The Messenger is an homage to old-school action-platforming video games like the original Ninja Gaiden on NES and it shows. Yet, The Messenger blends contemporary gameplay mechanics with classic ones, making this adventure a memorable one for old and new fans alike.
Sabotage Studio’s first game starts out like similar coming-of-age stories: A devastating demonic force is terrorizing the world and a young hero is burdened with saving the world. This hero, simply named The Messenger, is a ninja tasked with delivering a scroll that will not only save his clan but the world.
Delivering the scroll won’t be easy, though. The Messenger has to travel through different stages each filled with a world boss and enemies. Stages are similar to many platforming games where the ninja has to time jumps and defeat various enemies along the way. Controls are simple enough to grasp and can be complex for more advanced players. For example, mechanics like the cloud jump allow players to keep jumping after attacking which can keep the Messenger off the ground. Enemies you encounter vary and all require a certain amount of hits to defeat. This adds a strategic layer to the platformer and rewards careful play.
Nevertheless, some design choices negatively affect gameplay and make The Messenger frustrating. Scrolling through a stage makes enemies respawn. If you miss a jump or travel back westward to obtain a collectible you must face the same enemies a second time. Also, the world bosses aren’t too challenging. Yes, they are tough but once you have memorized their moveset, they end up just feeling like a glorified grunt.
Each world has a distinct and unique soundtrack so well composed that they not only make exploring enjoyable but urge you to try again when you die. Rainbowdragoneyes, the composer Eric W. Brown, has even made each track in 8-bit and 16-bit styles for those who go back and replay the story with new music. These tracks are upbeat and memorable, and flood the player with the nostalgia of games from the 8-bit and 16-bit era.
Finally, the story. It’s straightforward and cliché but the characters that you meet and the dialogue they have with the Messenger are humorous. One character you meet throughout the story is The Shopkeeper. He owns a shop that lets you not only save the game but level up as well. The Shopkeeper has a dry sense of humor, shown when you ask for details about the stages, bosses, and the world. Hilarious and sometimes irrelevant anecdotes are a welcome break after defeating enemies. Add all this with shout-outs to Ninja Gaiden and some fourth wall breaking lines and The Messenger guarantees to have a fun time for all players. In addition, other characters like Quarble, who nonchalantly makes a flippant comment when you die, or certain world bosses who aren’t what they seem and are sometimes lewd definitely make The Messenger worth playing.
From Shovel Knight to Celeste, action platformers are still enjoyable to play and experience. While most of them take influence from older games. they still add contemporary factors for the current times. The Messenger joins the ranks of those other critically acclaimed games and is still distinct enough to shine on its own.