Review – The Messenger
Back when I had the opportunity to test The Messenger at E3 2018, I had the chance to tell the developers how much I enjoyed my time with the game, even if my session turned out to be just twenty minutes long. One thing the developer kept telling me afterwards was “just wait for the final release, just you wait”. I did wait for the final release and holy Ryu Hayabusa on a bike, I now understand what the dev was talking about. The Messenger is not just a great retro-inspired indie game, this is easily one of THE best indie games, period.
The Messenger might just look like a Ninja Gaiden clone at first due to its gameplay and visuals, but it does so much more than its source of inspiration has ever dreamed of. Sure, the way your ninja runs and attacks foes is somewhat similar, but that’s basically where the similarities end. Climbing on walls is a lot easier and more fluid, as if you were playing a Spider-Man game. You have extra abilities such as a grappling hook, a gliding cape, and a Mega Man X-esque wall jumping technique, albeit much faster. While you suffer a bit of knockback everytime you get damaged, you have the chance to do an air recovery, making platforming sessions much less of a nightmare than its infuriating predecessor used to be. To be honest, I could go on talking about the controls and the overall gameplay for a long time and I wouldn’t be able to detect a single flaw. It plays like a dream on both the joycons and the much more comfortable Switch Pro Controller.
The game is pretty challenging, but it’s also fair. Boss battles were my favorite moments, and while intimidating at first (I don’t think I have managed to kill any boss from the fourth one onwards on my first try), they were easy to telegraph after a few attempts. The Messenger is a game that wants you to learn from your mistakes, never being broken, unfair, or infuriating. There are infinite lives and continues; your only death penalty being the fact a small demon will accompany you for a while after respawning, eating all money tokens you come across, all while making fun of you for constantly dying. Speaking of which…
I knew The Messenger was a funny game, but I wasn’t expecting for it to be this funny. Between the sarcastic dialogue, little demon taunts, unexpected twists, and tons of metahumor, I was laughing during my whole play. Not only is The Messenger a blast to play, but it makes you laugh like a dumb seal while doing so.
Back when it was first announced, everybody was talking about The Messenger‘s main gameplay twist: being able to warp between 8-bit and 16-bit dimensions, each one with their own visuals and soundtrack. This is true, the dimension warping is here and it is awesome, but to say this is the main twist of the game would be a disservice to other aspects that happen while you play it. The first handful of hours had nothing of that, as the game was solely an 8-bit Ninja Gaiden-esque title, with linear levels and the such. The change to 16-bit visuals only showed up much later during the game, at a point in which most indie games would already show the credits (and The Messenger does tease you about it, clever minxes). After a few 16-bit levels, the game yet again changed completely in such a way that it’s best for me to keep quiet about it and let you find out on your own. It’s worth it. By the way, that’s when dimension warping is introduced.
The following paragraph will be dedicated to a few issues I had with the game, but before I begin, let me clarify those issues aren’t huge and in no way tarnish how fun and exhilerating my experience with The Messenger turned out to be. Those issues weren’t technical, as I had zero glitches or game-breaking bugs.
First of all, I had some issues with a few graphical elements in the game. Levels are filled with candle-esque items that stay in the background and are mostly used as a means for you to gain impulse for a double jump. There are instances when you are playing in a catacomb or cavern-themed level in which the backgrounds become too dark and you’ll have a bit of a hard time discerning said candles/torches/things that produce light from the background. The same can be said for a few other levels in which there’s a lot of background detail, namely a few jungles and forests. Finally, while not being a major issue whatsoever, not all tunes from the soundtrack were memorable, even though I appreciated the fact every single piece of music from the game, as well as sound effects in general, have an 8-bit and a 16-bit counterpart.
The Messenger is everything a retro-styled indie game should be: it takes inspiration from older titles while also polishing its gameplay elements to what we would expect from a top-notch game released in 2018. I might have an issue or two with a few graphical elements and the game’s soundtrack, but I can’t deny I loved playing pretty much every single minute of The Messenger. It was more than I could have expected. This is one for the ages, folks: this is, without a doubt, one of the best games of the year, as well as one of the best indie games I have ever played. If you have a Switch, grab it right freaking now.
Fantastic 8-bit and 16-bit visuals, with tons of color and surprising amounts of detail, even though some crucial gameplay elements blend in too often with the background.
It takes inspiration from Ninja Gaiden’s controls but it fixes all of its issues while also bringing its gameplay to the 21st century. Everything is extremely fast and responsive.
Every single song is composed in both 8-bit chiptune and 16-bit MIDI modes. The vast majority of the tracks included in this game are very catchy, while some others get tiresome quickly.
Fun Factor: 10
The Messenger features a fantastic gameplay, tons of secrets to unveil, lots of fourth-wall jokes, and an impressively lengthy campaign. It’s even more impressive than it should have been.
Final Verdict: 9.5
Reviewed on Switch.
The Messenger is available now on Switch and PC.
A copy of The Messenger was provided by the publisher.