The Messenger delivers more than it seems.
The first time many of us probably saw The Messenger was during the Nindies Showcase back in March and immediately I was excited to see how the game would incorporate the graphical change between the 8 and 16-bit style. Upon sitting down with creative director, Thierry Boulanger, I quickly learned there’s quite a bit of deception within The Messenger and not only pertaining to the graphical switch up. While the visuals will undoubtedly be the first thing to grab your attention, crisp controls, fun gameplay, and interesting level design will be what keeps you coming back time and time again. This preview does contain some spoilers for those wishing to go into the game without knowing any surprises, but I’ll only be relaying the information giving to me during my time with Thierry.
The game starts off as a relatively standard 8-bit action-platformer. As you platform your way through each area, you’ll encounter a number of different enemies that’ll need vanquishing as you push forward with your quest of delivering the scroll to the top of the mountain. It feels familiar, but with a level of polish that many aspire to achieve. While many platformers introduce a double-jump, no such ability exists in The Messenger, but instead an ability known as Cloud Stepping will be utilized for those hard to reach areas. By hitting an enemy or object in the air, you’ll earn an extra jump which you can continue to chain, giving the option to complete areas without ever touching the ground after the initial jump. This not only looks and feels amazing, but it allows the player to attack an area in more than one way. Thierry expressed the desire to cater towards speed runners and I believe this will be a big tool for those looking to put up competitive times.
As you progress you’ll eventually run into a shop that grants you new gear, the first (at least in the demo) allowing you to crawl up and down vertical walls. Other power ups shown were a grappling hook and squirrel suit, which unlocks the ability to slow fall and attach in a downward fashion. Using the different abilities in conjunction with one another was insanely satisfying. But purchasing new gear isn’t all you can do in the shops, you’ll also be able to access the upgrade tree that allows you to further customize your experience with things such as HP boosts, potion boosts, and damage reduction to name a few. The game is also packed with humor and that first becomes apparent with your interaction with the shopkeeper. Eventually you’ll reach the peak of the mountain and what you’d expect to be the end of the adventure, but in reality it’s only just begun.
After some story bits you’ll return to the beginning of the game, but things are vastly different. Years have past and with it so have the visuals and areas you have already traversed. This is when you discover that underneath the action-platfomer there was actually a metroidvania hiding the entire time with multiple branching paths to explore. This is also when one of the more impressive elements of the gameplay is introduced. Switching between the past (8-bit) and present (16-bit) is necessary to bypass blockades that would otherwise be impossible to do. It isn’t always as simple as jumping into a portal and moving along, but the game plays with light puzzle solving by bouncing back and forth. While I didn’t get to firsthand mess around with these puzzles, it left me even more excited to get my hands on the game.
It was easy to get excited for The Messenger after seeing the initial reveal for the Switch, but little did I know exactly what the game had in store for us. I love the idea of trying to give the player a certain set of expectations and then completely shattering them by flipping the game on its head. While it seems to be a tight retro inspired action-platformer, there’s much more than meets the eye. Luckily for us, we won’t have to wait much longer as The Messenger is set to release this summer.