Preview: Hands on with The Messenger
When The Messenger was announced, the game grabbed my attention and recently I was fortunate enough to go hands-on with it and after a marathon 2-hour session, I can’t wait for the full release.
If you are not aware, The Messenger is a love letter to the old 8-bit games like Ninja Gaiden, where you need to run across the screen, killing enemies and whatnot, but the biggest difference here is that your main objective is not to kill, but to deliver. As the name suggests, you take on the role of a nameless Ninja, who after his village and clan are attacked, becomes the Messenger and the goal is to deliver the scroll to the most eastern point on the land. As you journey across, you will discover countless enemies, obtain a heap of items and skills and a variety of lands and bosses, it really is quite a journey.
If you are still unsure about the game, think of how Shovel Knight paid homage to the old school adventure/platformer games of the late 80’s and The Messenger is doing the same thing. While the game has an 8-bit look, it skews to the more 12-bit style that modern games are using, but the games biggest advantage is that after a certain point, you will warp forward in time and discover the world has changed, not only in layout with some pathways now becoming open but also in that the world is now 16-bit in style. The games blending of the two distinct looks impacts the gameplay more than you might imagine, but everything is kicked up a notch when you jump forward in time.
Of course, you will still need to reach a certain point, before you are pushed through time, which takes a few hours and along the way, you encounter a number of bosses to defeat. Defeating them comes down to combining the skills that you learn along the way, with the gear you have, to survive and some of them can be quite tricky. You have two basic moves at the outset, jump and attack, but as this is more based in realism, at least as much as a time travelling Ninja can be, you can’t double jump. In its place is a cool system that, once you attack an enemy, or light, or switch, you can jump again, combining them lets you reach higher places, but later on when you get the squirrel suit, things really expand.
Using the suit, by pressing and holding the jump button, you glide through the air, should you then attack something, you can jump again and then transition into another glide. It is possible to keep this going almost indefinitely as long as there is something to hit with your katana. When you earn the rope dart, or as most people will call it, the grapple hook, you can use it to save yourself from those previous near misses, by dragging yourself up to walls and such, but you can also use it on enemies, meaning, you can chain together hits and the extra jump, to move quite fast. The fact that the game gives you multiple ways to move, comes in really handy when you attempt to collect the seals that are hidden around the place.
Seals act much like the scrolls in Shovel Knight, they are located in self-contained rooms and require a lot of precision gaming in order to collect them. Some of the rooms just require you to clear some gaps, others are filled with spikes or lasers and touching them usually means instant death, they will require some very fancy footwork to survive and retrieve your reward. What the seals unlock remains a mystery but as there are 44 of them, that means that not only do you need to find all the secret rooms, but then you need to beat them, quite a feat to be sure. These rooms, much like some parts of the game will test you and if you are like me, you will die a lot, but when you die, you are revived at the most recent checkpoint by Quarble, a little minion of death, who saves you just before you die, but at a cost. The Time Shards that you collect, in order to purchase upgrades are instead taken by him, as payback for his assistance, the number of which is fixed, but if you are trying to save up for an upgrade and keep dying, you are going to be stuck dealing with Quarble before you can buy your items.
The one part of the game that might be confusing for players is how it progresses, at first the game is a pure side-scroller, but not long after you have jumped ahead in time, it swaps to a Metroidvania style, letting you warp around and explore the older levels with all new powers and items. Once you hit this point, where you go and how you approach things is completely up to you, before my time ended, I was able to venture back to the past and pick up a seed for a type of tea from the sensei of the village, he told me it would take many years to grow but the result would be a new ability, sadly I never got a chance to find out where to plant it or what will happen, but soon I will know, as the game is only a few weeks away from release.
The Messenger is a game that follows the path of Shovel Knight, I know I keep using that reference but is the best way to describe it. It is taking what players remember of the old games, like Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Spirit, but given it a lot of modern touches, whilst maintaining the look we know. The addition of the 16-bit visuals could have just been a gimmick, but so far it changes up the gameplay in some really cool ways. While I could keep talking about the game, a lot of the fun comes from discovering how it all comes together, so I want to leave some surprises for you to discover yourself, but as the game is on track for release quite soon, you won’t have long to wait.