We get quite a few PR emails come through offering codes for various indie titles here at Darkworld Gaming, and some are more appealing than others when they come through, but when one comes in with the following blurb, you know its one to check out:
As a demon army besieges his village, a young ninja ventures through a cursed world to deliver a scroll paramount to his clan’s survival. What begins as an 8-bit action platformer with a simple story soon transforms into an epic time travelling tale, revealing itself as a 16-bit Metroidvania packed with replay value and deadpan humour.
And so, we gladly accepted the review code, downloaded it to our Switch, and I’ve been working my way through it during lunch breaks at my normal day job.
The Messenger is, as the blurb describes, an 8/16 bit style action platformer “Metroidvania” gem of an indie game developed by Sabotage Studio and published by DevolverDigital. It combines the ever so popular old school “bit” style of graphics in that more modernised polished way that many games from that era didn’t always have and combines it with that classic gameplay style from then as well, but all the while, not taking itself too seriously either.
Combined with the old school style graphics is the matching “MIDI” soundtrack, from the music, to the effects all of it sounds like a game right out of the late eighties/early nineties. This is due to the soundtrack being compused by Rainbowdragoneyes, a renowned chiptune composer – handmade using Famitracker.
But the game is designed like this, and it knows it! Early on you’ll meet a mystic shop owner, who will give you hints and tips, provide you with new toys, upgrades and, perhaps, most importantly, the ability to “chat”. It’s through this mystic salesman that much of the games deadpan humour and self mocking comes from.
They’ll reference the standard tropes that these old school adventure games always had, and tell you that you can’t do such and such until you’ve killed the area boss, everyone knows that in adventure games etc.
As with many games you start off learning the basic commands, and only have the ability to run, jump and cut with your sword. But as you progress you’re given more and more abilities such as climbing hooks and a wingsuit. And there is also a currency that is used to upgrade your adventuring kit throughout the game. What’s interesting is that the “standard” double jump isn’t here, instead ‘cloud jumping’ replaces it, where you can jump additional times in mid-air as long as you can hit something with your sword!
But should you fall, a red little… thing… will save you from death, but it comes at a cost – a few sarcastic comments and him taking any of the currency you collect until his debt is suitably paid.
About half way through the game, you unlock some of the final abilities the game changes from a linear action platformer to the sprawling “Metroidvania” style game, where you go back and forth across previous levels exploring more, previously unreachable, areas using the new abilities and kit you’ve unlocked later on. This unfortunately can get a bit repetitive, as its rather rinse and repeat.
All in all, the messenger starts off very basic, but by the time you’ve unlocked all of the abilities and items, the game becomes much more skill and timing based, as you need to use abilities with pinpoint accuracy and perfect timing to make that certain jump, dodge that bosses attack or to generally get further into the level.
The game is essentially split into two parts, the 8-bit “past” and the 16-bit “future”, with every level (and soundtrack for said level) having both an 8-bit and 16-bit variant. Which is clever in its delivery, the linear early aspect is all 8-bit, an is similar to Ninja Gaiden on the 8-bit NES, whereas the later “Metroidvania” exploration slog fest is 16-bit, similar to Super Metroid on the SNES.
While the dialogue pokes fun at the genre, and the game itself and is generally hilarious, the story does get surprisingly deep, as you start off the unfulfilled ninja who gets set on a quest to deliver a scroll and become “The Messenger” of destiny, it expands into a much deeper story, with a lot of backstory as every level seemingly has its own backstory behind it and the enemies there.
The characters are also great, the humour and dialogue just make you fall in love with them, especially the death screens when the red thing is saving you, when they start featuring a mocking death counter, as well as comments about wondering if the quotes will start looping etc.
One thing I’ve really liked is spending time figuring out the boss fights. It really reminded me of my days as a WoW raid leader (though only having to deal with a single incompetent player this time!) as most boss encounters are split into 2-3 phases (with some bigger bosses featuring 4-6 phases) and having to figure out what to do in each phase of the fight, having to rinse and repeat to master one bit, only to then start over on the next phase. It really appealed to my sense of strategy that I’ve not really seen from a game in a while in quite the same way.
The game works brilliantly on the Switch as well, which is always a key factor for me when reviewing games on that particular platform. Most of my Switch play time happens on lunch breaks from my day job, so huge RPGs that need you to sink hours and hours in just to make any progress are often wasted on me on the Switch. But The Messenger’s levels are fairly short, with a lot of the time being spent overcoming the end boss of each area. Throw in frequent save points and it really is a game you can pick up and put down frequently, either due to changing trains on your commute to work, or just playing in hour long bursts once a day.
The Messenger is definitely up there as one of the top indie games I’ve played on the Switch so far, if you’ve got a Switch, and enjoy an action platformer with nostalgia and lots of humour, The Messenger is for you.