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The Messenger Review

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On 09/09/2018 at 05:05 PM by Nick DiMola

Being a delivery boy has never been so much fun.

For everyone, but especially for those who love 2D action-adventure platforms with a solid challenge.

It’s not often that a game does something that completely surprises me, but The Messenger managed to catch me totally off guard. What appears to be a modern 8-bit take on Ninja Gaiden suddenly morphs into something more at the halfway point of the game. Its once linear levels branch out and become a Metroid-like maze, with hidden secrets abound. Not only that, but the graphics and sound boost into 16-bit and the world takes on an extra level of detail. While this gimmick was incredibly cool, the tight gameplay and intricate level design is what makes The Messenger a truly special experience.

Right from the start in its 8-bit form, The Messenger is a compelling experience. If you grew up playing Ninja Gaiden, you’ll immediately feel right at home. The exception being that The Messenger controls so much more fluidly than the NES games that clearly inspired it. As you progress, you’ll slowly start unlocking new abilities that make your movement more and more interesting.

From the get-go, you can perform a double jump by swiping your sword at either enemies or background lanterns. This will reset your ability to jump and you can activate your next jump at a time of your choosing while you’re still airborne. Progressing through the levels, you’ll be expected to leverage this ability to continuously hit successive lanterns and enemies and make it across expansive voids.

Throughout the levels are time shards, which act as a form of currency you can use to pay the shopkeeper, whose shop can be reached from special portals placed throughout the level. Here you can further expand your abilities or enable other perks to make the quest a bit more approachable. An early upgrade allows you to destroy enemy projectiles and also use them to refill your double jump, further improving your movement tech.

The shards are also currency to pay your dues for death. The Messenger is most certainly a challenging game and you will unquestionably fail throughout your quest. But you won’t ever actually die. Quarble, your specially assigned demon, saves you from death at the last moment, always restoring you to a recent save point. He’ll take any time shards you collect for a short while after your death, providing some penalty for poor performance. Funny enough, if he’s following you around and you encounter a serious threat, like a boss battle, he’ll scream in fear and take off.

The shopkeeper and Quarble are two great examples of where The Messenger injects its unique personality and humor. Quarble enjoys mocking you with each would-be death. Your interactions with the shopkeeper are all extremely casual and sometimes fourth wall breaking. Most of the time you’ll get a chuckle out of his stories or his explanation of what’s going on. As you discover more of the story and what’s happening in The Messenger’s unique world you’ll appreciate the shopkeeper more and more.

While The Messenger is a fun old school romp for its first half, it’s the second half where it really hits stride. You’ll suddenly be presented with interesting puzzles that include going forward and backward in time. There are plenty of secrets to uncover in locating the 45 Green Seals hidden throughout the world, which unlock a special (optional) upgrade.

Even if you don’t choose to rundown all of these seals, just finding all of the new abilities and items required to complete the quest will have you scouring every inch of every level, all of which were hidden from view in the first half. The 16-bit upgrade is super cool to see in transition and the way the world changes between the past (8-bit) and the future (16-bit) is a visual and aural treat.

It’s hard to talk about much from The Messenger without spoiling its story, but needless to say it’s very well done and the way it all slowly unfolds as you uncover more and more of the world is part of what makes the experience so compelling.

The Messenger is a surprise I absolutely wasn’t expecting in the best way possible. It’s definitely one of the best games I’ve played this year and one that nobody should miss, especially those who enjoy unique old school platformers.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Matt Snee Staff Writer

09/09/2018 at 05:56 PM

thos graphics look great. I played the shit out of Ninja Gaiden on the NES and I never beat it. I got close though. That was a hard damn game. 

Cary Woodham

09/09/2018 at 09:18 PM

I'm working on reviewing this game right now.  It's definitely HARD.  It might end up being too hard for me, I don't know.  It's harder than "Mega Man Hard."  More like "Ninja Gaiden Hard."  I can beat most Mega Man games, but I can't beat Ninja Gaiden.  Otherwise it's a very good game.  Almost Shovel Knight good.


09/10/2018 at 07:44 AM

I agree about the difficulty.  It is my biggest gripe with the game, I think the last time Quarble told me I was close to 200 deaths, if he is actually being truthful.

The bosses all are fair, but most of them took a handful of tries to find out thier patterns.

Cary Woodham

09/10/2018 at 08:57 PM

My problem with the challenge is that it relies too much on insta-death pits, spikes, and lava.  I barely got past the dragon boss, only to get stuck on a boss who moves three times as fast as you, and in order to reach him you have to double jump using lanterns that always change position.  And if you miss you hit fire.


09/11/2018 at 08:39 AM

Yep, i am not going to disagree with you there

Nick DiMola Director

09/11/2018 at 10:11 AM

That is definitely the toughest boss in the game. The key is the grappling hook. It allows you to score hits and avoid damage as he boosts around the room. Took me a couple tries to fully figure it out, but once you get the rhythm, it's not a terrible fight.

Nick DiMola Director

09/11/2018 at 10:13 AM

I think I 100% finished the game with somewhere near 300 deaths. It's definitely tougher than your average game, but I never felt overwhelmed to the point where I couldn't restrategize and make a better plan to overcome any challenge I was facing.

Blake Turner Staff Writer

09/20/2018 at 02:04 AM

Does it get harder after the time portals open? Because I'm actually finding it fairly easy thus far. I'm at the mountain summit and have died 21 times and about half of them were jumping into pits to see if they were secrets or not. Incidentally I hate when games sometimes hide secrets down what are usually death pits. It was shitty when mario did it and it's shitty now. 

Nick DiMola Director

09/20/2018 at 09:50 AM

Yes, it definitely does. As a matter of fact, you're about at the point where it's going to start ramping up in difficulty. I found most of my deaths came from the power seal rooms later in the game. You've still got a lot to get through and the game really changes radically after the time portals open.

Blake Turner Staff Writer

09/21/2018 at 01:52 AM

Yup I'm eating my words now. Its kicking my ass now. 

The Last Ninja

09/11/2018 at 04:51 PM

I just beat this game and I had over 200 deaths. Yes, it's hard, but the Quarble system makes it managable. This really is the best retro game since Shovel Knight. Everything is so polished, playing it was a joy. 


09/19/2018 at 07:30 PM

oh dear.  now I feel like I am horrible at the game.  I hit 100% with over 500 deaths.

The Last Ninja

09/20/2018 at 11:08 AM

Don't feel bad. I didn't 100% the game. 


09/13/2018 at 10:35 PM

What a gorgeous looking game. I'll keep an eye out for it on Game Pass, if it gets put there. 

Cary Woodham

09/19/2018 at 10:23 AM
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