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Backlog Review | The Messenger

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There are few games that floor me, but when you mix ninjas and platforming in one game, the gush is inevitable!

Effortlessly Cool

Ninjitsu, the ancient art of being effortlessly cool. Seriously though, what kid didn’t want to be a ninja when they grew up? That could just be me projecting of course, but everything from their getup to their flashy moves are graceful and deadly! And not only that, ninja are super versatile! You can dress up as one for Halloween, put the odds in your favor while playing a game of Hide-n-Seek, or show off that sweet spin kick you just learned, to Billy from down the street.

Well my dear backloggers, as a self-proclaimed ninja in training, this time around I’ll be taking a look at the game that not only makes you feel like a badass, but gives you the shurikens to prove it, The Messenger. So keep those senses sharp and practice that Naruto run, because it’s time for another Backlog Review!

Artisanal Gaming

The Messenger is a side-scrolling action platformer developed by Sabotage Studio, a french Canadian indie dev team with a passion for artisanally crafted games that are both rooted in retro ideologies and grounded in modern practices. And honestly after the first few minutes of playing The Messenger, it shows! 

Being their first game, The Messenger started development when Sabotage Studio opened their doors in 2016 and after a little more than two years later we were graced with its release in 2018. And now it’s available for all to enjoy on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and PC!

The Western Hero

In The Messenger you play as an “average joe” ninja in training, who’s just trying to make his way through another day of cloud-step lessons and scoldings from his sensei. Well, that was the plan until your village is burned to the ground by the insensitive Demon King, who apparently had nothing better to do than to turn everyone’s lives upside down.

Prompting the arrival of a mysterious “Western Hero”, the Demon King is chased away, but by no means defeated. And knowing you have the strength to exact your revenge, the hero hands you a sacred scroll and appoints you “The Messenger”. Now you must deliver the scroll to the top of the mountain where it’s power will be revealed to you, and will hopefully give you the knowledge you need to stop this menace.

Unbeknownst to you, this tragedy has been repeating for centuries, and your interference may be the first step to breaking the cycle! But only time will tell!

Pixelated Ninjas

Honestly, if you were to describe a game to me and used the words “ninja” and “platformer” in the same sentence, there would be no doubt that flashing lights and sirens would be going off in my head, urging me to play it! So, it comes as no surprise that when I caught wind of The Messenger it was instantly on my radar. I mean, even at first glance, it reminded me of one of my favorite pixelated ninja games, Ninja Gaiden.

It’s aesthetics are spot on, with beautifully executed sprite work and backgrounds that truly make you ache with nostalgia for the glorious 8-bit era. And the music is no different. With a soundtrack that’s catchy and upbeat. That not only hammers home The Messenger’s retro ambitions, but also delivers a fantastic set of tracks that could easily hold their own against some of the other chiptune greats of recent years, like Shovel Knight. And that’s high praise if you ask me!

But, just admiring The Messenger’s audio and visual artistry isn’t enough. Because once you actually dive in and play the game you’ll see that it’s its gameplay that’ll make you ooh and aah. And the level design is expertly and intuitively crafted around each of the abilities you’ll gain so you won’t miss a beat as you flip and fly through each stage. You’ll also be challenged to master the skills you acquire. Things like the wing suite, which lets you glide after a jump or the rope dart, which will allow you to cling to surfaces and jettison across treacherous gaps, are required to move on in many cases. But it’s when you figure out how to compound all of these techniques to traverse the cleverly designed platforming puzzles, that you’ll truly feel like the master ninja you were destined to be. Even when you boil The Messenger down to its most basic mechanic, the cloud-step, it just feels so good and becomes almost second nature as you progress through the game.

Combine that with hilarious dialog, goofy characters, exhilarating bosses and a twist that’ll not only make your jaw drop, but also change how the game is played, then I think you’ve got yourself a pretty dang near perfect game.

A Gushing Success

If it wasn’t apparent from the sheer amount of gush spewing from my lips these past few minutes, then I’ll just come out and say it, I absolutely loved The Messenger and I would highly recommend you check it out! Typically, I would try to balance my reviews with both pros and cons, but I honestly couldn’t come up with anything wrong! And if you’re a fan of high quality pixel art, solid platforming and/or smart mouthed demons that make fun of you each and every time you die, then you really can’t go wrong.