A demon army has laid siege to a village in The Messenger. You play as a warrior who is still training. You are entrusted with a job to deliver a scroll, and if you fail, all hope is lost. It’s a 2D side-scrolling game that may remind you of Ninja Gaiden. You must work your way through an area and fight a boss at the end in order to continue to the next. Demons stand in your way as you try to get the scroll delivered. Collect crystals to purchase and unlock upgrades for new abilities and to make you stronger. Traps are everywhere and the wrong move could mean reloading to a previous save point. The future of the clan is in your hands.
Here’s what I liked:
Retro Throwback — When I was growing up, games were increasingly becoming popular and different genres were starting to appear. I remember playing Ninja Gaiden, which I thought was pretty difficult. After playing that and Super Contra, I assured myself I had a great reaction time. I’m not sure if The Messenger is easy or that I’ve just played so many more difficult games. But I had no problems pummeling through the demon horde and being a master acrobat while avoiding danger. The bosses normally took me only a couple of tries to defeat. The whole time, I felt I was playing a sort of sequel to the other series but had just brought the same skill I had back then to this game. I must have played it around 18 or more years ago! The menu system and music even remind me of the past. It portrays that time period while implementing the evolution of the genre.
Double Genre — I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I found this on Game Pass. It looked like a basic platformer. I gave it a shot and found it enjoyably easy but still challenging. I guess what I mean to say is that it’s forgiving. You don’t have to restart an entire level. There’s always a save point close by. I thought I just about beat the game, wondering how I could possibly get all the secrets that were missed. To my surprise, suddenly the genre goes from side-scrolling platformer to a Metroidvania. You can revisit levels to pick up those secrets. A map becomes available and new upgrades add hints to where these are. So for about four or five hours, you think it’s one thing, only for it to suddenly change into the evolved version of the genre.
It’s a Trap! — Danger lurks in just about every section. Spikes, lasers, and even swinging wrecking balls make your journey a treacherous one. As you gain new abilities, such as gliding and a hook, your options to avoid them open up. They become their own kind of enemy, and the actual demons aren’t as menacing. Each section can be traversed forward or backward, meaning when you revisit them. It’s not impossible to go everywhere imaginable. This makes the traps even more clever by design because they actually work in both directions.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
What Now — After enjoying the very basic gameplay, it changed direction and becomes almost confusing on where to go. You have free-roaming access to all of the previous areas. A map does help, but it’s really confusing about where to actually go. It ended at the same time it began. My new objective was just to go collect everything I missed. Oh boy, that’s a lot of stuff! I only obtained a few of the green stones. So for another hour or two you’ll be aimlessly trying to obtain enough shards to upgrade the ability that allows the stones to show up on the map. It costs a lot too, so you have to kind of just go randomly to areas to grab them. I am all for choices but I just wish that it was unlocked straight away. Instead, there is this weird in-between grind that is so boring because it now lacks a sense of level progression. I guess it could be better explained, but I’m not sure how to describe it. Maybe like a sigh? It’s not difficult, just kind of burns you out on finishing the game.
Missing Flair — Small doses of playing can be enjoyable. Nothing about it really made me think “I need to keep going”. Nothing excited me to keep going. Even the change in the genre made it a quitting point. It’s not that I wouldn’t go back to it, but just a half an hour a day was good enough. Defeating a boss would usually mean it was time to hang up the controller until I had some spare time to get through the next area. While everything is pretty nicely done, my attention was never truly captured. I wish there were flaws I can blame it on but there aren’t. Maybe I have played too many platformers and this one didn’t bring anything spectacular to the table.
There’s a lot that wasn’t covered, mainly the time-traveling aspect. What’s tough is that everything seemed to be designed well, yet still felt stale. The story was good and the dry humor was a great read. I’ve played countless platformers, specifically Metroidvania lately. There’s absolutely something missing that I can’t put my finger on. Maybe it’s the great level design that gets somewhat muddied when you travel back and become confused about which “time” you should be in. There is also only one true thing to go back to each section for, which are the green stones. In other games of the same genre, you make mental notes along the way. Like, ‘oh, there’s a body of water and I can’t swim yet’. You gain the ability to swim and your mental note chimes in and you remember to go back. Nothing in the game really gives you these cues. You travel forward, naturally, then get to a point where the game decides to let you in on the secret that it’s a different genre. While I liked this a lot, the downside is you’re just replaying the areas that suddenly have new things in it for which you were never given a tutorial. It’s nice to have a map, but you still won’t have access to a mini-map. This was a tough review because it really is a great game, but it didn’t keep my attention which makes me conclude that, aside from some boss battles, it’s just kind of boring.
Score: Reader’s Choice
The Messenger was published by Devolver Digital and developed by Sabotage Studio on Xbox One. It was released on June 9, 2019, for $19.99. A copy was was played using Game Pass.