[SPOILER WARNING: Don’t scroll down unless you want to read about the best parts of The Messenger. Secrets included!]
THIS GAME LIED TO ME!
Remember when my First Impressions piece asked whether The Messenger could transcend time and space? That wasn’t just a hackneyed writing metaphor. Once our nameless ninja hero passed the Tower of Time, he went into the future and took the graphics processor with him. Now, instead of being in the 8-bit past, we’re in a world ripped straight out of a 1990s Sega Genesis game, right down to the instruments used in the sound chip.
How’s that for a journey back to the future?
The Messenger Goes From Gaiden to Metroid
But wait, there’s more! Now, our time-traveling ninja hero can travel back and forth between these two time periods through blue rifts scattered across the map. Yes, MAP, because The Messenger is not just a level-based Ninja Gaiden homage but an open-ended Metroidvania, as well.
Here, the game switches from linear progression to traveling through the levels you already completed, manipulating time itself to uncover secrets and musical notes for the final stages.
This is where the review provides a frame of reference for those not familiar with the type of game The Messenger is, but that can’t work here, because no such game exists. Instead, we need to look at how well the transition is handled.
In this way, The Messenger mostly succeeds. Checkpoints and time ruptures are spaced frequently throughout, keeping the sense of discovery and thrill of exploration going at a smooth pace. Don’t be surprised if bosses you defeated in the past play a surprising role later on.
The one area where things falter is the fast travel system: with a small number of warp points, revisiting previous areas becomes tedious, a feeling exacerbated by long load times on the Switch version. That, and the ending comes off like a missed opportunity.
Is The Messenger Worth Playing?
Absolutely. Some will look back on The Messenger as either a betrayal or a radical experiment in its attempt to bridge the gap between two game types and eras of history, but regardless, Sabotage Studios deserves credit for going above and beyond what most people expect from “retro” titles.
Only through experimentation and defying conventional wisdom can the groundwork be laid for true innovation, and while this combination doesn’t result in the best of both worlds, it makes an impression worth experiencing. The Messenger is a rare, unique adventure no retro enthusiast should live without and one of the better examples of how to combine two disparate genres with remarkable results.