The Messenger is a throwback to classic NES and SNES games, inspired by experiences like Ninja Gaiden. In these more modern times in gaming, can a game be inspired by classics that are over thirty years old find success? How well does switching the game between 8bit and 16bit help, or hurt, the game? The Messenger hopes to answer these and many more and the answers could only be provided by the talented developers over at Sabotage.
Release Date: August 30th, 2018
Approximate Size: 1.1 GB
Genre: Action Adventure Platformer
Developed By: Sabotage
Published By: Devolver Digital
Reviewed On Nintendo Switch; Also Available On PC.
The story centers around the player taking on the role of a disenchanted ninja who has been taught all his life that one day a hero from the west would come and eliminate the demons plaguing the world. A legend, almost myth like story that has been told but no sign of it coming to fruition. Every day this ninja gathers around with the others to hear the legend from their master and to practice their abilities. The world, his life, has become mundane and routine. The young ninja begins to question why they are still in hiding and it’s on this day where his doubts on the validly of those legends reach its peak, that everything changes. The demon army attacks, your clan is decimated, and the elder dies. With only you left, a task is given and is the foundation of the game. The reason for your traveling across the land. Call it luck, or unfortunate circumstance, but you as the unworthy survivor are tasted with carrying the scroll to Glacial Peak where three sages are waiting for you. This makes you The Messenger.
The rest of the story is told through the characters you meet along the way and their reasoning for doing what they do. The hilarious Merchant will provide exposition centering around the world, the area you’re going through, the bosses of an area, and some tales that further flesh out his character. Humor in this game is at the most prominent and the developers know not to take themselves, the world, or the game seriously. It’s all about fun and that is definitely shown in the well written, hilarious, dialogue. Quarble himself is also hilarious in deprecating way in how he belittles you when you die, and he pulls no punches in expressing how little faith he has in you. Your character’s thoughts are also well written, as is his dialogue when speaking with other NPCs. The bosses themselves surprised me with how the game really fleshes them out with how the interactions between them play out. Many games, from the era that inspired this one to games released this year, offer no explanation for why the bosses mindlessly serve the main villain but this game actually fleshes things out. Not all of them sever the main antagonist, you’ll encounter bosses that may actually be a misunderstanding or a boss that is closer to you than you think. I can’t go into much because of spoilers and because it would ruin the game’s magic, but The Messenger is very creative in its storytelling.
When it comes to plot, The Messenger offers enough to encourage the player to push forward and each encounter with bosses and NPCs offers more background on the state of the world. The developers have added way more than they otherwise would have needed to for most players familiar with this genre, and this era it is inspired by, and I thank them for it. I wish there was more because what is available is so, so, good. The dialogue is well written with witty humor and just the right amount of fan service. Gameplay is at the forefront and the main offering to this game, but the story presented is wonderful and I hope we can get some more one day, someday.
The Messenger adds a surprising bit of depth to its gameplay, offering the gamer a lot of simple tools that help tie the combat and platforming into one creative, seamless, experience. The first gameplay mechanic introduced is a prime example of this, the Cloud Step. The way this element of the gameplay works is, that, when you jump and slash with your sword on enemies or certain items in the environment, it allows you to receive another jump. Essentially it offers you an unlimited amount of jumps when timed correctly and executed properly. Your first introduction and practice with this are with three lanterns at different elevations. As you progress deeper into the game, this mechanic is used through more complex platforming and you learn that the first gameplay element is the actual foundation of the game. I mentioned that this Cloud Step is used after the sword slash, let’s talk about that sword slash. That is your weapon for the game, your means to attack, and the animation is fast and fluid as one would expect a ninja to perform. Each enemy requires their own amount of slashes and enemy projectiles can also be rid of through attacking as well. Should you encounter an enemy that is too far away to be sliced, you also wield a set number of Ninja Shurikens as projectiles. Learning when to use which form of attack can make all the difference.
Another area where the gameplay shines is in the game’s platforming and your mobility options as a ninja. Traditional means of traveling are present, such as jumping from platform to platform, but you also have a tool to reach secret, hidden, areas and to simply progress forward. Some of these options include a wingsuit for you to glide across the area to reach a platform that you wouldn’t be able to get to otherwise. It amazes me how fluid it all ties together and how it all works. It left me in awe when I glided towards an enemy projectile to use the Cloud Step technique and with the extra jump be able to hit a lantern to lift myself higher to once again use the wingsuit to reach far away platform. This is a smart level design, thoughtful area construction. What makes this even more exciting and encourages the player to experiment more, is that there is usually more than one way to reach a platform. The game provides, in sections, air currents to dictate your travel path with the wingsuit and it seems to always tempt you with currency in an alternate path. Another item you are given to combine with the platforming and other toys you are given to experiment with is the Rope Dart. The way this item function is allowing you to grip specific elements in the environment or walls and it pulls you to them. This is another function, that when combined with other abilities, offers a robust variety on how to proceed forward in these labyrinths, thought provoking, platforming sections that are ninety percent of the sections.
Other than the platforming, enemies also litter the environments and add another layer of danger. However, not completely. Enemies are varied, and each offers their own means to attack and amount of damage needed to defeat them. There will usually be more than one kind for you to encounter in a section to make things more difficult and have you truly deciding on what the best course of action is. Do you defeat the enemy who is throwing projectiles at you or do you engage the one ready to gun for you as soon as you jump closer into the platforming section? The game shines brightest when all of these are present with the addition of environmental hazards and precious currency of temptation nearby. Other than this, enemies in the game lack any real challenge or unique strategy to defeat, with exception to an elite few, and this is both frustrating and sad. Its one of the few areas where this game falls a little for me. Even when compared to the examples this game hopes to emulate at times, it falls slightly short compared to those now iconic predecessors. Boss fights also suffer from this as well but not as much. Each boss has its unique strategy to defeat them and many of the encounters are wonderfully creative. Other than trial and error to discover their means of attack, they are pretty easy to overcome. I didn’t really have a sense of danger or worry, death wasn’t something common at the hands of enemies. Most of my deaths came from mistimed platforming or cheap encounters designed to teach the player a lesson, thankful there are very, very, few of these.
Death is actually handled in a way I didn’t expect, adding another layer of danger and effect to it. When you die you are greeted by a snarky, sarcastic, creature known as Quarble. This special bastard will accompany you upon respawn at the last checkpoint you reached and will do you the honors of taking your currency for a set amount of time. Currency you get from fallen enemies, gone, currency found throughout the level, gone, and currency in secret locations, gone. Should you have the misfortune of dying with him still around, not only will he return to get your currency again, but you’ll also receive the privilege of the snarkiest death screens in gaming. Yes, a lot of this is sarcasm but nonetheless true. I mentioned checkpoints. They are handled traditionally, saving your progress once you progress a certain level ahead, but certain ones also offer you an entrance to the game’s shop. In the shop, you’ll meet the hilarious merchant who will offer you background on the upcoming new area, the boss of this level, and he may even tell you a story. This is also where you will get access to your skill tree and use some of that currency that Quarble was unable to take can be put to use. The skill tree offers a lot of nice upgrades, such as limiting the amount of money Quarble takes, and it will be interesting to see how players avoid these upgrades to make the game more challenging and set up scores and benchmarks to beat.
This is how the game plays for fifty to sixty percent of the time but somewhere around the halfway point, The Messenger changes into an almost completely different experience. Reveal trailers showed a change in graphics and presentation from an 8bit experience to a 16bit one. To be honest, I forgot all about this when playing through the game and was only reminded of it once it happened. Once this happens, the game seems to evolve and drift away from a platforming experience and transition to a more Metroidvania experience. This isn’t a bad thing at all, but I can see these souring things for players expecting, or used to, a certain gameplay style and being forced to change and adapt to another. It didn’t bother me, and I felt the change in pace and gameplay was a welcomed addition to add another layer to an otherwise stellar experience. Backtracking isn’t an issue at all and is actually welcomed because it affords you the opportunity to revisit past locations and collect and find more secrets.
When it comes to the gameplay, The Messenger is a fantastic experience but not a perfect one. Enemies and bosses are too easy and the change in pace and gameplay style when the graphics change may turn off some players. Other than those, the game shines in nearly every way. Platforming is exceptional and you are given many tools to maneuver through the game’s environments. I don’t have any complaints about the game that presented but I do have something in mind that I would have rather seen. I feel if the time mechanic, the switch between 8bit and 16bit, was available from the beginning it would have made for a more special experience, one that was more seamless, and one that wouldn’t turn some off. Another thought would be for the game to have committed to an 8bit experience for the entirety of the game and utilized the 16bit in a sequel. This is based on some complaints I heard from friends when discussing the game. For me, personally, I enjoy it for how it is and hope the developers can do more in the future. It helps that the game is so much fun and that everything works flawlessly.
The Messenger has two different graphical styles that change the look and feel of the game. When you first start the game, you are greeted by the wonderful throwback of the 8bit era with this classic style that was most prominent when consoles first entered homes and began to slowly garner mass appeal. The emulation of this graphical setting is presented flawlessly and unless someone is told what the game is, or what year it was released, it’ll be very hard to tell the difference. The developers deserve a lot of praise for their ability to replicate this now defining the style of a long, lost, era. This is further showcased, the developer’s attention to detail and impressive replication of older graphical settings, when the game jumps to its 16bit graphics. the same jump we all felt when going from, say, the NES to the SNES is present but in a more instant level but still just as impressive. Seeing the transition without hiccup or issue, completely flawlessly, is amazing and seeing the enemies change with more detail equally impressive.
Speaking of enemies, they are designed wonderfully. The designs are varied, and they never become an eyesore or an issue when seeing some of them repeatedly. None of them look out of place or feel artificial, they all look and feel like they belong in this world. The more creative ones are saved for more difficult encounters and when you come across an enemy you’d hadn’t seen yet, you are instantly instilled with caution as you learn the tactics. That’s all from a design perspective and few developers can showcase that as well as it is done in this game. The most impressive designs, the ones that look the coolest and intimidating, are saved for the bosses. Each boss in this game is designed in such a unique way that I couldn’t wait to see the next one because they are magnificent. Those familiar with my reviews know how important boss encounters and designs are to me and it fills me with joy to type that this game has some beautiful ones, albeit a little on the easy side in terms of gameplay. The other NPCs available, and the ninja you control are designed well and also fit perfectly into the world that has been crafted for them.
The Messengers graphics are absolutely wonderful and a visual delight to see. The environments you’ll traverse through are varied, the enemies are designed nicely, and regardless of what graphical setting the game is presented in, it all looks magnificent. The game runs flawlessly with no hiccups, pop-ins, or graphical or performance discrepancies of any kind. Fans of classic games will feel right at home here and those looking for the right title to jump in, well, The Messenger is a marvelous entry point.
Just like the rest of the game, The Messenger is able to once again replicate the source material that has inspired it. The tones in this game, the music, is some of the catchiest beats in gaming. Its one of those in game music that has you humming it as you are going through your day, the kind of music that stays in your head hours after your last play session. The game does well to switch it up depending on where you are, and it implements simple technics that may, or may not, have been possible back in the late 80s and early 90s but sticks out here. One example is when your traversing through the level and enter into water, the in-game audio becomes muffled as if it was also submerged into the water. A simple element that adds so much more and sticks out as an excellent game design. Whether its 8bit or 16bit, the games audio is spectacular and another area that has been crafted wonderfully. The game also accurately provides the appropriate sounds to flesh out the action on the screen. It sounds like a broken record but, once again, the developers have nailed exactly what they set out to achieve.
Gaming, the media as a whole, is the most unique experience one can enjoy. It is also the largest and in this dense field, there are a plethora of games available to experience. Some take advantage of new hardware, such as VR, some aim to captivate players with deep narratives, like 2018’s God Of War, and some games harken back to an era that defined the late 80s and early 90s. The Messenger is the latter but to say it’s a modern take on a classic experience would be a disservice to it and its developers. The Messenger does more than try to recapture your feelings and try to recreate the wheel, so to speak, instead, it recaptures that magic and manages to rise above to the pinnacle of what the genre has always hoped to become. The Messenger runs like a dream, it’s gameplay addictive, and it has managed to rekindle my love for gaming in a most trying time in my life. The Messenger carries more than a scroll, it also contains a love letter for gamers everywhere.
This game is a must own for everyone. It has excellent platforming, fantastic graphics, spectacular humor, and it runs flawlessly. The combat is simple yet satisfying and the timing needed to master cloud stepping offers another level of satisfaction once it’s mastered. When all the elements combine into one and you are switching between combat and platforming, while dodging enemy attacks and environmental hazards, it’s all a truly remarkable experience. The boss fights are fun and creative yet simple, death has an actual penalty, and the skill tree offers more depth than a game like this would normally have. Playing this game was such a pleasant experience, it’s scary how easily it can pull you in and cause you to lose yourself in the game and to forget the world around you. The Messenger is quite possibly the best indie game ever, undoubtedly released in 2018.
- Fantastic Graphics & Flawless Switching
- Great Controls & Gameplay Elements
- Spectacular Dialogue & Humor
- Boss Designs Are Varied & Awesome
- Small Details Add A lot To The Experience
- Enemies & Bosses Are Easy
- Change Of Pace May Turn Off Some Players