Indie games, small development studios, whatever terminology you want to use to describe these groups of talented individuals, there’s a common trait amongst most of them that defines who are they are to me– passion. The team over at Sabotage Studio are in the process of bringing us quite possibly– I’m just going to say it– the next Shovel Knight. What I mean by that, is that their upcoming Switch and Steam release, The Messenger, is a lovingly crafted ode to retro that isn’t just relying on nostalgia to find success.
When I discovered The Messenger prior to PAX East I was already intrigued, but it wasn’t just because the retro aesthetic, when done right, is something that always piques my interest. The trailer teased some interesting mechanics and the music lingered in my brain– but it wasn’t until having the chance to sit down with Thierry Boulanger at PAX East 2018, playing through the PAX demo, and then delving deeper into some aspects of the game that weren’t being shared publicly, that I truly got to experience what is going to make this game shine when it finally releases.
At first glance, The Messenger can draw direct comparisons to games like Ninja Gaiden because of the setting, hero, and certain gameplay elements, similar to how Shovel Knight may get pigeonholed into a Mega-Man comparison– but Sabotage Studio and Yacht Club Games respectively, both deliver something that is an homage to many titles from varying genres of that time period while adding modern game design elements into the fold to offer something that celebrates the old and rivals the best of current games.
Throughout my play-through of The Messenger demo, I was hit with nods to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES, the Ghost ‘n Goblins series, and of course Metroid. The gameplay mechanics you may expect when I mention those titles are present, but a deep skill tree, an elaborate story, and a visual twist that not only plays a role in the narrative but is executed with attention to details branching further than just what you see, help this lovingly crafted tribute to retro become more than just an a updated version of the games it’s influenced by.
What was playable during the PAX East build of the game, showcased brief dialogue that allowed the game’s wit and humor to sneak in as well as visual jokes when battling the demo’s boss. These touches of detail allow the game to truly come to life and add character to the pixelated perfection that is taking place while playing.
Though, what truly helps solidify The Messenger as a top tier retro-stylized platformer is the controls. Besides beautiful environments and animation, a dope soundtrack, and an enticing story, The Messenger has some of the tightest controls in a platformer putting itself in the same category as games like Super Mario, Shovel Knight, and Mega-Man. This is the single, most important aspect of any platformer that allows it enter the top tier. All of the other amazing elements that The Messenger has going for it only emphasize how truly impressed I am with Sabotage Studio.
I cannot wait to see Thierry’s dream game come to the Switch and Steam later this year. But to reiterate for those of you who are thinking that this is for fans of Ninja Gaiden only, look past those analogies and get excited for something that takes the best of the Ninja Gaiden series as well as other games and uses that as a foundation to deliver us something that is remarkable in its own right. Hopefully my impressions from PAX East remain in tact, I have a feeling they will. Until then, I look forward to carrying the scroll.
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