2018’s answer to Ninja Gaiden

Title: The Messenger
Platform: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC
Developer: Sabotage
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release date: Out Now
tl;dr: Git Gud. In 8-bit.
Price: $20/ £18 (across all platforms)
Family Focus: Click here for more information.

The Messenger tells the story of a reckless young ninja who has been tasked to travel across a the land in order to deliver a scroll which is of vital importance for his village to survive the impending doom at the hands of an army of demons.

The Messenger is an old school game where players jump and slash their way through enemies and bosses and that’s pretty much it. Unlike the traditional 8-bit games that inspired Sabotage’s first game, this time around players can improve the nameless protagonist. As you kill enemies, you’ll pick up crystal shards that’s used as currency in the shop which can be accessed via certain, adequately identified, save spots. Thankfully, save points are plentiful as you can expect to die. A lot. So, the abundance of save points is a real frustration saver as it saves you having to replay certain infuriating sequences over and over.

Additionally, each level has various hidden paths which can be found if players are reckless enough. As you progress through the game, shopkeepers will give the protagonist useful equipment such as a wingsuit or a grappling hook. There’s also a way to double jump, however it’s the most frustrating one I’ve ever come across. Each level has lanterns that will drop crystals. Hitting the jump button after hitting the lantern will allows you to do another “jump” but if your timing is off, prepare to die. Exploring levels to discover their secrets requires a mix of the “double” jump, wingsuit and the grappling hook. There’s also an interesting mechanic called Cloudstepping. This allows players to get a small jump boost by killing enemies. Thankfully, unlike the Double jump, the wingsuit and grappling hook are lifesavers and much easier to handle. While the wingsuit will let you sore in between “spikey” situations, the grappling hook will give you that quickness in navigating certain tight areas.

At this point, I know what you’re asking yourselves: How hard is it? Considering (classic and current) 8-bit titles are some of the most notoriously difficult games, I’m happy to report that The Messenger is perfectly balanced throughout. First off, you’ll be happy to know that the game has an unlimited amount of lives… but it comes at a price. When you die, Quarble, a little flying creature will bring you back to the last save point. The cost? He will collect any crystal you managed to collect for a set amount time. While it’s obvious there’d be a price to pay, this hinders the players trying to upgrade the protagonist. Git gud, am I right?

There’s a forgiving pace to the game as well; early levels will allow players to get a grasp on the tight controls and a feel for the game. As they successfully clear levels, players will notice a slight ramp up in challenge right up to the final level. Same applies for the bosses. First few bosses are pretty straight forward, as players approach the end, bosses are slightly more complex, challenging and a true test of patience for gamers. Bosses lack a meaty health bar; they start flashing after a set amount of damage, but further you’re in the game, the longer boss battles are a real test of patience and skill – just like the good old days…

The game’s presentation is solid. The colours of the 8-bit design really pop and you can see the details in the environment and characters. The soundtrack, featuring a mix of 8 and 16-bit sounds, was composed by Rainbowdragoneyes and really captures the game’s feel. The game’s story is told through text in boxes, like classic 8-bit titles and features an interesting dab of humour showing that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

If you’re looking for some old school fun, then look no further than The Messenger. Sabotage’s 8-bit ninja title hits that perfect balance between fun and challenge. The gameplay is addictive, unique, and challenging boss battles all make fora perfectly balanced game. The first few levels will ease players in and the difficulty will ramp up progressively. If you own a Switch right now, there’s no excuse to not pick this one up.

The Good

  • Will scratch that old school itch
  • Perfectly balanced
  • Fun and challenging boss battles

The Bad

  • Questionable double jump method

Family Focus

The Messenger is rated E10+ and PEGI7 due to the presence of violence. Even pixaleted, violence *is* violence.

Disclaimer: This review is based on a review code provided by the developer for the purposes of this review.