Let’s be honest, it’s been quite some time since we’ve come across a ninja style game that conveys finesse, style and fluidity simultaneously. Flashback to the late 80’s and early 90’s when North America was in a ninja frenzy, with games like Shadow of the Ninja and Ninja Gaiden being the two most prolific titles making waves. The original Ninja for the NES was really what catapulted this somewhat obscure and mysterious martial art into the spotlight, and soon after we started to see an influx of titles seemingly fly from out of nowhere. Fast forward to today and it seems like that ninja nostalgia has returned in the form of The Messenger, a side-scrolling, action-packed title from Devolver Digital and Sabotage. Those who fell deeply in love with the pixelated art style and that 8bit and 16bit music will immediately be drawn to The Messenger and the way it delivers an incredibly rewarding experience. The name speaks for itself as the game felt like a message sent from above, and it was the answer all retro junkies were looking for. The glory days have returned in style, and anyone who loves a challenge will certainly find The Messenger to be an exciting ordeal from start to finish.
What to Expect
Anyone who grew up in the triumphant age of side-scrolling action titles will find themselves right at home with this one, as The Messenger combines modern pizzazz in regards to its cool sound effects and editing, while still maintaining the integrity of what makes a retro-style side-scrolling platformer so enthralling to play. Much like your classic ninja-esque titles, expect there to be a lot of depth with regards to strategy and overcoming enemy movements, avoiding projectiles and making sure to land on every platform correctly to move forward. It’s all in the details, and with The Messenger you can clearly see that attention to it was very much on point. The Messenger feels like putting a cassette player into your brand new 2018 corvette, as it runs exceptionally well while still maintaining all of the simplicity that you’d expect from a classic side-scroller. There’s humor, a ton of action, and despite how simple it may look on the surface, Steam and Nintendo Switch owners will certainly have a lot on their plate when it comes to The Messenger’s fierce boss battles. Not only that but much like any side-scroller, you’ll need to keep a keen eye out on any secret areas, as they present you with some pretty awesome gems that can unlock some pretty powerful stuff down the road! Be like a ninja! Be one with the ninja!
You’re a young ninja who arises from the ashes of his village that had been besieged by demons, and must now travel through the dark and mysterious world to deliver a scroll that’s imperative to his clan’s survival. Do you have what it takes to retrieve the scroll and save your clan in time? Pick this game up and play to find out!
We’ve already rambled on quite a bit about the visuals, but just to reiterate what we stated earlier, The Messenger is your quintessential side-scrolling action platformer that takes inspiration from the 8bit and 16bit days, while still maintaining a modern touch that adds more flavor to the mix. Everything looks like it’s been taken from the NES or SNES and just ported over directly to Steam, which of course isn’t the case, but it looks so darn good that you’d mistake it for an older title like the ones we mentioned prior. Every stage you embark on is just full of dazzling colors, from its gorgeous green hues in forests to the more dark and grungy browns and blues that you’ll find in the dungeons. All of that combined with the character designs, and overall aesthetic just make The Messenger such a beauty to see in motion.
What really makes The Messenger stand out —aside from its glorious visual presentation— is its full fledged soundtrack, that was handmade using Famitracker and created by renowned chiptune composer Rainbowdragoneyes, who we suggest you check out if you haven’t already. Just for the sheer fact that everything was handmade and sounds this good is enough to give The Messenger major plus points, because not only does it execute everything so well but you’re so immersed in it all due to the spectacular sounds that caress your eardrums. There’s nothing more satisfying than to have a soundtrack that truly compliments the gameplay in every way possible.
The Messenger’s gameplay truly should speak for itself, as it’s really your run of the mill side-scrolling platformer and all you need to do is make sure you don’t die. To survive and thrive in The Messenger you’ll need to always make sure you’re upgrading your tools so that battling enemies later on will be less of a hassle, and more rewarding. To do so you’ll collect gems that are scattered throughout each level, many of which are found in lanterns that you can slash with your katana. You’ll then take these gems to the shopkeeper where he’ll show you a selection of upgrades to choose from, ranging from things like health buffs to being able to negate incoming enemy projectiles to avoid damage. We would’ve liked to see more options to choose from to give the customization more variety, but we imagine that the direction Sabotage was taking was the very simple route and didn’t want to overwhelm players with an overabundance of buffs that may not have any significance down the road.
The options that you do have are quite unique in their way and provide their own functionality when the right moment presents itself, but overall a lot of your time will be spent hacking away at enemies and trying to avoid any traps along the way. As we mentioned earlier regarding secret areas, The Messenger is full of them and if you’re not very attentive you may miss out on something special. These secret locations often lead to what’s known as Power Seals, which if you successfully collect all of them, will grant you with some OP tools which we’ll let you discover for yourself. Going back to the collection of gems, one thing to be mindful of is when you die your devil friend will take those gems from you as a debt if you will, and will follow you until your debt is paid. You don’t lose the amount you had before but you don’t gain anything until you’ve fully paid off what you owed.
Honey's Gameplay Consensus:
Overall, The Messenger delivers in a big way and, as we stated in the earlier portion of this review, if you’re a huge fan of the genre then this is hands down the best experience you’re going to get from a side-scrolling action-platformer that’s focused on the ninja aesthetic. It’s fun, frantic and full of discovery, and so long as you keep an open mind about things, the game just becomes more fun over time. Speedrunners will definitely have a field day with this one and casuals will certainly enjoy its challenging experience. If the game had some sort of online feature where players can score high on a leaderboard perhaps that would provide more incentive to the competitive side of things. It doesn’t take away from the overall experience, but it would definitely add a little more potency to this already thrilling title.
Challenging and just a total blast to play in short bursts.
Nostalgia written all over this one.
Soundtrack is stellar and totally fits the premise of the game.
Clean looking visuals.
Controls are easy and things are simplified to focus more on gameplay than anything.
Wish there was an online mode for players to compete on leaderboards.
Honey's Final Verdict:
The Messenger is a title you don’t want to sleep on, because its compelling gameplay fused with a wicked soundtrack is enough to keep you wanting more. The game isn’t totally long but it provides a satisfying experience that will keep you coming back to master it entirely. Replay value is very high and if you’re like us who love to collect items and complete every achievement then The Messenger has plenty for you. Be sure to check out our other reviews and let us know what you think in the comments below! Follow us on Twitter to stay up to date on all the latest gaming news from around the globe, and of course hit us up on Twitch to catch us playing our reviewed titles live!
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Author: Rob "NualphaJPN" B.
A passionate fan of gaming, writing, journalism, anime, and philosophy. I've lived in Japan for many years and consider this place to be my permanent home. I love to travel around Japan and learn about the history and culture! Leave a comment if you enjoy my articles and watch me play on twitch.tv/honeysgaming ! Take care!