Steam Library: The Messenger

Ninja on a perilous journey

The nature of The Messenger is clear to every first gamer after about two seconds of contemplating the Steam storefront. The distinctive 2D graphics, the squeaky soundtrack that seems to be made up of ancient samples in the trailer, the platforming ninja… It’s as if we’re stuck in an arcade hall somewhere between the NES and Mega Drive era.

Insert, as they say, coin.

Facing formidable enemies

Second role

The Eastern Kingdom (complete set, with cherry blossoms and ninjas) is preparing for the local Judgment Day. Teachers instill the basics of martial arts and sacred knowledge in the youth. The most important of which contains a very good news – in general, we personally, who are planning to burn down our own homes with demons, won’t have to fight particularly hard. Well, we will have to, but not us. As soon as the heat starts, a Hero will fly in from the distant West and sort everything out.

This hero, by the way, is not you. That’s how it is. But the story above – it’s still pure truth. Demons attacked, burned down the martial arts temple, killed the teacher, classmates, but then the hero finally flew in and gave the vanguard of evil a beating. Well, now we finally enter the game. Our task is to carry this magical scroll from the Hero himself through the world and deliver it to the inhabitants, so that they open the gates, because the forces of good, although late to the banquet, have still arrived.

Breaking through the gardens, of course, will require a fight. As well as double jumps on platforms with mid-air slides, searching for power medallions, postmodern sarcasm, and intrusive music.

Exciting action

Hands remember

Bread and Salt The Messenger – two-dimensional panoramas familiar to us since childhood. Our hero appears somewhere in the corner of the screen (usually bottom-left), where various things are happening. Platforms are floating in the air, demons spit horizontally flying fireballs, a healthy black hole yawns in the floor. Finally, somewhere in the corner, a pair of shining pixels winks at you with some secret. The hero will have to somehow get through all this happiness to move on to the next screen, where the same jokes will be rearranged in some new tricky way.

However, there is a boss guarding the passage to each new world. The game may have been released in August 2018, but it is immediately evident that the attack algorithms of the main opponents have been around for several decades. We have had time to learn the habits of the original bosses by heart, hone counterattacks, and perform them literally with our eyes closed. The obvious incredible thing is that you are playing The Messenger for the first time, but for some reason, you already know the battle tactics against a random demonic general.

In general, the platformer copes brilliantly with reproducing the form and aesthetics of ancient video games. In pursuit of authenticity, the local artists even managed to build levels out of characteristic old-fashioned blocks. See how the platforms, gaps, and other blocks strictly adhere to straight lines and angles?

Time-traveling adventure

Obviously, the developers were not limited by a 48-color palette or 8×8 or 16×16 sprite sizes, but here they are, long-forgotten rectangular levels. In all their glory. Another indie project would have allowed itself to smooth out the image, draw a bump on the swamp like a bump on the swamp, and not like a brick. Show off the talent of their pixel art gurus in all its HD glory, with every individually drawn pixel. Display a mesmerizing epic canvas on the screen. But the studio Sabotage knows: high resolution is great, but the more compressed 256×240 screenshots resemble a real old game, the better.

You step onto such an authentic level, perform a double jump, get caught under a platform descending to the ground, and immediately remember why you broke gamepads in your childhood. It’s not desirable to complain about the quirks of game mechanics, though. Because most of the local annoyances are not the developers’ fault, but rather a tribute to tradition. Silly heroic deaths due to nonsense are just as much exhibits of the local cabinet of curiosities as the graphics.

Navigating challenging platforms

Fortunately, some traces of civilized game design have also been left in the game. For example, the entire system of extra lives and second chances is completely modern. With checkpoints, infinite lives, and a penalty ghost that takes away coins from the player flying behind the just respawned loser. Nowadays, you can hit your head against a temporarily impassable wall as many times in a row as you want.

Oh, replica

Perhaps it is precisely because of the diligence of The Messenger’s homework in terms of graphics and gameplay details that it is frustrating to see the game miss the mark twice when it comes to the correct retro feel.

For a hardcore platformer like The Messenger, it wants too much for players to complete it entirely.

Who remembers the eight-bit Ninja Gaiden? I think many console veterans have at least heard of this game. Incredibly difficult, with a dreaded timer, but at the same time very engaging and stylish – especially for those times – this arcade game devoured the yen of Japanese schoolchildren of all ages. Strictly speaking, the project was originally released on the NES. But ninja battles, unlike some sappy The Legend of Zelda, were never going to let you reach the happy ending without a major fight.

The Messenger, on the other hand, allows you to relax and play the game at a turtle’s pace, and so on. Getting stuck in the local worlds can only happen out of laziness. We are more here for a tour than for a real obstacle course.

However, I have often heard from many people that this is great. One wonders why such entertainment is even needed if it cannot be easily swallowed whole. From this point of view, the relative toothlessness of our platformer is even more beneficial. Well, I don’t know.

Cinematic moments

What I am absolutely sure of is that I am thoroughly tired of postmodern irony, which has firmly gripped the genre. Have the screenwriters forgotten how to create stories without breaking the fourth wall? Now no game can help but wink at you. Like, look, we’re pretending to tell you a sincere and naive fairy tale, but come on, you know it’s a video game from the old days.

Yes, I know that the plot about “enemies invading from hell and burning down the hometown” has been done to death. Having every pixel on the screen rush to remind you of that doesn’t make the adventure any more atmospheric or enjoyable. And it’s been a long time already. I’m tired of deliberately flat worlds, meta-jokes of street vendors, and direct references.


It is obvious that the main attraction of The Messenger is to go back in gamer time. Only with a couple of magical inventions of progressive game design of our days. And this attraction overall works as it should.

Some elements the developers recreated even more diligently than others, somewhere they worked like everyone else. You can easily spend a few hours enjoying this platformer. However, there is not much originality here.

The Messenger
PC, PS4, Switch
Platformer, Action
Sabotage Studio
Release Date:
Editor's rating:
Is it worth playing? (If the score is more than 70%)



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