There are way too many side-scrolling pixel-art indie games. When people discuss the sheer amount of Royale’s, FPS titles and sports games, I attempt to argue that damn near every genre is overstuffed and there’s an abundance of indie games that stick to a familiar, comfortable formula. If they’re good, then it’s no bad thing right? If they’re excellent, long may they continue to fill up our consoles with their small download sizes and nostalgia filled nonsense. Thankfully, The Messenger is wonderful, and an absolute masterclass in how to breathe new life into the industry once again.
From the outset, The Messenger grabs you. Almost immediately you can feel yourself falling for its charms with its strong writing, gorgeous presentation and music to die for. The game wears its heart very much on its sleeve whilst honouring all that came before it. The Messenger belongs on a system long given to the gaming Gods and yet it feels right at home on my shiny PS4 Pro. You realise the power that The Messenger has over you as soon as you take control of your young ninja, one that is told consistently in the introduction that he is ‘not ready to be a hero’. After devastation leaves your protagonist as the sole survivor, a legendary warrior tasks you with taking a scroll to the top of a mountain and save the world. Yes, it’s not Shakespeare but the fun narrative features unexpected turns throughout enabling the story to stamp its unique take on the ‘zero to hero’ formula.
The games USP though is by far the ability to switch between 8-bit and 16-bit visual styles, jumping back and forth in an instant that turns the game from something great to something really special. The music also changes with it, offering two completely separate soundtracks depending on what visual aesthetic you’re currently rocking. Gorgeous stuff.
The sentimentality of nostalgia also leaks into the games difficulty, as you might expect. The Messenger is tough as balls and it revels in the joy of knocking you down just as you’re gaining some momentum. It’s certainly no walk in the park and whilst it doesn’t necessarily punish you for dying – you never really ‘die’, rather you lose the ability to collect currency (Time Shards) for a brief period as you’re paying back the debt of resurrection to a flying demon who revives you -, you’re going to be doing the deadness an awful lot throughout.
Now stick with me, but the games greatest asset is by far the gameplay itself. The game features an interesting spin on the ‘double jump’ by only allowing you to jump a little higher when you’re nearby a lantern you need to strike in mid-air or when you hit an enemy. It’s a fun mechanic which offers up a significantly different challenge to what you might have been expecting. The aforementioned Time Shards will allow you to head to a shop in each level to upgrade your moveset and offensive options. It’s a fun distraction to speak to the shopkeeper as he normally has a rather delightful story to share with you. Your character is cocky and hilarious and the conversations that occur in the shops are among the games highlights (‘that was too much dialogue for a single text box’).
The Messenger is also a big ol’ game. After several hours of dying and dying again the game gives you reason to think it’s all over before it just isn’t, and this could throw some people off. It certainly did me, whilst it’s no bother at all to keep playing The Messenger the pacing felt a little strange in the closing moments, and there’s a fair amount of backtracking to be getting on with. Fortunately this allows you to head back to old levels that have a 16-bit remix that you wouldn’t have seen before, which makes it worthwhile all the more.
Be sure to check the wardrobe.
The Messenger is available now on Steam, PS4 (reviewed on PS4 Pro), Xbox One and Nintendo Switch
Developer: Sabotage Studio
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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