I’m going to add a numerical value to all of my future “Great Games” posts for easier tracking, so, though I have done a few “GG” posts in the past, this one will be designated number 1. Enjoy!


Every so often a game comes along that looks really cool, but not cool enough to buy until it goes on sale.

Then you buy the game and play it.

Then you feel bad because you got it at a discount price and the developers deserved full price.

This is one of those games.

Ladies and gentleman, I present to you: The Messenger

theMessenger

The Messenger (2018)
Action, Platformer
Developer(Sabotage Studio), Publisher(Devolver Digital)
Nintendo Switch, PC (Windows), Playstation 4


“Since the invention of the game, there have been five games that have been rated the most passionate, the most pure – this one left them all behind.”

Me
(Quote stolen and adapted from the film “The Princess Bride”)

Let me start by saying this: If you are a gamer in any way, shape or form, what are you doing here? Go buy this game and play it! Don’t read my review, don’t spoil ANYTHING, just buy it and PLAY IT!

I saw previews for this game last year when it hit the scene and I immediately thought, “Hey, that looks neat”, and nothing more. I mean, it obviously pays tribute to one of the greatest series of 8 bit games of all time, Ninja Gaiden!

And lately games with an old school 8 bit or 16 bit look have been making a huge comeback, being popular with old folks like myself, who grew up on the 8 bit games during the golden age of gaming. I had kind of forgotten about The Messenger, where it sat on my Steam wishlist until a few days ago, when it went on sale. Since I’m waiting for the upcoming FFXIV expansion I went on a bit of a buying splurge and picked it up.

Wow.

What I got was a side scrolling platformer that was well worth double the money, and a spot on my list of : Greatest Games of All Time. Let me first talk about the technical aspect of the game. When I’m done with that, if you plan on playing the game, go no further. Trust me, you do not want spoilers.

Story

Our protagonist is a young ninja living in a village that houses pretty much all that is left of humanity, the world having been overrun by demons. The last of human kind spends their days studying the ways of war in preparation for the return of the Demon King, but legend has it that on the day he returns, The Western Hero will appear, and save the world. Bored out of his mind and longing to see the world beyond, our ninja friend prepares to attend daily history lessons when, as luck would have it, the Demon King makes his appearance and disables everyone but our young ninja. Still a greenhorn, our protagonist chooses to take on the Demon King himself, but where is The Western Hero? Just as everything seems lost the hero appears, well, from the West, and forces the Demon King and his minions to retreat. With the demons gone The Western Hero tasks our young ninja with delivering a sacred scroll to the highest mountain in the land where three sages will perform the ritual that will save the world. Our ninja is now The Messenger!

Its a great and fairly simple story, if not a little cliche, but trust me, it is so much deeper than you think and ends up being one of the greatest adventures of all time!

Graphics

Do not let your eyes deceive you, young grashoppa! Though the game starts out looking like an old 8 bit NES game you will reach a point where the graphics shift into a more up to date 16 bit SNES game! Not only that, but the graphics shift ON THE FLY, or sometimes they MIX TOGETHER ON THE SAME SCREEN! No matter what style they are in the sprites are nicely detailed and occasionally wow you with their simplistic beauty, yet leave you in awe with their artistic complexity!

Sound

As with the graphics the sound transitions between 8 bit style “beeps and boops” and more up to date synthesized fare of the 16 bit style! Depending on what graphics mode your in, the sound accompanies appropriately and its amazing! The soundtrack is upbeat and adventurous, and I am probably going to buy it. I’ve only spent a couple of days with the game and already there are a few tracks that are stuck in my head! What’s neat about the sound style transition is that every track has both an 8 bit and 16 bit version, and the two actually transition seamlessly between each other during the game. Its very unique, and though it will catch you off guard because of how cool the effect is used its not jarring at all.

Sound effects are pretty standard fare with sword swinging making “swish” noises, monster sounds, rustling leaves and the like. They are sound effects and nothing groundbreaking.

Controls

The controls are simple. Directional buttons move you around, one button swings your sword, the other jumps and the other two eventually let you throw shuriken or use your rope dart (Don’t call it a grappling hook).

Unlike other games of the genre, The Messenger allows you to double jump with a price: You have to hit something first. This Air Step move is unique in that, really, its not a double jump, its a “jump as many times as you want” jump, so long as you hit something between jumps. Fortunately the game is dotted with lanterns that can be used for just this purpose, as can any enemy. The mechanic makes for some really, really harrowing platforming. You will die. Often.

Controls are spot on, and they need to be in a platformer, and trust me, you will be doing a lot of platforming. My only real gripe is the stickiness of the climbing claws ability which, in case you really need an explanation, allows you to stick to and climb most wall surfaces. There are points in the game where timing is critical and, suddenly, you find yourself stuck to a wall or a corner when all you wanted to do was drop to a platform below. At several points it got annoying and it got me killed plenty of times.

My second gripe is the use of the wing suit ability, which allows you to glide over longer distances than a standard jump. The ability activates by pressing the jump button and holding it after you jump. If you have a nasty habit of holding down the jump button while trying to attack by habit your going to have a rough time, as I did, trying to break the habit. You see, if you want to perform an Air Step jump you need to attack and then immediately press the jump button again. However if your holding the jump button down you will attack and then start to float, and NOT Air Step, which can end up causing you troubles and typically ends with you slowly floating down to your death. Its probably more me than the game, as I just need to learn to break the habit of holding the button down after jumping.

Gameplay

The Messenger is not Cuphead difficult, but it is difficult. Enemies can be very annoying, especially the green demons that plod along at a snails pace, often times forcing you to wait for them to get far enough from the edge of a platform that you can jump onto it. Because they take several hits a poorly timed landing can mean taking a hit before you destroy them, and getting hit knocks you back, though you can recover.

At the end of each area is an area boss and they can be pretty difficult to battle. Some of them are full screen monsters that require some thought into how they can be defeated, and you will die more than once trying to figure out their mechanics before fully understanding what must be done to overcome them.

Several times the game forces you into rush mode, typically to avoid swelling lava pools or spiked walls. The urgency combined with the Air Step mechanic and the Rope Dart mechanic make for some harrowing experiences. Fortunately save spots are plentiful, but no so plentiful that dying several times in one spot, then having to run back to that spot, however close, can get irritating.

Along with your sword attack you have shuriken you can throw, but they are limited and consume a point of Ki when used. Ki can eventually be recovered randomly from enemies.

The Rope Dart acts as a grappling hook of sorts (just don’t call it that) and can be used to distance grab walls or enemies, which will send you hurtling toward them while delivering a sword strike.

As stated before, the wing suit lets you glide slowly across large open spaces or drift slowly downwards, preventing you from careening into spiked floors. On occasion updrafts of air and be used with the wing suit to propel you upwards.

The game has a bit of RPG element, as your ninja hero collects Time Shards during his adventure, which he acquires from striking enemies and most of the lanterns in the game. Occasionally you come across a giant crystal that will yield many shards, but they are often hidden and difficult to reach. These shards can be traded in to the shop keeper, a guy who sits in a mysterious shop you enter through portals that dot the landscape. Shards can be used to upgrade your hit points, Ki, damage resistance and other items via a skill tree.

Another use for the shards is staying alive. Unlike other games you don’t die in The Messenger. Quibble, a little demon looking fellow, possesses power over time and space and, rather than let you die, he will jump in the split second before you bite the dust and transport you to your last save point. All this, however, comes at a cost, and the little guy will follow you around, consuming your time shards, until his fee is satisfied or until he gets bored and leaves.

Overall Score: 10/10

My review may not fully convey the essence and awesomeness of The Messenger, but this is merely because I absolutely do not want to give away what makes this game so incredible. That being said, I will go more in depth into why I am giving this game a 10 below, but there will be spoilers, so proceed at your own risk!


 

 

 

 

 

SPOILERS BELOW!!!

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

FINAL WARNING!!!!

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

ARE YOU SURE ABOUT THIS! WHAT HAS BEEN SEEN CANNOT BE UNSEEN!

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

ALRIGHT, YOU’VE MADE YOUR CHOICE!

 

 

 


 

So let me explain WHY I’m giving this seemingly standard fare game a score of 10/10.

The Messenger is not at all what it appears to be. First of all the writing is full of comedy gold. At points the game is very self aware and it plays out spectacularly. Most of the comedy and 4th wall breaking comes from the shopkeeper, who has TONS of quips and dialog to go over. While shopping you can ask him to tell you a story, and some of the stories he has are actually pretty deep and interesting. It feels very organic and will have you doing spit takes on some occasions, like when he takes a liking to your straw hat!  And our ninja hero isn’t silent in all of this, either. He often has witty and odd things to say as well.

That brings us to another character with plenty to say, Quibble, the life-saving little beast who charges you to keep you from dying. Every time you “die” he has something smarmy to say and will remind you how many times he’s saved you as well as how many Time Shards you’ve donated to his coffers. On occasion his co-worker, Quobble, I think, will hop in just to see how your doing or make fun of the face you make when you fall down a hole.

The game bosses are entire characters to themselves who often have something to say before and after being defeated. For example the first zones boss appears several times during the stage to summon undead, but you only see his caped back floating in the air. When finally facing him he, and his magick staff, turn around to reveal he’s actually pretty short, in a comedic reveal. When he is finally defeated he promises he won’t be evil anymore, though his magick staff has its own plans, which are swiftly twarted by being reminded that if said boss doesn’t carry him around the staff won’t do much of anything. The thing is that ALL of the bosses are like this. They all have a little bit of comedic story to tell.

Okay, now for BIG spoilers.

So exactly what happens when our Messenger reaches the top of the mountain and hands the scroll over to the sages? Well, once a grueling trial is completed our Messenger finds himself thrust into the future and approaching his old village, where another warrior, this one garbled in body armor and wielding a blaster, is facing the Demon King! Our hero flies in and forces the Demon King and his minions to retreat, then hands the scroll over to the armed soldier, tasking him with delivering it to the highest mountain in the land where three sages will perform the ritual that will free mankind from the rule of the Demon King and save humanity! The soldier thanks you, The Western Hero, and runs off. Godspeed, Messenger!

Wait! What?

Yes! Its a TIME LOOP! Each Messenger before you has become The Western Hero, and tasked another with being the new Messenger! That Messenger now becomes…A SHOPKEEPER!

Unfortunately, you don’t make a very good shopkeeper and your Messenger dies.

This, however, fulfills ANOTHER prophecy about a Messenger who will make two time runs in a row and break the cycle of THE MUSIC BOX, an item that has brought the time curse upon humanity! TA-DA! Now your playing an entirely different game and your goal shifts to finding the hidden music notes to a tune that will open the box and remove the curse!

BTW, having never looked at the scroll you never figured it for a map that tells you where almost everything is. The sages will let you know how dumb you are.

Now the game turns into a time travelling exploration game where you can go back and forth between any of the games zones (including some new ones) AND jump back and forth between time periods through the use of portals! THIS IS WHERE THE DIFFERING GRAPHIC STYLES COME INTO PLAY! On second your 8 bit ninja man, then suddenly you zip across a hook with your rope dart, through a portal and BAM, now your 16 bit ninja man and a spot that was previously closed off on the map is open!

It’s an incredibly well done mechanic, but the reveal….dear god in heaven, the reveal is jaw  dropping!

All of these elements, the incredibly deep and well done story, the fast and fantastic game play, the music, the shift in the graphics and sound, all these things combine into a package unlike anything I have ever played before, yet all so familiar it draws up nostalgia! Why no one ever thought to do this before is beyond me, but the games creators have succeeded in forming a masterpiece, and I am in love with this game!


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Do yourself a favor. If your a gamer who plays every day or just an old school gamer who plays every so often, buy this game. At 20$ its a steal, and on sale you may feel bad for not giving the developers more.

What you have bought is a love letter to the platformer genre and possibly one of the greatest games ever made of its kind.  You will not be sorry.