When The Messenger came to the Nintendo Switch in 2018, we gave it a whopping 9.3/10. Why? Well because it’s fantastic. This review won’t mince words, it’ll do the exact opposite of what the game’s story asks you to do: deliver a message across the land to glacial peak. Well, we will reveal the message of this review right away:
I thoroughly recommend The Messenger. Why?
Well, it is still a review so we should probably get into it. For years now indie developers have been creating absolutely fantastic experiences, especially in the 2D space. We’ve had Celeste and Shovel Knight as well as Cuphead and so much more. The story here is classic old school, ripped straight out of the ’80s. There’s a world-ending disaster encroaching, a mythical hero and a cast of wondrous bosses and a weird lovable merchant. Typical video game fare with a lot of originality. The Merchant will get meta with you, the demon who controls death will verbally abuse you in punishment for your mistakes and the bosses ooze personality in the one or two sentences they speak before your battle. The story never detracts from the gameplay but will give you plenty of laughs and plenty of motivation to keep advancing to the next areas. The merchant is genuinely up there with one of my favorite game characters in a long time.
The gameplay is as close to perfect as gameplay can be. It’s tight, intense and very easy to learn but hard to master. At the core of the game is an action platformer with two really basic moves: attack and jump. It’s unbelievable how much use developer Sabotage gets out of these simple commands. Utilizing Cloud Step (attacking something during a jump) gives you an extra jump and the potential to be in the air infinitely. As you play through the game you’ll pull off some incredible moves simply by chaining cloud step. You’ll feel like a genuine ninja. Many additional moves are added to your repertoire (a word I had to Google for spelling) as you advance through each of the areas including a shuriken, underwater dash and a wingsuit. These change up the gameplay constantly but never detract from the simple learning curve presented at the very beginning. The Messenger manages to have such a perfect sense of progression by allowing you to master really simple and easy actions quickly then ramping up the challenge only at the moment the player feels confident.
One thing the game does ingeniously is variety. Each level has a main path of progression with a handful of hidden secrets that’ll contribute to upgrades as you collect special seals and currency to spend on new moves from the merchant. Certain sections have different ways that you can move through the environment, you could slowly go from platform to platform defeating every enemy on the way. Or you could absolutely fly through the level utilizing every one of your skills to chain a really free-flowing motion through the level. It’s a fantastic way to make the levels both accessible and challenging. You’ll want to fly through but other times you’ll accept your limitations and take it slow to find your feet. The game isn’t very difficult on a whole. Most enemies are pretty simple to defeat and even the bosses you’ll take down on the first go. While this will annoy some ’80s purists, I appreciated the sense of momentum that moving through the game quickly provided. It felt thematically appropriate.
The game really turns on its head halfway through. The graphics style changes, the level design opens up and there’s a lot more to do really. It’s a real shock to the system that I don’t want to spoil but it’s fun and will keep the player engaged. I really enjoyed having my perception of a game totally changed. Things like saving and checkpoints are easily signposted in the game and regular enough to not be frustrating. Death is something that is done totally uniquely. There is a punishment for dying. It isn’t harsh but it is very funny and I really appreciated the way dying tied into the lore of the world.
The graphics are spot on. The 8-bit and 16-bit styles are flawlessly pulled off and the enemies and environments all manage to feel alive and look unique. The designs of the bosses and major NPCs are a particular highlight, they give these enemies who are only on screen for five minutes bags of charms keeping them memorable long after you defeat them. The music also perfectly replicates the era that inspired it. The Messenger is fun, upbeat and mirrors the charm of the art style.