I had heard of The Messenger before I was asked to review it. In fact, I have nearly bought it a few times for the Nintendo Switch after hearing it’s glowing reviews. It’s a good job I didn’t in the end though, otherwise, I would not be here discussing the game with you now. I will say this, The Messenger is an assault on my childhood senses and I savoured every second.
The sounds and sights of my childhood came flooding back, memories of simpler times where framerates, Metacritic and microtransactions were unheard of. Good times, times where gaming was simple, fun and rewarding. You bought a game, it worked and wait for it. You actually had the whole game, perfectly working, day one. Brilliant and uncomplicated.
Story-wise, The Messenger is simple but entertaining. You are part of a ninja clan, who have trained every day in preparation for the return of an ancient foe. You are becoming bored with this daily humdrum and it’s starting to become tedious. Training, learning, training, learning, it’s all becoming monotonous. Fortunately, the demon king does strike again, spicing things up a bit and setting up our hero’s story.
It was foretold that when the Demon King strikes, a western hero would appear to give a scroll to one of the ninjas and hopefully save the day. That ninja just happens to be you. What are the chances? Out of all the ninjas present, it’s you that becomes The Messenger. You must deliver the scroll to the top of the mountains where the western hero’s tribe reside and hopefully end this tragedy.
Right, let’s get on to the actual gameplay. What is it like? How does it play? Is it any good? The Messenger is a very old school platformer that sounds like it was thrown here from the 80’s. It reminds me of a mixture of Shovel Knight and Shinobi, graphically and musically it’s set up like Shovel Knight but the combat and movement are reminiscent of the old Shinobi games. You must move through each stage, killing your foes and climbing through and over various obstacles.
The controls are very simple, which is excellent. There is no fumbling around, no complicated setups, just a few buttons to accomplish your tasks. You have a jump button, an attack button and to start with, that’s about it. Later on in the game, you do unlock more abilities and you can upgrade them but they are never overcomplicated or a burden. Everything just works, works well and is easy to get to grips with.
Helping you on your journey are a few characters, which if I am being honest were a lot more entertaining than I thought they would be. You have a blue shopkeeper, who to be quite frank, really made me laugh. His dialogue and references to video games were witty, light-hearted and a breath of fresh air. Secondly, you have a demon named Quarble who saves you every time you die. He does charge for the service though and he jots it down in his pad every time you meet your demise. He also throws out funny pearls of wisdom and funny quips the whole time. The entire game is very funny and kept me smiling all the way through. This was unexpected but enjoyable.
Scattered through the levels are time shards, these are abundant and required to buy new upgrades and abilities. Also dotted through the stages are hidden power seals. These are less abundant and much more difficult to find and retrieve. They are usually hidden in secret areas and involve some tricky platforming and combat to get to. They are totally optional but do unlock something great according to the shopkeeper. Well, he would say that wouldn’t he. I will let you know what it is when I have found them all.
Also, at various intervals through the level are gates that you activate. They function as checkpoints through the level and sometimes entrances to the shop to spend your hard earned time shards. They are spread out perfectly, not too close and not too far away, creating just enough tension and risk between them. Throughout the levels are mana crystals and health potions to keep your levels topped up.
Combat is very simple, yet when paired with the platforming becomes very addictive. You have a button to attack with your katana and when unlocked a button to throw shuriken, for longer range encounters. Your shuriken usage is tempered by your mana bar which can be upgraded and refilled as you progress through the game. One thing I really did like is that nearly every projectile in the game can be destroyed, this made traversing the games many levels quick, technical and very enjoyable. You hardly ever had to stop to wait for enemies to fire off their weapons, therefore you could just get stuck in and I loved it.
The music in this game is amazing and so enjoyable. The crunchy, addictive chiptunes were so pleasing to my ears and they invoked memories of gaming from my childhood. Beautiful, uplifting tracks that echoed through my mind. Honestly, it’s probably the best soundtrack I have heard since the legendary Celeste soundtrack. Every track is different, complex, interesting and really pushed me on through the games many levels. The music and sound effect design really reminded me of my youth and the great memories I have of my early gaming exploits. Granted, the music was more complex and produced to a higher standard but the style and type of sound were ripped straight out of my memories of being a child. Beautiful.
Graphically The Messenger is superb. It’s simple but will not to be to everyone’s taste. It goes hand in hand with the soundtrack and simple gameplay to create a nostalgic look at what games used to be like. The graphics are very simple, however, they are beautifully clean and bright. There is some lovely examples of great pixel art here, some beautifully designed characters and environments and it’s all gorgeous to see.
On to the performance side of things. The Messenger was perfect. Not a single issue to report. No frame drops, crashes or bugs were present in my entire time with the game. The controls were great, responsive and really well thought out. I had no complaints whatsoever in this department and as we all know and I really like it when a game is tested and made correctly. Buggy games really get on my nerves and really spoil the experience, so I was very happy with this games performance.
Well, where to start? Just go out and buy this amazing game now. It’s brilliant, funny, well made and nostalgic. Its soundtrack is to die for, it’s gameplay simple yet technical and the whole presentation on offer deserves the highest praise. Its characters and dialogue are well written and comical, it points fun at itself, at video game culture and it’s delightful. The only thing that may put some people off is that it looks and sounds a bit dated, however, I personally loved that but it definitely will not be to everyone’s taste. If you fancy a funny, tight controlling, nostalgic ninja adventure then this is the game for you. Fire up your PlayStation and get it bought and you will definitely not regret it.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*