So we heard you like Ninja Gaiden?
When Yacht Club Games released Shovel Knight back in 2014, it recreated the greatness of NES platforming but in modern time. Giving us some of the best 2D platforming the industry had ever seen with so many unique stages and gameplay traversal techniques – and most of all, a freaking knight who wields a shovel. However, in recent years, no other game in my opinion has lived up to that legacy. No game has dared to even rival Shovel Knight or even live alongside it – that is, until now.
The Messenger is a 2D platformer available on the Nintendo Switch and PC, drawing heavy inspiration from the original Ninja Gaiden games from the Nintendo Entertainment System. It boasts smooth gameplay, a straightforward premise and music which got me pumped to take on any challenge. This game is a reminder of how important “game feel” really is when discussing gameplay – especially when platforming is just this good.
In The Messenger, you are a ninja given the task of taking a scroll to the top of a mountain, with the added objective of taking down a demon army whilst on your journey, or at least so it seems. Adding to this is the crazy element of various time-travelling portals opening up, allowing yourself to move between time periods, making dynamic changes to some levels when you do so. You’ll re-explore old paths and discover new ones as you flip between the once young version of yourself and the master you will eventually become in the future.
The Messenger creatively modernises the 2D platformer with a great skill-tree upgrade system that actually matters and contributes towards your understanding of mastering of the game’s mechanics, whilst allowing yourself to get a proper grip of how to integrate new abilities. These are given to you throughout by a merchant who lives in an upgrade shop. They range from basic upgrades such as health to an upgrade in which you only have to pay back half of your debt to the devious devil who revives you when you die.
The first couple of hours of The Messenger are a blast, and the best part of the game. It’s just a shame that from about halfway through when the portal mechanic gets introduced, it somewhat ruined the game for me. The fluidity of the first couple of hours keeps the game going at a breakneck pace. This had me eagerly waiting for the next boss encounter as soon as I saw the save portal with a health potion and shuriken stash on either side before the boss room. When the latter half of The Messenger started, however, it had me backtracking through levels to gain all the power seals – all 45 of them. This felt like a chore compared to the fast, fluid experience I had enjoyed over the previous couple of hours.
It is by no means bad, with some of the newer areas that are added after the portal introduction being great additions to the set of levels Sabotage Studios had already created. But I feel as if they should have introduced this twist after you play through all the levels once – so you can do it again but in 16-bit form with new bosses and changes to environments and enemy attacks to keep players on their toes.
This feels like a missed opportunity. I am sure they had a vision for The Messenger and I am by no means going to argue with that. But if that is the case, I would just plead to at least have some sort of a backtracking area within the pre-existing levels to make it easy to do so. Many times, I would get cheaply killed by one of the random enemies throwing projectiles when trying to get the one power seal halfway across the level. Nevertheless, the platforming is still very solid and responsive – some of the tightest out there. It is just a shame that a mechanic like this got introduced maybe a little bit too early.
If you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you’ll know I am a sucker for video game music. I live and breathe it, and was bamboozled by the great tracks of The Messenger, full of upbeat classics and soothing emotional lows. Rainbowdragoneyes, the composer behind the soundtrack, is truly a master of their craft. I can easily see myself bussing to work, humming along to some of the great boss battle tracks and early level harmonies.
The Messenger is a game I think a lot of people will love, and for good reason. I often find the 2D platformer, despite being the modern inception of console gaming, a hard thing to replicate well – especially when gamers have so many options to choose from. But despite the aforementioned problems, I think not picking up The Messenger would be a disservice to yourself if you love the 2D platformer and, of course, the old-school Ninja Gaiden games. Looks like Shovel Knight has found a new neighbour in the street of 2D platforming.