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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Good Game Design - The Messenger: Defying Expectations

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At first glance, The Messenger appears to be the latest game attempting an 8-bit homage revival.

Much like Shovel Knight, it takes the formula laid out years ago and combines it with modern

technology to create something new and engaging, but this time in the style of Ninja Gaiden.

The end result seems to have it all - tight movement, brutal difficulty and a kickin

soundtrack, but after spending several hours with the game, you realize this is all a

facade - a guise to draw you in before it slaps you across the face with what The Messenger

is really all about.

Its got twists, its got turns, and it even has those little bamboo hats that Raiden wears.

Let's-...lets talk about it.

I havent played the Ninja Gaiden games extensively but Im certainly aware of their

influence: climbing streetsigns, throwing shurikens and jumprolling through tons and

tons of enemies.

Right off the bat, The Messenger seems to nail the originals game feel, but add even

more fluidness to the movement - instead of stopping when you attack on the ground, now

you keep trucking along; you dont just cling to walls here, you can scale them with ease.

You start the game with the cloudstep maneuver, granting you a second jump after slashing

your sword on an object or enemy, which by itself allows for much more freedom in platforming,

but it quickly ups the ante by giving you a wingsuit to float through the air and the

rope dart so you can grapple hooks to fling across gaps and hazards.

These build on each other in satisfying ways, and add in upgrades from the shop so you can

attack vertically while floating or even cloudstep off projectiles and you get - WOO I MEAN LOOK AT THIS

It kept some of the attributes from its inspiration, like enemies respawning if you move offscreen

then come back, but without the annoying hardware limitations causing sprites to glitch out

all over the place.

They even fixed the archaic lives system of the NES days, not by going the typical Dark

Souls or Shovel Knight route of losing currency, but instead introducing Quarble who will swallow

some of the future gems you collect as payment for bringing you back to life.

Its sort of a 6 in 1, half dozen in the other type of situation, but it never felt

like an overly-punishing system, especially once you buy the upgrade to lower his compensation

by half.

He says some hilariously condescending remarks when you die too.

In fact, the whole game has outstanding humor, the shopkeeper is one of the most refreshingly

written characters Ive seen in awhile.

It goes beyond simple 4th wall breaking jokes and into real meta-narrative type dialogue

which kept on delivering well into the major twist.

He warns you that the catacombs are an uninspired stage but to not worry because the game gets

more memorable later on, he jokes that there isnt a boss fight in Bamboo Creek because

its a beautiful vacation spot, but then there actually isnt a boss fight just to

psych you out and keep you on your toes, and hell even berate you for trying to open

his closet over and over until eventually he punishes you with a super long story that

you cant skip.

In fact, if you try to sneak in when hes not there, hell pop in and say AHA GOTCHA PUNK!

The bosses catch you by surprise as well - some arent as menacing as you would expect,

some befriend you after beating them, and some arent actually violent at all - your

battle was just a simple misunderstanding.

I will say I was a little bit let down by the enemy placement at first though, the stages

werent something to write home about.

I mean I was having a good time, but thought it was nearing the end without really taking

off or doing anything groundbreaking.

Little did I know that all of this is carefully designed on purpose to make you think this

is all there is - a shiny new coat of paint on an old format, wrapped up in a clever bow

and improved gameplay.

That is, until you mention to the shopkeeper that your adventure is almost over, and he

reminds you that the trailer says something different.

This is when it hit me, oh yeah I saw that trailer, theres supposed to be time-changing

portals or something.

And right then the first of several big reveals takes place - as you defeat the tower of times

final challenge, you take a leap of faith into the future - complete with an entire

overhaul to the graphics: thats right, everything is 16-bit now!

And its much more than just visuals, all the background music and sound effects are

entirely different as well - it manages to feel like a totally new experience even though

all the mechanics are virtually the same.

Now, they DID actually show this off in the trailer, I just didnt pay close enough

attention to notice.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg, they left the real spoilers out of it entirely.

After defeating the demon kings underling, the story gets hit with several big twists

and its done in a tastefully entertaining way.

Just like you were asked to take a sacred scroll to the top of a mountain by The Western

Hero, now you realize that this same process loops with a new messenger every 500 years,

and you become the shopkeeper guiding them on their journey.

Except, they left out an important detail - youre supposed to make sure to send Quarble

to revive them when they die, otherwise theres no more adventurer.

After a short panic when your new protege is a no show, the sages call upon you to finish

the job, and this is where the game truly becomes an entirely new behemoth.

Instead of a challenging level-based platformer, it goes full-blown metroidvania.

The scroll you have been carrying this whole time is actually a map of the various levels,

and you need to collect the magical music notes to break the curse and save the world.

From this moment on, two major changes happen from a gameplay perspective - it lets go of

any linearity or handholding and releases you to explore the world.

The only thing you have to go off of are hints from the elder sage.

And 2, you can now warp between time periods through the aforementioned rifts throughout

the stages.

These not only switch things graphically, but also reconfigure the level layouts so

new pathways become available and harder enemy patterns are present in the future.

This blew my freaking mind!

Ive seen games modify their visual style before, but often it simply upgrades as you

play and never goes back, like in Evoland.

The closest Ive seen to this is Adventures of Pip but thats only the main character

switching back and forth to use different abilities, not every asset!

It made me realize the true scope of pulling this off since they essentially had to make

two versions of the entire game, and the fact that it all happens so seamlessly and can

swap on a dime makes this something I really havent seen before.

Huge props have to be given to sound designer RainbowDragonEyes for his accomplishments

with this game, its honestly the best soundtrack Ive heard in years and each tune having

their own dedicated 8-bit and 16-bit versions that switch constantly is a huge undertaking.

Basically this reinvention after pulling the wool over your eyes is a triple use of a mechanic.

Not only does it keep the old stages interesting by adding new hazards and puzzle elements

to the layout, but its used as a story beat to travel back and forth to the past

and future to accomplish tasks that would be impossible in one timeline, AND it also

is a nod to real life since 16-bit came after 8-bit graphics, making it easily recognizable

as the different time periods.

I dont think The Messenger could have succeeded with this unique idea if it wasnt so well-designed

in the first place.

Once the game opens up it introduces a bunch of totally new locations that utilize the

time portals in special ways and even add in new mechanics all the time, like rockets

shooting into the air, bouncing flower pads that remind me of the monkeys from the Lion

King for some reason, and even a new powerup that lets you walk on water as long as you

keep moving.

Youll travel to all of the old and new places to unlock helpful items, fight extra

bosses and turn enemies into friends to help people in both timelines.

Sometimes you'll see characters in the future and be like, ‘oh yeah of course, they're dead!'

But then turn back time to interact with them.

I love that for the most part, the future versions of stages are harder, except for

The Cloud Ruins because when you go back to the past, it's a bustling electric temple

brimming with danger!

All the little details that you may not even notice your first time through really bring

the whole experience together - like how the fungi in Quillshroom Marsh will sing along

to parts of the melody, or how the new messenger emulates the same movements when YOU entered

the shop for the first time; jumping around, looking at all the knick knacks.

The last gauntlet is possibly my favorite area, as you enter a music box and the platforms

react to the beat of the song - it's a perfect final test of everything you've learned.

Theres even bonus collectibles called Power Seals scattered throughout the world that

teach you the most advanced moves in your arsenal to collect them - you essentially

become a master of traversal just by completing the game.

If I had one complaint, its that I wish you could teleport to any shop location instead

of the select few teleporters that are accessible from the temple headquarters.

It did get a little old traveling from the same spot so many times, but remember how

I said the stages had a relatively basic enemy layout?

This makes so much more sense when you take into account that you have to navigate them

several times to progress the story.

The first 2-3 hours of the game are essentially a tutorial for the rest of the experience,

and once you unlock all your movement abilities, it becomes quick and super gratifying to just

sail around the locals and see whats changed since the last time you came through.

Overall, The Messenger not only nails the juice of what made games like this so satisfying

from back in the day, but introduces a new twist in a surprising way, pulling a fast

one on everyone's expectations of a genre.

Its impressive to create a modernized homage to a classic franchise, but its almost

impossible to keep such a mindblowing secret under wraps in todays day and age - and

I think the way it was marketed played a big role in that.

I kept seeing so many people saying they were enjoying The Messenger so far, and really

liked the movement or bosses and I kept thinking, 'oh just you wait and see my friend.'

Its easily a Game of the Year contender for me, and will hold a special place in my

heart simply because of how much it came out of nowhere and blew every assumption I had

out of the water.

Im curious - can you think of another game that wasnt what you were expecting going

in, but became one of your favorites because of how it defied those expectations?

What was the x-factor that made it so memorable for you?

Tell me in the comments below and lets talk about it.

If you haven't played The Messenger yet, you absolutely need to give it a try.

Sometimes a game looks like it'll be enjoyable for one thing, but you might be surprised

at what you actually find underneath.

Thanks for watching another episode of Good Game Design, Ill see you guys next time.

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The Description of Good Game Design - The Messenger: Defying Expectations