Game Review # 474: The Messenger (Nintendo Switch)
Updated: Feb 13, 2020
Reviewer: Allan Jenks
Developer: Sabotage Studio
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Category: Action, Adventure, Arcade, Platformer, Indie
Release Date: 8.29.2018
Buy The Messenger from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
Self-Deprecation is Key
I love anything that can make fun of itself, and a game is no exception to that! Let’s face it, most good game concepts have already been invented, reinvented, “invented” again, and then made over to look like something else. Sure, occasionally a brand-new idea comes out that blows everyone away, but for the most part, we have all agreed that improving upon an established norm can still be quite exciting—when done properly and with respect for the source material and its part in the inspiration, of course. The Messenger fits the bill in this case, as it certainly isn’t shy about what it is: a modern-retro pixelated love letter to Ninja Gaiden.
The Messenger is an action 2-D side-scroller that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but just seriously enough to make it still feel engaging and fun. With several blatantly obvious nods to the Ninja Gaiden series right out of the gate, the developers want you to know that they know that you know… but it’s ok, because the important part is the gameplay, and there is absolutely nothing lacking in that department! I would venture to say that the controls are even perhaps a little smoother and more responsive than the source material.
Too Much Time on My Hands
The story begins after most of humanity has been killed off by a demon army, save for a village of ninjas—the last survivors of the world. It is told that as the demon army closes in on the last of humanity that a Western Hero will appear to save them. When the day comes, the Western Hero does appear, and he tasks a young ninja from the village with the honor of becoming “The Messenger” and delivering a sacred scroll to the top of a mountain. Along the way, our hero meets a mysterious shopkeeper who helps him out with tips and tricks, as well as upgrades and anecdotes to get him through each of the areas along his journey—oh, and he brings plenty of sass and sarcasm as well!
The controls are simple: B jumps, Y swings your sword, and X throws a shuriken. You can grab onto walls and climb them, and you can strike lanterns to knock loose some time shards, which are used to upgrade your stats with the shopkeeper, as well as to pay Quarble—a small, flying demon who charges you to not die every time he saves you from an untimely death and brings you back to the last checkpoint.
You can also find these shards placed throughout the stages, and in some hidden areas, there are even giant time crystals you can chip away at for some serious looting. When you hit the lantern, shards inside or not, it allows you to jump again from mid-air, essentially allowing for a double jump of sorts. The game shows you this right off the bat, but it doesn’t start to become a necessity until a few stages later—and it’s a really fun mechanic once you get the timing down properly!
Plenty of Demons in the Sea
There are plenty of different enemy types to face as you make your way through the stages, and each enemy has a different attack and movement pattern. The enemies provide enough of a challenge so as to not feel like the game is just being handed to you, but you also don’t get the urge to throw your controller into the wall—very often, at least. The bosses offer the same middle-of-the-road challenge, but have fairly easily exploitable patterns that, once discovered, allow you to make short work of them. That is not to say that the patterns are always so easy to discover though, and I did find myself stuck a few times until I figured it out.
The Lay of the Land
The graphics give a serious nod to the aforementioned inspiration source, Ninja Gaiden, and look straight out of an unreleased sequel to the NES classic. Each stage has its own unique look and feel, and even the lantern designs are switched up throughout the different stages. Attention to detail was definitely given priority here, and it is noted and appreciated. This game is a beautiful modern retro creation for sure. The soundtrack is also done in retro chiptunes fashion, and the songs are wonderful. They are catchy and upbeat, and set the tone well for each stage. They even went as far as making the music sound muted and distant whenever you dive under some water, which I thought was a clever little detail to add.
I really enjoyed—and am still enjoying—my time with The Messenger. I was worried at first that I would suck at it like I do at Ninja Gaiden, but thankfully I have either gotten better from constantly subjecting myself to rage-quit games like kuso, Necrosphere, and Daggerheart, among others, or The Messenger is just easy enough to keep me from giving up. Either way, I found the game to be quite enjoyable, and still challenging enough to be satisfying when you clear a stage or beat a boss. If you grew up playing the Ninja Gaiden series, then getting this game is a no brainer, but even if you missed the NES era by a few years, I would still recommend picking up a copy. I think anyone who likes a good action platformer should own this game.
Buy The Messenger from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
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*A game code was provided for review purposes