay reflects their best parts.

The dialogue in The Messenger is the real star of the show

My main complaint with the game would have to be the lack of enemy diversity. For the most part it’s only three or four recurring enemies, as well as a few others which show up in the odd stage here or there. So in terms of new threats there isn’t much outside of the level design, but if feels as if these enemies – especially ones that fire projectiles – are very much worked into the level design, placed specifically in ways that make you think first instead of just charging through every platforming challenge.

In times where there’s not a lot going on at home, The Messenger has definitely helped me pass the time by doing something other than eating whole Easter eggs or something equally useless.

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