The Messenger – Silent, Yet Excellent.

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The Messenger Box Art

Released on: August 30, 2018 (PC, Nintendo Switch), March 19, 2019 (Playstation 4), June 25, 2020 (XBOX One)

Available Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, XBOX One, PC

Price: $26.99 CAD ($19.99 US)

Developed by: Sabotage Studio Published by: Devolver Digital

Every year, I like watching many Top 10 best and worst games lists of that year on Youtube. One game that came up frequently in the 2018 best games of the year list was The Messenger. At the time, I was busy with many other games, so I didn’t have time to check it out. I had forgotten about it until recently, where I acquired Xbox’s Game Pass Ultimate, a Netflix-like service with a multitude of games available for download for a monthly fee.

Several games on its list caught my eye, one of them being The Messenger. I remember the praise it got in 2018, so I decided to add it to my game list to try. Is The Messenger worthy of the accolades it received?

The Messenger Title Screen

The player takes control of a young Ninja whose duty is to deliver an essential Scroll to the top of a mountain. Simultaneously, the Demon King and his minions have begun to wreak havoc on the world. It is up to The Messenger to deliver the Scroll to thwart the Demon King’s chaos. The synopsis makes The Messenger’s story out to be much more generic than it is. The plot may be simple, but the writing is brilliant. I found myself laughing at the character interactions more often than many other games of the genre, which helps make The Messenger’s story shine.

The Messenger takes clear inspiration from classic 8-bit era games, chief of which being Ninja Gaiden (on the NES). That said, The Messenger looks clean, and the pallet choice is top-notch. Enemies projectiles, essential items, and even the player character pop-out making it evident what the player should avoid and what they should collect. What’s more, the environment of the different worlds all look wonderful and help draw the player into the ninja-esque world of The Messenger.

The Messenger 8-bit
Faithful to the 8-bit art style.

Whoever made the music for The Messenger deserves a medal. The Messenger’s soundtrack is phenomenal. I found myself humming or whistling the tune found in the Autumn Hills world every time I go there. That’s just one world that comes to mind at the moment; the rest of the music is also excellent. I wouldn’t be surprised if I found myself looking up the soundtrack on Youtube within the coming days.

The Messenger’s most significant strength is its gameplay. The player carries a sword to dispatch enemies, and they can cling onto walls and climb or jump off of them. What sets The Messenger apart from other platformers of its kind is when the player attacks enemies, destructible objects, or projectiles while in mid-air. Doing so will grant the player an extra jump to reach otherwise unattainable platforms or walls. The gameplay is tight, responsive, and flows beautifully with the level design.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about the masterful level design. Every enemy, obstacle, and platform placement is deliberate and ideal. The levels and worlds flow beautifully with each other. It’s immediately apparent to the player what the area’s challenge is and equally as clear as to how to proceed. The challenge lies with the player’s skill and knowledge of their current abilities to navigate to the next part of the level. If I were giving a lecture on level/game design, I would point to The Messenger and say, “basically that.”

Major spoiler section. Reader discretion advised

At a certain point in the game, the player is flung forward in time. The character gets a cool hat, and everything looks different. It was only after reaching a point where I could freely jump backward and forward in time did I find out that the future section is in 16-bit (looks like Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis graphics). My brain exploded when I found that out. It is such an incredibly creative way to show the passage of time, and it’s just subtle enough to catch the player by surprise when they find out.

This is a first for me, where I review a game’s graphics twice, but I feel it’s appropriate for The Messenger. The 16-bit era of the game looks gorgeous. The extra detail in the background and foreground environment, the destroyed buildings caused by the Demon King’s carnage, and critical moments where the passage of time becomes apparent offer such a fresh and unique impression within itself. While there are games that do the whole “passage of time” thing fine, The
Messenger using a different era of graphics to present the idea is unlike anything I’ve seen before.

Another first for me is the mention of the game’s music twice. Each world has a 16-bit version of its music to go along with its 8-bit counterpart. What’s more, when the player transitions from one era to the other, the music follows suit perfectly. There are no missing notes, no glitches, and no quirks when the change in time period happens. The music keeps going like nothing happened. It’s awe-inspiring. As for the music quality of the 16-bit versions of the tracks, they are as good as their 8-bit counterpart.

At one point, the game changes focus from a level based, going from point A to point B style game, to a more exploratory one. At this point of the game, the player must backtrack through the previously explored levels to find music notes to break a curse. While this doesn’t hurt The Messenger’s overall quality in any way, it might irk some players who exclusively wanted a linear side-scrolling game.

End of spoiler section

The only significant gripe I have with The Messenger is not with the game itself but with me. At the beginning of this article, I mentioned skipping the game when it was released and only played it recently. WHAT TOOK ME SO LONG? I kept looking at the game, going, “eh, maybe another time.” 2018 Sergie dropped the ball on that one.

By now, it should be evident that I loved The Messenger. Beautiful visuals, fantastic music, brilliant game and level design, and a hilarious story. If I could go back in time and tell my 2018 self to not sleep on The Messenger, I would. I recommend The Messenger to any of my readers who love retro style platformers and 2018 Sergie.

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