04 . 08 . 2024

The Messenger


So how about that Sea of Stars game everyone’s been talking about? The one that won a whole bunch of awards? Well I took notice and… decided I wanted to play The Messenger, Sea of Stars’s direct predecessor, and ended up getting it for Christmas (Thanks PeaceRibbon). Betcha you weren’t expecting that were ya? Don’t worry though, PB&Justice already wrote a Sea of Stars review so if you’re interested here’s a link for your convenience. Just be sure to come back here when you’re done:

The Messenger is a 2D platformer created by indie developer Sabotage and released in 2018 for PC, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, and Xbox One. The game’s story takes place in a world that has been completely flooded, save for a single island upon which the last remnants of humanity live. To make matters worse an army of demons have invaded the island and are hellbent on wiping out humankind once and for all. The player takes up the role of a ninja who is dubbed “The Messenger” by a mysterious hero who gives him a magic scroll which he must deliver across the island to fulfill a prophecy that will save humanity from total annihilation.

The story might sound decent on paper, but in practice it’s the weakest aspect of The Messenger. The main problem with the game is the tonal whiplash between the premise and dialogue. I can’t remember a single scene that doesn’t have some kind of 4th wall breaking meta-humor or a subversive punchline injected into the script. A wink and a smile towards the audience every once in a while can be fun, but when every character does it in every scene it starts to come off as lazy. This creates a story where the urgency of stopping the demonic invaders is rarely ever felt and considering that this is a Catholic Game Reviews article you can probably guess why I would feel this is an issue.

Fastest job interview I’ve ever had.

The rest of The Messenger’s presentation fares much better. The game’s graphics are reminiscent of old-school platformers of the 1980s and 1990s while also taking advantage of modern benefits like expanded color palettes. The music is similarly composed in a retro chip-tune style complete with catchy melodies and strong percussion. All of these elements combine into a game with plenty of old-school charm without sacrificing more elaborate details made possible by our fancy new computers.

The Messenger is a fairly standard 2D platformer with the player moving from left to right across the screen to reach the end of each level, overcoming enemies and obstacles along the way. The game’s biggest influence mechanically is 1989’s Ninja Gaiden with a short range sword attack for dealing with enemies as well as long ranged throwing stars and the ability to climb walls unlocked fairly early on. The Messenger isn’t without its own mechanics however, chief among them being the cloudstep, the ability to jump in the air after striking an enemy or object with an airborne attack which opens opportunities for some seriously long airtime. Movement is the name of the game in The Messenger as most upgrades work to help the player jump increasingly long distances and bypass deadly obstacles.

Hellfire? Brimstone? Child’s play for one who trusts in the Lord.

The above mentioned upgrades come courtesy of The Shopkeeper. A mysterious woman in a blue robe whose storefront is connected to various checkpoints by a portal. The Shopkeeper will provide tools necessary for progression such as the climbing claws free of charge, but optional upgrades like extra health will cost shards. Shards are fairly abundant in each level so players should be able to acquire most of the upgrades before the end of the game. That being said, whenever the player dies they will be resurrected at the last checkpoint by a greedy demon named Quarble who will start sucking up the shards you collect as a service fee. This provides a decent incentive to avoid dying as every shard stolen by Quarble is a shard you could have used for upgrades. The Messenger, true to its roots in retro platformers, is not afraid to crank up the difficulty so take advantage of every skill in your arsenal and “get good”.

So all and all, The Messenger is a really cool game. It might not clear my admittedly high standards for storytelling, but in virtually all other aspects I am struggling to find any serious complaints. The game is visually charming, the music slaps, the gameplay is fun, and the difficulty doesn’t pull its punches. I would say more, but a concise review ensures I don’t overstay my welcome. How would I even draw things out at this point? A fake ending? That’s just ridiculous!

Scoring: 88%

Gameplay: 5/5

Visuals: 5/5

Sound: 5/5

Story: 3/5

Replayability: 4/5

Morality & Parental Warnings

The Messenger is a game about a ninja fighting a demon invasion. Players primarily use a sword and throwing stars to attack enemies, though there aren’t any major instances of blood or dismemberment. There are also plenty of characters who use magic powers, be they demon or otherwise. The player can ask the shopkeeper to tell them stories if they so choose, one of which glorifies divorce.

Bonus Section! (Spoilers)

Alright, I’ll admit it. That closing paragraph was a fake out. Though in my defense such tricks are in the spirit of The Messenger itself. There’s still plenty of game left to go after the player finishes the “final level” and arguably it’s where the game shows its true colors. If you don’t want to spoil the surprise for yourself and you think The Messenger might be for you, stop reading and go play it! To those of you who want in on the game’s secrets, stick around and find out. I’ll try not to spoil too much, because this is still very much a game worth playing.

After finishing the “final level” the player returns to a previous level in search of a new set of macguffins hidden throughout the game. It is revealed however, that the previous levels are in fact an interconnected world the player is free to travel between at will. That’s right, you thought this game was a Ninja Gaiden tribute, but it’s also a tribute to exploration based platformers like Metroid and Castlevania! Using abilities obtained later in the game such as the gliding suit and rope dart the player can now explore otherwise inaccessible areas. I’ve made my love of the Metroidvania genre clear in previous reviews so it should come as no surprise that I really enjoyed this shift.

I think I stumbled upon the film set for the next Indiana Jones movie.

The Messenger’s tools can only get him so far. Luckily, time is on his side. Literally! At this point in the game The Messenger gains the ability to travel between the past and future by jumping through rifts in time that have appeared throughout each level. When something is blocked off by an impassable barrier, odds are there’s a time rift you can use to jump to an era in which that obstacle doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, all this wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff serves to create more plot holes, but all of the interesting scenarios it creates for the gameplay more than makes up for it. It also affects the music and visuals in a big way with the past being akin to an 8-bit platformer from the NES while the future becomes a more detailed 16-bit platformer in the vein of the SNES.

Overall, The Messenger is a good game that gets even better as it goes with plenty of fun surprises thrown in along the way. If spoiling the best parts of the game hasn’t convinced you to give this excellent twist on the classic 2D platformer a try, quite frankly I don’t know what will. I promise this is the real end of the review so thank you for reading and have a blessed week.

About TheGoodHoms

TheGoodHoms is a graduate of Belmont Abbey College and a life long member of the Catholic faith. Armed with a rosary in one hand and a history degree in the other, there is no game this man can not conquer. He also has a twin brother who writes for this site as well.

Fighting game addict.