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The Messenger – Well executed and interesting. A bit too long later on.

I'm not someone who usually plays platformers or (spoilers in this case) metriodvanias, but ever since I loved Hollow Knight and Ori, I've been giving more of them a try.

The Messenger starts off as a fairly good side-scroller platformer with very simple combat elements (nothing as elaborate as HK), but good humor and great art and music. You go on a fairly generic quest as a messenger to deliver a scroll. But with how tongue-in-cheek it all is, you are (correctly) led to believe that things aren't going to be simple.

This first third or so of the game where you just do the motions and traverse the levels is fairly fun and very well paced with a good difficulty curve. The game is nowhere as demanding as Hollow Knight or Celeste (the latter of which I just didn't end up finishing despite being very well made). It has some optional challenges that are fun enough to clear with very light puzzle elements. Mostly it is movement based. The primary mechanic that differentiates it from a "pure" platformer is the first mechanic you learn: you can jump after hitting an enemy and even their projectiles. This makes the transition from combat to platforming very seamless. However, it is clear that the platforming is the point most of the time and this mechanic only servers to enhance the platforming aspect.

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As for the combat, there are boss fights. However to my disappointment, there aren't a lot of them as you're initially led to believe. The variety is decent and they are mostly fair. One or two are challenging. By the time you get to the final boss, you're probably practiced enough in the mechanics of the game that it shouldn't pose a problem. Which is my second biggest complain: pacing and difficulty curve stagnates when you complete your mission (the prologue).

The Messenger's later part after you complete delivering your scroll is very interesting as a concept. It reminds me of a certain level in a very well made FPS campaign that is lauded and you know what I'm talking about if you've played Metaspoilers Titanfall2 Effect and Cause. The game opens up to become a metroidvania from a linear path. This coincides with a time-travel mechanic where every level is actually designed in two eras: 8-bit and 16-bit. You seamlessly move between them at designated time tears and the really neat thing about this is how the music changes without interruption between the two styles. Certain areas of each level can only be accessed in a particular time, so you have to juggle between them to explore everything as well as get all the required key items to progress.

The problem is that there are way too few fast travel points (portals to levels) once the game becomes a metroidvania. There's a lot of backtracking you have to do at this point. I think they could have easily avoided this by adding more portals because you need to travel a long distance to get related key items – they often come in pairs. The cheeky humor of your shopkeeper also stops at this point as you are largely left alone to do your tasks and this only adds to the boredom about 2/3rds of the way to completion. Seeing the same early levels again when navigating them is trivial just to get a few items is not as fun. I was, however, compelled to 100% the game and get the optional collectables (power seals), but the reward for doing so is pretty underwhelming.

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However, while I did say that the difficulty curve really flattens in the metroidvania part, that is not strictly true. The most challenging sections are not encountered before the time travel mechanic is introduced, and there are about 4-5 sections I had to do several times to get right. The other thing is that new, unexplored areas also open up, and these are generally a lot more interesting to traverse then retreading your steps through previously seen areas. All of them are distinct with unique art and music in both 8-bit and 16-bit styles.

The game does a few more welcome things to break the monotony in this latter half. One area become something of a SHMUP game (a very simple one). There is another encounter at the end which is like an escape sequence from Ori and the Blind Forest. It was alright, nothing as good as Ori but a nice change of pace.

Overall, I'd say the game is about 4/5 stars. Maybe a bit lower. A few tweaks to the pacing towards the end would give it a higher score easily. The movement, the most important part of the game is done very well and is fun to traverse. Would recommend if you're looking for a decent metroidvania.

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