The Messenger is a challenging action platformer with an interesting visual gimmick that ties everything about it together nicely. It’s heavily inspired by classic NES games like Ninja Gaiden, with solid controls and clever level design, but has a lot of personality with its dialogue that make it stand out on its own without becoming too reliant on paying homage. It’s difficulty is fair and consistently increases throughout the many levels included, but never truly punishes the player for not overcoming the obstacles in front of them the many times they might fail. And yet The Messenger is still able to provide a fun experience even if you don’t have nostalgia for its aesthetic or emphasis on gameplay.
The Messenger has a very simple story that can at times feel like it takes a backseat to everything else. A human from a clan of ninjas defending the world from demons must travel a long way to deliver a scroll and help an ancient hero defeat an evil entity and save mankind from extinction. While that setup isn’t hard to buy into, it’s addressed more so in the beginning and towards the end of the game. Much of everything else in between is filled with forth-wall breaking dialogue, fun nods, silly jokes, and fan-service that will stand out more than the game’s main story. This isn’t too bad overall since The Messenger puts more focus on its gameplay throughout the whole experience, having the story feel more like icing on a well-designed cake.
But if its gameplay and solid controls that you’re more concerned with, then The Messenger delivers in a great way. Moving around and traversing the various parts of stages feels great and responsive. Unlike the games that inspired it, The Messenger gives you a few abilities that make platforming sections more interesting and dynamic as you progress through stages. Attacking an enemy, projectile, or nearby lantern can allow you to execute an extra jump, followed by another if you attack another object on screen. This becomes vital to master when getting around certain areas, but isn’t hard to get a hang of.
Before you know it, you’ll be jumping over whole sections of levels as you jump in-between enemies that you slash, making for interesting strategies for getting past certain levels. This is made even more acrobatic with the addition of a wall jump, rope grab, and other abilities that can allow you to gracefully traverse your surroundings. It’s fun and can make finding new ways to get around incredibly addicting.
The biggest part of The Messenger is how the game at certain points switches between 8-bit style visuals and 16-bit style visuals. The look of every enemy and level changes, as well as the sounds and chip tune music that plays, making the switch feel like you are playing a completely different game. This goes beyond a visual upgrade, however, and implements the change into the level design itself, allowing you to reach new areas and approach things differently when going between the two.
Certain portions of the game require you to be in either one style or the other in order to get around, which takes already meticulously crafted level design and makes it more complex in the best way possible. It’s when you’re required to switch between styles quickly to overcome challenges that The Messenger is at its complete best. It’s a shame however that this isn’t introduced earlier in the game’s story, and instead keeps you limited to playing in the 8-bit style for a number of stages, before introducing the switching much later in the game. This doesn’t mean The Messenger is worse off because of it, but its best parts are held back for longer than it probably should.
The Messenger is a fun action platformer that takes its nostalgic inspiration and turns it into something creative and interesting to play with. While it leans on ones love for classics of the 8 and 16-bit eras, it never becomes a victim to its own reverence for the games that came before it. Instead, The Messenger tries to give players something new while keeping a formula that works with its gameplay. The visuals and soundtrack are great, its sense of humor is light-hearted, and the controls are solid in the best way possible. If you’re someone that loves challenging action platformers and don’t mind a little personality thrown into the mix, then you can’t go wrong adding The Messenger into your collection.
This review was based on a digital review code for The Messenger for the Nintendo Switch, provided by Sabotage Studio.