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A review of The Messenger

Content of the article: "A review of The Messenger"

I passed on getting the June Humble Bundle because Hellblade was a repeat and none of the titles really stood out to me. One title caught my eye though, and that was the retro NES/SNES-style platformer "The Messenger". I was glad I didn't get that month's bundle though, because it subsequently became a free game for Twitch Prime users, and I was able to get it anyways. I've been playing it for awhile now and I'm about 3/4 through (by my estimation), so I wanted to share my thoughts on it. Overall, I think that it's a well-made and challenging (but not over-the-top difficult) platformer with a few annoying parts.

Bad: Probably the biggest selling point of the game and the thing which makes it stand out from similar games (and is featured heavily in the trailer) is that eventually the game moves from an 8-bit style to a 16-bit style; changing the graphics, sound, and map. And, following that, it places portals throughout the map that will cause you to switch between 8-bit and 16-bit modes. I think this is a very cool concept in theory, but I've found its implementation to be more annoying. I would love it if switching between styles gave you different gameplay mechanics, and you had to choose which style to be in to go at a challenge in a way that suits you. However, that doesn't happen. Gameplay in the 8- and 16-bit worlds are the same. The only non-cosmetic difference is the level layout.

The way rooms are connected stays the same between the 2 styles, but the way things are organized within a room can change. This could mean it's more difficult to get across in one style than another, and it can also mean that passage is completely impossible unless you are in the correct number of bits. This leads to some frustrating moments where you want to explore a room you see you haven't been on the map, and go towards it only to find that the entrance is completely blocked, and you need to backtrack to the nearest portal where you can freely switch (some portals basically take up the whole space you can walk through, so you can only activate them by passing through, and activate them the other way going back), before heading back to the entrance again to finally be able to enter the new room. It's a frustrating guessing game, whenever you plan on going to an unexplored area you notice on the map. I would say this is my biggest complaint about the game.

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GOOD: In terms of the more conventional platformer features, I think that The Messenger handles them quite well. Traversing many of the sections is often difficult, but never feels unfair. I think they've handled double-jumping in a way that's unique and doesn't feel overpowerful. You cannot double jump normally, but if you swing your sword at an object or enemy mid-jump you are given one, and after jumping you can hit something again and chain jumps together. This leads to some fun sections trying to hit enemies or projectiles enough to be able to keep jumping and get to a destination. There are also additional abilities you unlock along the way that allow you to travel further horizontally in the air or cling to walls, which allow more complex challenges using all of your platforming abilities.

Another thing that I think was handled well was the sound design. There is something very satisfying about switching from the 8-bit to the 16-bit world and hearing the music suddenly get fuller and more robust as it emulates better console sound hardware. There are also little touches, like the fact that the music becomes muted when you start swimming, as though you were listening from underwater.

NEUTRAL: Besides that, the gameplay contains upgrades you can purchase at a shop (I think they're all enhancements that make you more powerful or the game easier; none of them are strictly required to get past any part of the game). The shopkeeper will also tell you stories, if you feel like taking a break from platforming and reading some text. And the deaths are handled in an interesting way. You collect currency as you go, from destroying enemies and hitting objects. When you die, you're revived at the previous checkpoint, but then for awhile you cannot gain any new currency, as all that money goes as payment for bringing you back. It's less punishing than something like Blasphemous where you lose existing money, and you never feel that bad about dying.

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OVERALL: If you have twitch prime and you got this game for free, I say play it. It's definitely worth the time it takes, especially if you've got an itch for some Guacamelee or Shinobi-style platformer action. If you don't have it, I'd consider buying it if the price is right. It's currently $20 on Steam (the standard price), and SteamDB says that it's gone as low as $10. Now, I tend to prefer to wait on purchasing games until they're pretty inexpensive (I am posting on PateintGamers afterall), so I don't think I would personally buy this game at $10 if I didn't already have it. But I would at $5. Again, especially if you have an itch for that platformer action.


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