Have you ever gone back to a game you remember so fondly only to realize that it may not be as perfect as you once thought. It happens all of the time to a retro gamer like myself. I’ll pick up a game from my childhood that I used to love only to find that it doesn’t hold up quite the way I remember it. Games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Ninja Gaiden trilogy on the NES will always remain classics that I revisit and love, but even I must admit there are some flaws in those titles that make them feel like more of a chore during certain levels. However, Sabotage Games The Messenger not only aims to fix that, but become a downright classic on its own merit.
Across the street from the L.A. convention center you could find a parking lot decorated like a trailer park. Picnic tables, corn hole, and even an inflatable doughnut pool gave off the fun party atmosphere that could only be found at the Devolver Digital Booth.
It is here that the indie games live. Sure you can find a handful of them on the show floor across the street, but at the Devolver trailer park, indie games are treated like the kings and queens of the show.
This is where I met Sabotage Games co-founder Martin Brouard. An enthusiastic man who is beyond excited to talk about his retro inspired action platformer The Messenger.
“The Messenger is what initially appears to be a straight 8-bit retro action platformer. Very much inspired by Ninja Gaiden,” Martin tells me. It seems the entire crew at Sabotage is very open about their influences for making The Messenger.
And that translates in the game play as well. As soon as I was able to fire up the demo in the back of a very comfortable trailer, I was immediately blasted back to my past. The graphical style while having a few more colors than the original NES hardware, was nostalgia driven to its core.
It was almost hard to believe. My brain was telling me that I was back on the floor of my parents living room playing a new Ninja Gaiden. However, it became very clear that this was more than just a Ninja Gaiden clone right at the first platforming section. It was here that the game showed off its extremely satisfying double jump mechanic. By jumping and attacking an enemy or item box at the same time, you can string together jumps that allow you to traverse gaps seemingly impossible to conquer.
And that’s not all that The Messenger has up it’s sleeve. You can visit an upgrade shop that allows you to access a numerous amount skills and abilities to make you feel like the ultimate ninja. Climbing claws help you traverse 90 degree heights, the wing suit allows you to glide past dangerous pit falls, and the rope dart has you grabbing on to enemies and zip-lining yourself straight to their demise.
It’s fast, it’s cool, and it’s not even all the game has to offer because those were the only mechanics I was able to see during the demo. The Messenger takes your nostalgia for the games of the past and drives them off an exploding cliff full of fast paced action. Every single leap and perfectly timed jump slash is immensely satisfying. It’s like ninja styled parkour set to absolutely amazing chip tune music. That Martin told me was the composer’s first game soundtrack.
Rainbowdragoneyes, the games composer, has crafted some of the most catchy retro inspired chip tunes that I have heard since Shovel Knight. And what’s even more amazing about his soundtrack is that he had to compose every song twice. Why is that you may ask? Because The Messenger’s best mechanic is time travel that changes the entire game from an 8-bit retro platformer to a SNES styled 16-bit one.
That’s right, there are portals in the games levels that allow you to traverse past death defying obstacles by traveling to the future where the landscapes are quite different. These portals completely change the games aesthetics and sound on the fly. While the 8-bit levels may remind you of Ninja Gaiden, the 16-bit levels seem awfully familiar to the extremely rare and obscure ninja platformer on SNES, Hagne.
No matter how many times you jump through one of these portals it never gets old. Simply imagining the amount of work it must have taken to craft each of these levels with this mechanic in mind is absolutely jaw dropping.
The final thing I was able to experience in the demo was a boss fight. It was here that the game displayed its charming sense of humor. As an ominous large cloaked figure floated towards the ground, only to turn around and reveal a tiny adorable skeleton wizard. Don’t let the looks fool you though he is tough.
Which brings me to another point about The Messenger. The game’s difficulty is spot on. The original Ninja Gaiden trilogy always managed to feel unforgiving. Some jumps were almost impossible without a glitch and a little bit of luck. While The Messenger itself is also very hard it never feels unfair. Of course it must be said that I have only experienced a small slice of the game. Who knows what difficulties lie beyond the demo.
There have been so many indie titles that have tried to rely solely on the nostalgic look of retro graphics. However, The Messenger manages to improve upon the retro formula in every way. Not only is it beautiful to look at and a pleasure to listen to, it’s addictive as hell to play. Ever since I put the controller down in that demo, I have been thinking about playing it.
I played a lot of games at the Los Angeles Convention Center during E3 2018. None of them left me with the same desire to sit down right there and want to finish the whole game like The Messenger had me feeling in the back of that cozy trailer. Which is why The Messenger claimed our E3 Game of The Show Award and became my most anticipated game of the year.