A few days ago I finished my playthrough of the Messenger. As with Hyper Light Drifter, I received it for free on the Epic Games Store, so you may already have the game.
IMPORTANT: SPOILERS FOR THE MESSENGER ARE AHEAD. IF YOU HAVEN’T PLAYED IT YET AND LIKE PLATFORMERS, METROIDVANIAS, AND/OR HUMOR YOU SHOULD PROBABLY PLAY IT FIRST.
At first, The Messenger is a very simple retro-style platformer with a lot of inspiration from Ninja Gaiden. You, a ninja, and suddenly, your village gets attacked by an army of demons! A mysterious person riding a bird appears and attacks the king, causing the army to retreat. They then hand you a scroll and tell you deliver it to the peak of the mountains, and you are dubbed as the Messenger.
The first area you enter, the Autumn Hills, is a good introduction level. You’re introduced to many of the most common in this single stage – many of them appear in every area. I feel it’s very important to mention that the soundtrack to this game is absolutely amazing and will probably get stuck in your head after playing the game.
As you proceed through the zone, you fall into a pit which you can’t get out of. However, a door appears, and when you walk through it, you meet the shopkeeper. One of my favorite details in The Messenger is the dialogue between you and the Shopkeeper. It’s FULL of jokes and references, alongside some decently interesting stories. You’re going to chuckle quite a lot at the banter between the two. The shopkeeper also gives you an upgrade that allows you to climb walls. While you’re there, you can also buy some upgrades with shards, the currency that you collect in the game. One of the upgrades that you should buy ASAP allows you to destroy enemy projectiles by hitting them.
The Messenger uses a gimmick in its platforming called the “cloudstep”, which means that after attacking an enemy midair, you can jump again. When you buy the upgrade that allows you to destroy projectiles, you can also cloudstep off of projectiles, as well. The cloudstep mechanic in The Messenger makes the platforming a lot more interesting – it’s much more fun to destroy and jump off of enemies and their projectiles instead of avoiding them.
As you proceed through the game, you’ll also encounter a handful of bosses. Some aren’t that special, but others have some funny dialogue and interesting personalities. You become friends with some of the bosses you defeat, as well. The shopkeeper also gives you more and more upgrades, like a suit that you can glide with, shurikens to throw, and a “rope dart” that allows you to latch onto walls (or enemies!) from a distance. The rope dart is, in my opinion, when the game’s platforming turns from good to great. Being able to throw a rope dart allows you to close a distance between you and an enemy/object, which makes the platforming a lot more interesting and interactive.
Eventually, you reach the end of Glacial Peak, where you find the shopkeeper and two other cloaked figures. After raising the scroll into the air, you enter the Tower of Time. After beating the area’s boss, you travel into the “future”, which is actually 16-bit (compared to the original 8-bit). You then arrive in the Cloud Ruins, which is an amazing choice for the first 16-bit level. Compared to other areas, which have much more plain and dark backgrounds, the Cloud Ruins has a very bright background with much more details. The music in the future is also more “16-bit”. After going through the Cloud Ruins and the Underworld (where you beat the lieutenant of the demon army), you go fight the Demon King. Then, you realize that you’re now the person that saved your village from the beginning of the game, and you give a person the scroll, designating them as the new Messenger.
A twist is also revealed – the shopkeeper asks you to open a cabinet, where you’re instructed to put on the same robes as the shopkeeper (and the other two people from earlier). You then act as the shopkeeper for the new Messenger, but you forget to revive him, meaning that you have to finish the job yourself. You’re instructed to retrieve specific music notes to open a music box, and then find out that the game is now a metroidvania. You go through old areas, travel between the past and future, and discover some new places, too. You also find out what happened to a few of the old bosses. After you collect all of the music notes, the full story is revealed. In short, the music box holds a cursed guy and you have to go inside and save him. The final area is challenging, but cool, as all of the hazards are in sync with the music. After a climactic and cool boss fight and a cutscene, the game ends.
The Messenger is definitely a game that subverts your initial impressions, turning from an 8-bit linear platformer to a mix of 8-bit and 16-bit metroidvania. The music in this game is also excellent, and so is the dialogue between characters.
However, the game does have a few downsides. I feel like getting instantly killed by bottomless pits and crush traps consisted of 90% of my deaths. Instead of instantly killing you, I feel like they should just deal damage and send you back to the last safe area you were standing on. The lack of enemy variety is a small nitpick, as well. One of the collectibles in the game is a “power seal”, which, when you collect all of them, gives you a different shuriken. I expected something more than just an upgrade to the shuriken – I would’ve liked it if there was some extra dialogue, as well.
Overall, I give The Messenger a 9/10.
Good sense of humor
Metroidvania aspect implemented well
Instakill pits/crush traps
Not much enemy variety
Reward for all Power Seals is underwhelming