Devolver Digital has been on fire lately! Not only did they release amazing gems such as The Swords of Ditto, but they have recently released yet another of their mind-boggling “conference videos,” this time around showcasing games like My Friend Pedro and the long-awaited Western localization of the nonsensically awesome Japanese masterpiece that is Metal Wolf Chaos. Their curation is one of the best out there, and I was looking forward to playing more of one of their upcoming titles during E3, the retro-styled 2D platformer called The Messenger. I had the opportunity of playing the game for half an hour at their literal trailer park located across the street from the Los Angeles Convention Center (keeping up with Devolver’s delightful “f*** the system” attitude) alongside Martin Brouard, co-founder of The Messenger‘s developer Sabotage Studio.
At first glance, The Messenger just seems to be a modernized version of Ninja Gaiden with much welcome additions to the formula. You can purchase a special move that allows you to do an air jump whenever you’re hit, allowing you to avoid falling down endless pits just like in the NES games. There are infinite lives, with the death penalty being changed to having a little demon follow you around and steal part of your loot until it feels like it has stolen enough from you. You have a skill tree full of purchasable items and abilities. You can use a grappling hook to reach farther destinations, you can glide with a cape, and so on.
The main draw of the game is the change between 8-bit and 16-bit visuals, as previously seen in the game’s debut trailer, as well as another playable demo at a private Devolver Digitial demonstration a few months ago. I was expecting to see a bit more of the dimension-hopping mechanics in this demo, but time constraints (as well as my constant attempts to try to kill one of the demo’s bosses) hindered me from using them during my playthrough. That wasn’t exactly a bad thing, though. I had already seen the mechanic in action, and I know it works just fine, and was instead met with something a lot more interesting: the way the dimension hopping ties itself with the overall plot of the game, as well as the changes in its entire structure once this mechanic gets unlocked.
While I can’t actually ruin the surprise for you, I can safely say I wasn’t expecting for such plot and gameplay twists. The Messenger goes from just an improved Ninja Gaiden clone to something a lot bigger, ambitious, and something I wasn’t expecting: funny. Fourth wall breaks, clever jokes, funny dialogue, all of this was present during the game’s demo, and I enjoyed all of those elements a lot. The ghost shopkeeper will most certainly become a fan favorite.
I entered the Messenger booth expecting a nice but straightforward title and was instead greeted with what I can now consider one of my most anticipated indie titles of 2018. If for some reason you’re bummed by the lack of “spoilers” in this impressions article, fear not, as the game isn’t far from its release date. Sabotage has stated that it wants to release The Messenger this summer.
The Messenger is a lot more than just a mere retro Ninja Gaiden clone. Dare I say, I had more fun with this demo than I had with older Ninja Gaiden games on the NES. The game is a great mix between retro graphics and modern gameplay aesthetics, and besides a few easily fixable glitches here and there, it felt complete and ready for release. I know I might sound a bit too brief in terms of plot and some of the better reveals I was told while playing, but it’s best for you to wait and see it for yourself. Just be sure to keep an eye on The Messenger when it comes out.