By Josh Speer / September 19th, 2018
While one of our author’s capably reviewed The Messenger the other day, since I got a Switch copy, I decided to offer my ten cents. After all, I had been anticipating the game since it was announced. Something about the art style really caught my interest, as did the concept of switching between 8 and 16 bit graphical styles. The question is, did The Messenger on Switch live up to my lofty expectations?
At the start of the game, I was immensely pleased with things. It moved fast, the 8 bit graphics were great, and there was just enough plot to get things rolling. I also enjoyed the challenging boss fights and the odd sense of humor that permeated every conversation in the game. This exuberant feeling lasted for about the first 5 hours of the game, right up until a dramatic turn of events gives players access to the 16 bit content. Unfortunately, this is where my problems started to arise.
The first portion of The Messenger is a linear platformer, much in the same vein of Ninja Gaiden, but without being quite so unforgiving. Things are well balanced, and I never found the gameplay too easy or too hard. Every time I faced a roadblock, I could overcome it with a new ability or upgrade from the item shop. But in the second half of the game, The Messenger plays more like a Metroidvania, allowing you to return to stages you’ve already gone through to find hidden areas and items, as well as experiencing them in 16 bit mode. You would think that I loved this feature, being a huge fan of the genre, and I did at first. But when I realized how open ended the 2nd half is, and how easy it was to get lost, I started to get frustrated. That frustration grew when I realized that the first portion of the game also has the lion’s share of bosses. Part of the fun of a Metroidvania is exploring and regularly encountering savage beasts to slay. While there are some cool boss fights in the 2nd half, there’s not nearly as many as in the first half. Moreover, many of the later boss fights felt less inspired and in some cases less challenging than I expected for that late in the game. Even a fight against the self proclaimed Demon King was a cinch once I figured out how to harm him.
Another complaint I had is that being in 16 bit mode doesn’t give you access to any new integral moves. Other than getting a limited ability to walk on water / lava, which is only really relevant in one dungeon, all your moves are the same. The only change that happens is your surrounding environment transforms when you go 16 bit, offering new routes and closing others. I had really hoped to be able to do things like double jump in 16 bit mode, or it even giving me unique options that could only be utilized in that mode. Especially since the 16 bit environments are much more wide open and prone to sudden deaths from falling into pits and such. I don’t mind some challenge, but I do like a bit more balance.
Visually, the game is amazing in either graphical style, though I think I preferred the 8 bit art just a bit more. All the foes have a ton of personality and are visually very distinct. I also appreciated the art for the text boxes. Musically, The Messenger is transcendent. Rainbowdragoneyes composed a fantastic soundtrack, and one I can still hear in my head weeks after 100% beating the game. Each stage has a distinct tone thanks to this, and the sound effects also do a great job of grounding the action.
As for how well The Messenger is optimized for the Switch, I had almost zero issues. I felt it played very well in portable mode, and unlike most indie games, makes very good use of the HD Rumble. I only encountered slowdown a couple times in my 20 something hours with the game, and then only when a lot of stuff was happening all at once. Though I won’t go so far as to say this is the definitive version of the adventure, it plays quite well on it. So if you prefer console gaming to Steam, you should consider the Switch version of The Messenger.
I don’t want to sound like the majority of the game was a bummer. I did very much enjoy a lot of it. Sure, the plot revelations came out of nowhere and the constant humor detracts from the urgency or impact of a post apocalyptic world on the brink of collapse, but the tight controls and wonderful aesthetics helped salvage that. The thing that really pleased me and helped redeem the late game issues I had was the final arc of the game, especially the final dungeon. I won’t ruin anything, but the last dungeon was very unexpected, along with the final boss. It left me exhilarated, and my only regret is the game didn’t maintain the same consistent level of satisfaction throughout. In my opinion, The Messenger starts as an A+, falls to a B- mid game, and then gets brought to a B at the very end. Despite being a bit inconsistent, this is still a great retro game I would recommend to fans of the genre. Here’s hoping that a potential sequel fixes the problems I encountered in the first, since I feel Sabotage Studio has a lot of talent, and I wouldn’t mind returning to this world.
Devolver DigitalImpressionsSabotage StudioSwitchThe Messenger