Over the past few years there has been a blow up in the retro style platformer. Rather than release old games, developers have created new experiences to tug at our heart strings. Enter The Messenger. A 8 bit 2D side scrolling platformer that has a similar vibe to Ninja Gaiden.
When I first booted up The Messenger, I was worried that I was going to get a cookie cutter story that I wouldn’t care about and simply skip through all the dialogue. Thankfully the team at Sabotage Studio knew what they were doing. The shopkeeper in this game is one of the best shopkeepers to ever grace a game. Its all intertwined within the story. He explains to your mission all while poking fun at the games that influenced it. This dialogue truly set the tone for the game.
I’ve been radio silence for the most part on this game marketing campaign. All I knew was that it transitioned to 16 bit graphics at some point, but that was it. The thing is I would have been content with the game ending when the 8 bit segment is over. Once you’ve reached what feels like a final boss, comes the big twist of the game. You are pushed into the future (hence the change in graphics). The game has now flipped over from a simple platformer to a metroidvania. Never have I seen a game pull something like this off. Leave it to some beautiful Canadians to make it a reality. The best part about this change is that it all fits in the story. Everything that happens gameplay wise in fact works in the story’s favour.
Usually in this genre of game, you unlock new abilities that allow you to go through old areas that were not once accessible. The Messenger sort of flips that on its head. For the most part you have the require skills to get through the game. What replaces the new abilities trope here is the concept of time traveling between era’s (8 bit to 16 bit). Each time you jump to the future or the past, that current level will change. Either opening up a once closed area or changing the path you are currently on. At first I thought this would make things too simple, but the level design is executed so perfectly that it makes figuring out the time travel paths an absolute blast.
The combat is straight forward, You run, slash and can hop up walls. The key skill here is cloud stepping. You jump in the air, slash something (usually a wall lantern) and doing so will allow you to jump once more. This technique is the key factor in getting you through this world. It can be frustrating at times but like with most mechanics it takes time.
The difficulty curve is a bit of an uneven one. At times I felt as if I was playing the game on easy. Once you reach the “twist” of the game, the difficultly (especially against bosses) ramps up quite quickly. I have spent countless hours on one boss in particular. I never felt properly prepared for it leading up to this moment. Nevertheless the game isn’t completely ruthless. If you are having trouble, it comes down to trial and error. There is an obvious way to get by somewhere or something. Its not always obvious and will take my failed attempts but the answer is there.
The soundtrack behind this game is one of the top that I’ve experienced in the recent renaissance of old school games. It hits all the right notes, catchy as hell and as a bonus, each song has an 8 bit / 16 bit version of it. They switch as you move between time.
I’ll admit at first, The Messenger simply didn’t click with me. The change in gameplay and difficulty curve threw me for a whirlwind. This is one of those games however that will get its hooks sunk right into you. No matter how many times I died, I used my frustration as fuel to help push me through to the next area. This is an evolution in what has become an oversaturated genre. If you are at all a fan of these type of games you owe it to yourself to get The Messenger!