Review: The Messenger

At a Glance

ESRB Rating: E10 - Everyone (Ages 10 and up)
My Rating: Ages 10 and up
Genre: Platformer / Metroidvania / Shoot 'em up
License: Commercial
Release Year: 2018
Review Published On: May 8th, 2019
Played on: Thaddeus

Available from:

Humble Store, Steam

Save System:

Your game is saved whenever you pass a checkpoint. There are a LOT of them too.

You can pause the game by bringing up the map, checking your inventory, or by viewing the pause menu by pressing ESC.

Summary of
Major Issues:

While you're fighting against a demon army, creatures just poof out of existence when killed. You can't be permanently killed, as a friendly monster named Quarble will teleport you to safety at the last moment.

Later in the game, you visit the lava filled Underworld (aka Hell) and fight the Demon King himself.


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Wandering through the catacombs

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A spooky swamp

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Taking the battle to the Underworld

Game Overview

The Messenger is a game about a fictional world caught in a terrible curse. Humanity is on the brink of extinction, as every 500 years, the Demon King comes with his army and attacks what's left of the population. Previous battles were only won through the timely intervention of a mysterious Western Hero, and today, the Demon King is due to come again.

Then there's you. You live in the last remaining village, where everyone is training in the way of the Ninja as they anticipate the Demon King's return. Of course, you're also the resident slacker who doesn't really believe in the old stories. But, while getting ready for more training, the Demon King arrives and quickly defeats your friends and mentor. Alone and unsure of yourself, you stood up to the Demon King, buying just enough time for the Western Hero to arrive and save the day. And now, the crisis over, you've been given an important task: deliver a scroll to the wise men on the farthest mountain top. Thus begins your time as the Messenger.

This is but the start of the game's grand adventure. This is one of those games where things are more fun when you don't know what's coming next, so I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum from here on out, but this might be difficult. You see, this game does a lot of things, and some parts of the story are spoiled by the game's promotional materials.

At the beginning of your journey, your main goal is to run, jump, climb, and fight your way towards the mountain top. Along the way, you'll buy upgrades that enhance your abilities. Occasionally, the shopkeeper will also provide new equipment, such as some claws that allow you to cling to most walls. If you want, you can also have a nice chat with the shopkeeper before resuming your journey across the world. In the meantime, if something unfortunate should happen to you, a little demon named Quarble will pop in and save your life. His job is to see that you accomplish your appointed task, so in effect, he ensures that you have infinite lives.

I really don't know why this gem has flown so far under people's radars, but it's easily one of the best games I've come across in a long, long time. It has everything you'd want in a game: a fair sense of challenge, tons of secrets, a fleshed out story with optional lore, cool soundtrack, and a nostalgic game design. Seriously, I can't recommend this one strongly enough. Get this game, deliver the scroll, save the world, and DO THE THING!

Points of Interest

Lots of meta-humor
Both the Shopkeeper and Quarble have been around the block a few times, leading to the two of them making jokes and comments about the fact they are in a game. In some cases, it's just a remark about how players tend to think, while the Shopkeeper can be provoked into breaking the fourth wall at various points in the game. The other members of the Order of the Blue Robes sometimes slip up and drop the masquerade too, making it a little hard to take any of them seriously.
Genre-defying gameplay
At first, The Messenger plays like a normal side scrolling adventure. You'll continually head up and to the right, followed by a boss at the end of most areas. Then, once the second act begins, this all changes as the game suddenly opens up and becomes a huge metroidvania. Instead of just trying to reach the sages at the top of the frozen mountain peak, you're off exploring the world in search of a set of magical items that have been lost to time.

Even later, things change once again as you deal with a shoot 'em up level.
Secrets behind everything
This game's world is full of secrets. The hidden Power Seals are the most direct example, as your typical curious gamer will discover one fairly early into the game. Unfortunately, you'll need to wait for the game to become a metroidvania before you can actually collect them all, but once you do, you'll unlock an upgrade that is easily the most powerful weapon you'll come across in your adventure.

There are also a lot of other secrets lurking about. Huge crystals are hidden all over the place, and since crystal shards are the game's currency, breaking them up earns you a lot of treasure. It's worth your while to seek them out during your first playthrough.

Some of the other secrets are random details in the background, though to glean anything meaningful from them you'll need to have spent some time seeking out some of the game's lore and stories.
New Game + Mode
So you've broken the curse and saved the world. What next? Well, why not do it all over again with some interesting twists? The new game plus mode allows you to start the story over with most of the tools and upgrades you've already found. I say "most" because you'll get to keep things like the climbing claws, wingsuit and the rope hook, but you'll have to choose which of the remaining items you'll keep. Personally, I'd go for the boots, as the Underworld becomes a lot easier if you're able to run across the lava.

Additionally, things are going to be more difficult this time around. Enemy attacks hit harder, and now Quarble won't save you unless you can pay his fee beforehand, making it a lot more important to keep extra shards on hand.
Steam community features
Like most Steam games, the Messenger comes complete with forty achievements to earn as well as a set of Steam trading cards. Many of the achievements are based around completing specific portions of the game's story, but a little less than half of them require you to do something interesting or tricky.

For example, there's an achievement that requires you to navigate through a dark cave unaided by a light source. This one might be impossible for many players, as there are a lot of instadeath traps in this cave, and you'll need to dodge them all using pure guesswork. On the other hand, some of the achievements simply need you to do something unexpected (yet fun), like pester the shopkeeper one too many times.
A bit hard at the start
At the beginning of the game, you can't take much damage and are easily knocked around by enemy attacks. This means you're probably going to die a lot until you can purchase upgrades that provide better protection from enemies. You will be revived by Quarble an infinite number of times though, so you're not totally helpless. Playing defensively and carefully will be enough to get you through this hard part. Granted, it's a lot more fun once you can tank a few hits and fly around like a hyperactive spidermonkey, but you've gotta start somewhere.
Power Seals really test your reflexes
Most of the Power Seals are hidden behind obstacle courses that aren't very forgiving. With a little practice, these sections become surprisingly trivial, though there are two specific Power Seals that are extremely hard to reach. One is found in the Cloud Ruins, while the other is located in the Underworld. Both of these require very precise movements, as you need to use enemies to flip around in the air. Of course, none of these enemies stand still, and they have a habit of moving to places where you can't use them for leverage. Expect to take some breaks when you attempt these two Power Seals.

Concerns and Issues

Mild violence
Much like the old video games the Messenger is designed after, the player fights all sorts of monsters throughout the game. However, this combat is very family friendly, with the monsters flashing red or poofing out of existence when struck. Along the same lines, the player is only knocked back slightly when they take damage, and should they die, Quarble pops in and whisks the player to safety.
Demons and magic
In this game, only a small remnant of humanity has survived the countless wars with demonkind. The Demon King and his lieutenant Barma'thazel are the chief antagonists, with the rest of their demonic army comprising the majority of the enemies found throughout the game. At one point in the story, the player is sent into the Underworld (ie, Hell) and must face the evils that are down there. Later in the game, you'll be able to explore the Underworld at your leisure.

Despite all of this, most of the "demons" appear to be some sort of bipedal turtle, and there are no direct occult references anywhere, even in the Underworld. In other parts of the world, you'll encounter ghosts, animated mushrooms, and other various types of stock fantasy monsters, further removing the demonic evils from anything spiritually risky.
Mild language
At one point in the game, the shopkeeper uses a somewhat impolite metaphor to answer one of the Messenger's more obvious questions. It's about on par with answering a yes or no question by asking about what bears do in the woods. Depending on how you interact with the shopkeeper, you might not see this message.