While Sabotage Studios’ hack-em-up launched last year through Devolver Digital, it’s only now cartwheeling onto PS4.
The Messenger is an action-adventure that reminds us of an era of platform classics, the likes of which include Duck Tales and Castlevania.
And these types of side-scrollers have had a proper renaissance over the last few years, with Shovel Knight and Broforce, in particular, leading the way.
The Messenger is a bit different, though, despite novelty chiptunes and reduced color palette. This is driven by modern mechanics with its talent trees and ever-developing abilities.
While also paying respect to the games that clearly inspired it, The Messenger feels surprisingly fresh with its tight controls, varied environments and changing sprites.
It’s a game that keeps you entertained with its dry wit and humor that never fails to takes shots at itself and the genre. And yet it feels immediately comfortable because of how familiarly it presents itself.
As The Messenger, you must carry an all-important scroll which carries the fate of an entire clan in its contents. While you escape from your home which is burning down around you, the scroll must be taken across watery chasms, through underground caverns, and tracked through forests and trees to another Ninja dojo.
Once there, the demonic forces which have plagued your home village can be tackled head on by a true class of Shinobi. Or so the game reckons, at least, but honestly, you’re not ready for what’s in store, especially when time travel starts to play a part in the proceedings.
Fortunately, just because you’re called ‘Messenger’ doesn’t make you any less proficient with a blade. Which is just as well seeing as the game is often unrelenting and punishing, requiring you to time jumps precisely, duck under projectiles, keep an eye out for unusual patterns, all while mastering new abilities you come to learn.
The pacing of the game just feels perfect, though, with shops serving as level checkpoints and the shopkeeper regaling tales of old for both entertainment and informative purposes. Then the bosses come in all shapes and sizes and enemies catch you out with diverse attack plans. It’s all linear and designed so that you can’t really go off the beaten path, but there are hidden routes to find and extra treasures you can grab so you can keep earning XP.
And the other thing to note is you can never really die. Quarble, a one eyed floating horned demon, will always appear just when you’re on the cusp of death and revive you. But not without taunting you and reminding you how badly you suck and how awesome he is. Total charmer.
The Messenger really does enjoy toying with the player but it’s always done in jest and good spirit, never quite as blunt or on the nose as a From game which seems to relish punishing you time after time. In that regard, then, perhaps it’s not quite the same caliber of brutality as Sekiro.
That said, The Messenger is one of the best indie gems on the market right now. It’s funny, well polished, entertaining, and absolutely compelling. Without question, it’s one of the best side-scrolling platforms of this generation and maybe of all time.
If you don’t mind a bit of a challenge and are still craving a hit of ninja action if your Shadows have died more than twice, then The Messenger is absolutely essential.
The Messenger is now available for PC, PS4, and Switch
Review code kindly provided by Publisher.