From the opening moments of The Messenger demo I played at E3, I knew it was something special. It’s clear that the game is inspired by classics like Ninja Gaiden and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but while The Messenger has a lot of retro aspects, it’s a game that feels like it was made in 2018.
Players take control of the titular Messenger, as he needs to deliver a scroll to the top of a mountain. The storyline is pretty barebones, but that’s part of the retro charm. What The Messenger lacks in narrative, the game makes up for it with fantastic gameplay. Make no mistake–while there is a retro flair, the game features tight aesthetics and modern humor as well. In terms of gameplay, The Messenger plays just like the classics. You move from left to right across the screen, jumping and attacking with your sword. In addition to your melee weapon, there are also shurikens (in limited supply) that can be thrown at enemies.
Platforming is responsive and feels great. Instead of the typical double jump, you can jump, and then you’ll be able to do it again after a successful attack. For example, one section late into the demo had enemies shooting fireballs at me over a pit of spikes. In order to pass this room, I needed to jump, hit the projectile, and then jump again to safety. It’s a unique take on platforming that always kept me on my toes. In terms of traversal, our hero can also scale walls with Climbing Gloves, grapple to other platforms with the horizontal rope dart, and fly through the air with a glider. These are all abilities that you’ll unlock through natural progression in the full game, but for the demo, they were at my disposal almost immediately.
The most interesting gameplay mechanic is time travel. What’s cool about time travel is that you switch from 8-bit to 16-bit after walking through portals. Not only do the audio and visuals change, but new paths open up as well. Some areas cannot be accessed while in the 8-bit timeline, but a quick trip through a portal can make the previously blocked off section open in 16-bit. It’s a gameplay mechanic that I can picture resulting in clever puzzles and intense platforming.
While the gameplay is important, it’s worth noting that the presentation in The Messenger is top-notch. The writing is smart, but the self-referential humor and 4th wall breaking are what stood out for me the most. The shop-keeper, in particular, had me laughing with a joke involving John Gaiden and how only some people would get the reference. Another instance had the same character admiring our hero’s hat. Upon entering the shop again, the shop-keeper was wearing the same hat and accused the player of copying his style. The jokes always landed, and it’s clear that the writers took the time to come up with lines of dialogue that people will remember for a while.
From the instant it started, The Messenger was a game that felt like I had opened a time capsule to my childhood. Growing up with titles like Ninja Gaiden, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Mega Man X, The Messenger allowed me to relive the games that helped shape who I am as a gamer and writer in this industry. Ever since I played the demo a few days ago, I haven’t stopped thinking about the game. Despite having a lot of retro influences, The Messenger feels like a fresh experience with its own unique identity. Switch owners shouldn’t sleep on this game. It’s one of the best demos I played at E3, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the final version when it comes to Switch at launch.
Andrew Gonzalez is the Managing Editor of Xbox Enthusiast. When not writing about Xbox, he’s usually reading comics, watching Seinfeld, listening to Chvrches, and dreaming of the perfect Jet Force Gemini Reboot. You can follow him on Twitter. @AJGVulture89