With the influx of indie development, there’s been countless 8 bit and 16 bit inspired games in varying genres including most commonly the “Metroidvania” style. Metroidvania’s are games with expansive maps that gradually opens up by obtaining skills that permit access to gated areas. The Messenger takes this style of play and mixes two classic graphical styles for the first time with great results.
You play as a ninja known as a Messenger the look and feel is heavily inspired by the NES classics Ninja Gaiden 1 – 3 and it is obvious right down to the platforming and some skills are akin to that series. The Messenger can climb walls and slash in a similar fashion to its inspiration with similar animation which brings some nostalgia and familiarity. There are many more skills to unlock that make traversal fun and really smooth like a grappling hook that pulls you horizontally to attach to walls and a glide that closes the gap.
The true fundamentals of gameplay, however, are from the extra jump you get after slashing enemies in mid-air and a nifty time travel gimmick that I’ll get to later. The jump mechanic is really addicting because you get better as you go and you become faster. Because the enemies often take one hit to eliminate they are hazards that are meant to make it challenging and are a guide for how to make it through the areas. See an enemy, use it to increase mobility. It is satisfying to get through an area without getting hit for instance or smoothly jump to hit an enemy > glide towards another enemy > jump in mid-air > attack enemy then glide and grapple towards a ledge. You’ll be doing a lot of this and it’s not difficult to grasp. You start off with simple forgiving platform areas before you know it you are comboing through platforms. It can be frustrating in some places but it makes it more fun. You’ll want to retry immediately as you slightly get better only to have to learn the layout of the next platform.
The level design is great because of the fundamentals. There are plenty of obstacles that force you to develop your ninja skills. When the game begins you start in the present which I’ll refer to the past for now with 8-bit inspired pixel graphics that in reality could not be done on an NES because there are much more colors and animation. The beginning of the game is fairly straightforward classic Ninja Gaiden style platforming to learn the basics with some branching paths. This could have been the whole game as the gameplay alone sustains the action and would have been typical based on its inspiration but eventually, it opens up like the Metroidvania style large map once you travel to the future which is a mindblowing graphical upgrade to the 16-bit era. It was bold for the developers to use two graphical engines for this one game where the future portion could have been saved for a sequel but that’s why The Messenger is unique.
Once you’re able to travel back and forth through time there is a lot of exploration needed to collect several musical notes. Here the game starts to drag. There is a lot of backtracking because the time portals placement sometimes means you’ll have to double back to find the way towards your objective. There is one fast travel point per regions so you have to cover a lot of ground over. It is all fun once you figure things out but it definitely set my progress back. Additionally there are 45 green medallions to collect that unlock a reward which I won’t reveal but whether it’s worth it or not is up to you but they are gated by short difficult challenges that are fun in itself that requires extra platforming skill and reflexes to collect the medal so reaching them all is worth the additional mini challenge you overcome.
The music is excellent as well and you do get an 8 and 16-bit version of each track when you travel back and forth. The 8 bit is NES chiptune style and 16 bt is more the Genesis era rather than SNES. Which according to the developers at Sabotage Studios the Genesis had it’s own sound suite so they went with that because the SNES sound chip although arguably better would sample small clips to achieve its sound. The Past Messenger soundtrack is definitely typical NES music and the future remix reminded me of like Shinobi music on Genesis or Streets of Rage. The music has good beats too and is well done.
The game never takes itself seriously with some funny interactions with characters and bosses. The bosses, for the most part, come in either 8-bit or 16-bit style and they are well designed and fun to best. Sometimes offering a unique way to defeat them but are mostly about dodge and attack and learning their patterns. You unlock skills by collecting gems and using them in a store. I had more than enough by the end of the game and you can unlock everything including hints to point you in the next direction in one playthrough easily which I prefer than having to grind but I did run out of skills to unlock so prematurely.
Overall the game is full of humor great challenge and nice graphics if you’re into the style. The moment to moment action is always fun to speed run your way through the areas and its fun to see the past and future graphical changes all the way to the end. It does have issues with backtracking which may slow down the pace but it isn’t that bad if once you get the hang of the map. The length of the game is just right as any longer might have given fatigue but this is one of the better indie developed games and I highly recommend it for those into classics especially Ninja Gaiden and Metroid. The game is definitely a solid 4