Last week’s visit to PAX East was a great one, even if there weren’t that many AAA games and companies on the show floor. Not that there needed to be, as this is usually a show that thrives on its indie game offerings. And there was a particular one that stood out for a number of old-schoolers, especially those with the Ninja Gaiden franchise.
That game was The Messenger, which was previously announced earlier this year as part of Nintendo’s “Nindies” showcase. It’s definitely a throwback game, with a lot of style going for it, along with a number of unique challenges that will put your ninja skills to the test. We recently went hands-on with the game and came away very satisfied with what the team at Sabotage Studios had to offer.
The game puts you in the shoes of a lowly ninja who’s usually not fit for hero duty, but suddenly finds himself thrust into the spotlight when he’s handed a very important scroll to take to a nearby location. As you might expect, the journey is not an easy one, as a number of adversaries will stand in your way -- ready to take that scroll off your hands.
Fortunately, despite your lack of mission skills, you’re more than ready to take on what these enemies hand to you. The Messenger has some splendid hack and slash action that fans of the Gaiden games will be very familiar with, along with a few challenges that will keep you on your toes. For instance, in one stage, you’ve got a moving spiked wall headed towards you, and you’ll need to get over a few structures in order to avoid getting hit by it. That’s just one of the things you’ll need to overcome within the game.
But there’s also a neat twist over the course of The Messenger that changes up the style almost completely, with the help of some portals. See, there are sections of each stage in which you’ll come across a brick wall or impassable gap, and the only way to get through them is to go through the portal. This not only changes the appearance of your Messenger, but also the game itself. It goes from an 8-bit to a 16-bit motif with the snap of a finger, and what was once closed suddenly becomes open. So you can progress as you see fit, and then come across another portal to go back to 8-bit. It’s a neat twist on design that we only got to see bits and pieces of, but it worked when we tried it out.
Along with solid visuals, The Messenger also benefits from an outstanding chiptune soundtrack that will remind you of the classic Ninja Gaiden songs, but with a twist for the more modern. That, combined with the fun sound effects, make this a retro-ized adventure game that’s soothing on the ears.
But there’s also a challenge. We mentioned the rock wall earlier, and yet that’s just one of the obstacles you’ll face in the game. Don’t be surprised if you bite the dust because you don’t nail a platforming section with crackerjack timing.
Fortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the game. You end up getting resurrected by a demon named Quarble, who not only takes any currency you had on your person when you died, but also chews you out for saving your butt from a heinous death. He only sticks with you for a few rooms before you end up on your merry way again, but he adds a factor to the game’s comical, scenery-chewing style. A super-serious ninja adventure, The Messenger isn’t.
And finally, we came to the boss battle, in which a demon-like figure attempts to roast you with some sort of flame-spewing vehicle. Fortunately, you can bounce up onto a wall, hop onto the vehicle and strike him down, then lay in a few quick hits. By repeating this pattern -- and avoiding his occasional projectiles on the ground -- you’re able to finish him off and move on to the next set of stages.
The demo provided us a taste of the bigger challenges that are to come, including much larger bosses, trickier stage designs and a lot of hidden secrets. Alas, we didn’t get to see them all, but the preview video we saw at the end of the demo teased what lies ahead. And that’s got us all excited for what The Messenger still has to offer.
If you’re a fan of old-school games or you just need a game that pushes your gameplay skills to the next level, The Messenger will certainly scratch that itch. We’ll see how the final game fares when it arrives later this year for Nintendo Switch and PC, along with other possible platforms. But the message here has been clearly received -- Sabotage Studios is set to kick ass and take names with this one.