by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
I’m back, friends! Now that Hurricane Florence has left, and I have power and internet at home again, I’m back to hopefully writing daily content outside of news. Let’s get started with a real doozy!
As a much younger man, Ninja Gaiden was one of my favorite/least favorite series, and still is to this day. The retro/side-scroller ones anyway. Not as wild about the 3D ones. I loved the look and the feel, of a solo ninja (Ryu Hayabusa) running these incredible, insane gauntlets of weird enemies, throwing shuriken, slashing people down, and dying. Dying a lot. More than I had died in anything up until I found Bullet Hells. Retro-style games are very popular, but it’s my (perhaps unpopular) opinion that a lot of the love for these style of games coming back is owed to Shovel Knight. Devolver Digital and Sabotage have something truly special on their hands with The Messenger though. With such a simple, unassuming title, if you’ve seen nothing about the game it doesn’t sound so awesome. But let me tell you, this is easily the best platformer I’ve played in years.
The Messenger is a retro side-scrolling action game in a world where darkness and doom is definitely on the way. A young man is chosen for the incredibly daunting task of taking a scroll bearing an important message up a mountain, where death and danger lurk around literally every corner. The story, while serious is also packed, absolutely stuffed with comedy and snark, where even the Shopkeeper has some hilarious stuff to say. The game is broken up into stages, where you jump, slash, throw the occasional shuriken, and thankfully have an infinite number of lives. That’s explained away pretty handily, as there’s a demon that can turn back time and brings you back to the last checkpoint. However, it comes at a cost. As you run through stages, there are yellow crystals you’re collecting. These are used on upgrades at the shop, but if you die, that demon will follow you and consume a certain amount of them. You can, however, purchase an upgrade to cut that cost in half. It’s worth it.
Trust me, it’s worth it. At present, I’m in the Tower of Time at the first boss of it, and I have died somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 times. It’s usually something stupid or greedy, or not being able to figure out some kind of puzzle. Lots of these stages have a wild insta-death puzzle or two, where failure by a fraction means you go back to the checkpoint. Each stage feels different, and if you can think of a platformer trope, it’s here. They’re changed up in little ways though, so you don’t feel like you’re just playing a game of your childhood. A good example is the ice stage. Sure, the ground is slippery, that’s expected. But there’s also moving platforms over Gaps of Death ™, and spots you jump to that have icy/snow ground that falls, leaving you in the lurch if you don’t jump in time. So instead of taking your time you have to jump onto that vertically falling ground, and immediately jump again.
This is a very difficult game, but it’s one that you learn from doing. When you die, it’s typically from some mistake you made, and you can figure out how to do it right. There are points where I died 15-20 times trying to figure out a puzzle, and I’ve only had serious trouble with one of the bosses. The patterns aren’t insane, but they are still challenging and fun. You don’t start your new lives with full health though, which certainly can suck in the wrong situations. Boss fight checkpoints typically have a full health store item at least – except the fight I’m presently stuck on. I’m not upset though – frustrated, because I’m trying to figure out the optimal strategy for the present fight. That’s when you take a break, stop and come back later.
The Message is Joy: 5/5
I absolutely love The Messenger. It’s challenging, but just the right amount of challenge. Visually it’s lovely, the sounds and music are wonderful, and it’s the kind of platformer I really can sink my teeth into. It’s one I’ll probably play again and again to get better, and try new ways of approaching it/finding secrets. I actually found this thanks to Colton, our lead video guy/my best friend. He said I really needed to take a look at it, and once things from Hurricane Florence had settled down for me, I did. I was not disappointed. One of the only issues I’ve had with this game is a matter of control. If you jump, attack something, and jump, you can rebound and launch yourself. This works on item dropping posts, enemies, and eventually enemy projectiles. But once you have the glider suit, you hold A to glide down slowly. If you hold the button too long while trying to jump and jump again in the air, you will accidentally starting gliding and can be a real source of frustration. Other than that tiny thing, I have enjoyed sincerely every aspect of The Messenger. If you enjoy old-school platforming, you’re doing yourself a serious disservice by not getting this, post-haste.