I Had No Idea It Was Possible to Hate the Mid-Game Twist in 'The Messenger'

Open Thread is where Waypoint staff talk about games and other things we find interesting. This is where you'll see us chat about games, music, movies, TV, and even sports, and welcome you to participate in the discussion.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/wjyjy9/i-had-no-idea-it-was-possible-to-hate-the-mid-game-twist-in-the-messenger

Count me among those who hated the twist. I was really looking forward to The Messenger, but it left me cold for multiple reasons.

I really enjoy the NES Ninja Gaidens, so I was on board with the platforming in the early stages. I knew about the twist going in, but it still sucked the wind out of my sails because of how much weaker the game is as a metroidvania. I think the reason metroidvanias can be fun is because there’s always something new and interesting to find if you just explore a little further. But The Messenger’s genre shift happens when there’s barely anything left to unlock (I maxed out the skill tree before the twist, and it barely adds anything afterwards), stops giving you stories (the shopkeeper has, IIRC, only one more story for the entire back half of the game), and basically has nothing left to tempt you with except the new stages that, previously, you were getting without having to slog through the levels backwards.

I soured on the game further after finishing it. Before the game launched, people noticed a transphobic joke in one of the shopkeeper’s lines. I think it was in a Giant Bomb video where the devs responded in the youtube comments and said they’d be removing it. I probably should have just not bothered from the moment I saw that, but since they removed it with no fuss, I figured I’d give them the benefit of the doubt. Later though, I discovered there was a hidden story I missed that lays a bunch of thinly veiled praise on Jordan Peterson. So yeah, can’t say I have any good will left towards the game or its developers.


Full Metal Furies had a big issue with this, to the point where the dev team ended up releasing a statement about how/why the game pulled in such underwhelming numbers. it appears to be a side scrolling beat-em-up co-op game but there’s a very interesting and detailed puzzle layer behind that, with a ton of riddles in verse and code inputs. i found it absolutely enthralling but it would absolutely come as a disappointment to someone who either wasn’t interested in engaging with puzzles in a beat-em-up or just never stumbled across those elements.

i do think that the experience of playing the game and discovering + solving the puzzles is stronger the less the dev team said about the puzzles, but it does leave them in a tight spot in terms of marketing and making sure the people who would find that game fun end up finding the game.

(for the record i do like the game enough that i would recommend it, with the following huge caveats: it really isn’t that much fun without friends to play with, the online can be pretty janky, and there’s a non-zero amount of weirdly inappropriate jokes, the kind of shit i’d expect from a south park game rather than the goofy cutesy references of Rogue Legacy)

Haven’t played The Messenger yet but this graph seems pretty key:

“There’s way too much backtracking, a primary criticism of the folks I heard from who stalled on the game post-twist, but I settled on using a walkthrough, so I could focus on the parts I liked. I even tracked down the secret items, because they demanded the most of my platforming skills. It’s too bad the reward was a total bust and not worth it.”

Patrick streamlined his experience in a way a lot of players going in blind probably didn’t. The tight focus of the early levels as linear action set pieces gives way to a more open and aimless experience which I can totally understand throwing people for a loop. The sense of pacing could be thrown right off. Patrick completely mitigated this factor using prior knowledge.

I use game guides all the time so this isn’t an indictment of doing so, just think that should be a huge factor in why he might favor that when many others might not have.


NieR: automata did this for me and for several people I know. I bounced off hard when the protagonist first got switched on me and I lost 2B’s dual-wielding finesse, and it felt like the minigame combat took away the balance of the entire game. I did a lot better when I went back in knowing what to expect, a few months later.


You really hit the nail on the head for me- I had no access to any guides when I played the game, so the majority of my time in the second half was spent wandering the limited map of the world while fighting the same 3-4 enemies. If I knew where I could get the special items needed to access the new areas, or what the best path to the green coins were, I probably would have come away from that game a lot happier than I did. (Sidenote, cheers to having a Bobbery icon)

On topic, “Glittermitten Grove” was somewhat that kind of game that “tricked” players? If I’m completely honest though it doesn’t fit as well because most people played it after learning of the trick, but I suppose it’s a sort of an example.

So I don’t have a particular game in mind but I am often bummed out when a game I was hoping to be fairly streamlined starts adding on unnecessary systems. I think to so many AAA games that have started adding in skill trees, crafting or loot systems into games that don’t really benefit from it. I remember feeling bummed every time they introduced a new system into Alien: Isolation for example.

I’m usually a proponent of safeguarding spoilers, preferring the feeling of entering something cold and letting it surprise me, but I cannot get behind regarding the “twist” in The Messenger as a spoiler. Something about regarding the subtle transformation into a Metroidvania as a spoiler doesn’t gel with my interpretation of the concept of spoilers. I can’t put my finger on why, it just always felt like total overkill hearing people say, “I won’t say what it is but it’s brilliant and wild and you have to experience it for yourself.” Beside that point, though, is that protecting this information belies the true nature of the mechanics of the game in a way that is arguably a disservice to both the game and the player.

Full Metal Furies is an interesting comparison point because that game is arguably a COMPLETELY different game than it’s meant to be perceived as. It subverts expectations at the same scope as Frog Fractions. The designed experience of playing Full Metal Furies, from what I’ve read, is predicated on sneaking up on the player, seeding bits and pieces of something happening below the surface, and the player feels clever by digging deeper to find out what’s really going on. Withholding information to mask the true nature of the game, subverting the player’s expectations, is almost the entire point of the game. It’s my understanding that The Messenger doesn’t do this. It just hands the player the new mechanic at a predetermined point in the game.

I’m not trying to say the comparison is bad. It’s valid because players enter both games expecting one thing, and getting another. I just think that The Messenger misrepresents the scope of its trick, and press has played a huge role in perpetuating that misrepresentation by talking around it. To me, it feels like buying tickets to a hyped-up Las Vegas magic show billing itself as something you must see to believe, and the magician walks on stage and pulls a rabbit out of a hat.

My experience echoes AvernOffset’s above.

I had just come off getting through Nightmare mode on Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, which I loved every second of. The NES was before my time, but Castlevania 3 has always been a favorite of mine and I’ve preferred it to the later exploration-based Castlevanias. I don’t have any history with Ninja Gaiden, but I was excited at the prospect another skill-based NES-style platformer, and the prospect of a juicy twist halfway through sounded too good to pass up. This lead me to purchase The Messenger over Dead Cells and Hollow Knight, games I feared might hew too close to “Metroidvania” to be what I want.

Things started great as the music was good, the aesthetics were solid, and the mechanics just got more and more engaging. I feel the criticism the early part of the game for easy is a bit off, as I was trying to get every one of the seals I came across, which I feel was a trick cribbed from Mario to add additional difficulty early on for those who want it. Fast forward to the graphical switch, however and my patience was beginning to wear. I had discovered early on that the shopkeeper would leap to the front of my “Worst Characters of 2018 List”, as I found myself torn between wanting to suss out whatever storytelling the game had to offer and wanting to avoid another of his dull “stories”. (This feeling would crystallize in the Tower of Time when a character quoting “Jordan the Wise” told me to “sort myself out”. Y I K E S) It became hard to shake these feelings, as the game stopped providing thrill of progression that had belied its worse elements. Simply put, the game doesn’t benefit from being a roguelike. As AO said above, there’s nothing left to discover by the time the game becomes about exploration.

Overall, it’s still fun to cloudstep and float around, but I can’t help but think the remaining small discoveries and challenges would be better served as being a part of the layered linear stages of game’s first half. That way, perhaps I wouldn’t feel like the game was filled with busywork, seperating me from the excitement. However, the music did remain great in the second half, so maybe that will bouy me to the finish.

Other than this, the only thing I can think of is how Spore gets worse the farther you progress into the game.


Brutal Legend suffered from this midgame genre change as well, although I actually quite liked both versions of the game, a lot of people didn’t.

I kind of had this experience with Final Fantasy XIII. I love that game, it’s combat’s genuinely fun and it looks gorgeously over the top, and the story is so awful in very specific ways that it comes across as one of the funniest games I’ve ever played. But a majority of that game’s criticism at the time was towards it’s linearity. “It’s just pretty corridors” cry the people, while I, the enlightened one, enjoyed the fuck out of the pretty corridors. I got to the open world bit and just farmed until I could skip it. Maybe I’ll come back to it at some point when I can muster the drive to engage with it, but honestly I just wanted a linear RPG with a dumbass story and nice pictures.

I guess the game just caught me at the right time because I didn’t know much about it and took a chance since I’m on a bit of a 2D sidescrolling kick, and I found both parts great.

The first half was a bit boss-heavy for my taste but I liked the fast pace, I had NO idea about the time travel/graphics stuff and said ‘wait WHAT’ out loud when it happened, then was re-delighted all over again when I realised all the levels from before had also got remixed, and so I found the whole thing rather surprising and delightful. I don’t think I would have enjoyed the graphics/time travel stuff nearly as much if I’d been prepared for it from the start.

Didn’t get past the tower of time, if anything they shoehorned a masocore game into Ninja Gaiden and I lost interest very quickly.

The question at the end reminded me of the gameplay bait-and-switch pulled by Condemned 2 about 2/3rds through the game. Instead of a tense, scary melee-focused horror game into an FPS with superpowers.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think especially the shooting elements work very well. Magazines are scarce and the guns feel meaty and powerful. But the scare factor is gone, and the melee system was simply even more fun. And the pseudo-Fus Ro Da you get? Nah, that was just a plain ol’ bummer.

oh good call

the first two thirds of condemned 2 are like an all-time great horror-action game, and the end is just a garbage fire. i still think about the level in the police station with fondness. and running from that bear!

While I’m still enjoying the messenger (i stopped playing dead cells and Hollow Knight and for some reason kept playing the messenger), I understand a lot of the sentiment of not liking the metroid-vania part.

Like Patrick said the biggest criticism is the backtracking and also figuring out where i need to go. It was only until later did i realize the coins were abundant and I should use the hint system because many times I didn’t know where to go and the quotes weren’t good enough (or i’m not smart enough to decipher it)

Also for me personally, metroidvania games tend to allow easy explorations. But the messenger is a hard platformer and many times i kept hitting hard platforming when all i cared about is getting from A to B. It got repetitive and pretty tedious.

I think I’m in the apparently very small third camp that enjoyed both parts of The Messenger, but I definitely felt more engaged during the first half. I think that’s because there have been so many high-qualitiy Metroidvanias lately and not as many linear retro platformers that I really liked, and the first half scratched that very specific itch very well at what for me was a pretty reasonable difficulty level. The second half was a lot slower and felt much less streamlined and polished to me, especially with the dearth of fast travel and the amount of busy-work backtracking. Compared to a lot of other MV games right now, this one’s world felt a bit sparse—which wasn’t a problem when it was a linear platformer, but felt like it dragged once it put itself in the same vein as games like Hollow Knight.

Though the second half did give those smooth switches between 8-bit and 16-bit music, which was excellent, and the time puzzles were neat. At their best they felt like a 2D version of Effect and Cause from Titanfall 2, which is high praise.

1 Like

I went in knowing it would happen and 9s’s section still killed my interest. There were other things I wanted to play/read so I walked away and probably won’t come back.

The voice actor for 9s made me glad they introduced a vomod feature for that whiny tra-medy character, I couldn’t bring myself to actually play as him

The original Metroid and Castlevania were games that I owned and loved playing through as a kid. I enjoyed Ninja Gaiden a lot as a rental, but it was too hard for me to finish and I didn’t own any games in that series. When Metroidvania became a genre around the time of Symphony of the Night (SotN) / after Super Metroid, it became clear that it was my favorite genre.

I thought The Messenger started off pretty fun and then became massively more enjoyable as new abilities were unlocked and levels offered more opportunities to use them in more interesting ways. When it became a Metroidvania, I was pleasantly surprised and pretty stoked when I started exploring. If you want to find every secret, you will love a metroidvania, but if you just want to get straight through to the end, you might enjoy it more with a guide or by playing with a friend who’s paying attention. I didn’t care much about getting all of the power seals until I got the map and bought the upgrade to see the location of each one. As an adult, I don’t like to spend much time wandering in games like I did as a kid, so this convenience brought an extra level of satisfaction to the game that I would have otherwise skipped.

One of the most impressive things about The Messengers gameplay is how much opportunity there is to improve your skill while still feeling very accessible. That’s a priceless quality and I can see a lot of fun mechanics for speed runners such as using the rope dart to quickly grapple through lanterns and enemies or towards walls to save time. There is another deceptively subtle touch which is actually brilliant where you can swing your sword and quickly hit the direction opposite of the way you’re facing to make the blade sweep both sides. You can actually do this at least twice to make the blade hit 3 times, which I’d imagine could be very useful when combined with the Demons Bane technique. There is also the ability to do the underwater dash before jumping out of the water to get some extra horizontal speed and using the wingsuit attack on lanterns while gliding in an air current to get some major vertical speed. Similarly, jumping off of a moving platform can give you some extra velocity, which is fun to play around with. The way these moves can be combined together would qualify them as 'Versatile Verbs" which are described by the Game Maker’s Toolkit. I just got to the shrunken shrine and haven’t finished the game yet but hope that undocumented abilities like these are put to good use somewhere in the game.

I loved all of the well balanced boss fights in the first half of this game and started to miss that gameplay element during the metroidvania section. A few more bosses or mini bosses during the exploratory segment would have been an awesome way to keep things a little more exciting. Ideally, there would be some more challenging optional bosses and then required bosses would be kept at a similar challenge to most of the fights before the game opened up.

The Messenger actually felt a bit closer to a “metroidvania-lite” to me, although the excessive backtracking to get the tea definitely was drag that could have benefited from better unlock-able or hidden shortcuts than what was available. It probably didn’t take more than an extra 15 minutes, but it did mess up the pacing. One thing that keeps Super Metroid and Castlevania SotN interesting when back tracking is that there are still hidden upgrades to discover in the levels. Super Metroid had the health, missile, and bomb upgrades (plus a couple super cool beam upgrades) while SotN had a variety of weapons, shields, gear, a few familiars, abilities, and stat upgrades. Another way to make backtracking more interesting would be to change something when revisiting an area after an event, even something as small as getting the tea leaf in this case. Examples would be changing the enemies, level aesthetic, level geometry, character appearance and abilities, gravity, lighting, music, or ideally, all of them at once or adding one change each time you return (which I don’t recall seeing done in other games.)

One thing to add is that I loved the mid-game twist where you dawn the cloak to become the shopkeeper. Getting scolded by the guy who already acts like he thinks you’re an idiot (but didn’t bother to tell you this part) for not knowing to keep tabs on the new messenger and failing to send Quarble when he dies was a hilariously creative plot device. The timing, animation, and dialogue of that scene as well as the rest of the game is extremely well done. I often find myself wanting to skip the text in most games these days, but the text in The Messenger was a joy to read - even when repeatedly checking out the closet when the shopkeeper was away or listening to his stories, all of which could be profound if given enough thought. I think the developers intentionally wrote the dialogue to be entertaining for people who are tired of reading stale old cliches found in most video game dialogue. I also have to point out that the music is absolutely fantastic and I wouldn’t ask for anything more than the great tracks that were included. I’m enjoying The Messenger immensely so far and I really hope Sabotage Studio makes another game in the same genre - especially if they incorporate a few of my suggestions :slight_smile:

1 Like