A slice of the Ninja life on the go

Two bruised thumbs up for the return of the Ninja. 

The shopkeeper eyes me over and delivers another one of his patronizing comments. He is not beating around the bush, I need upgrades but cannot have them because reasons. bla bla I am not ready yet. I guess he is just annoyed I was not receptive enough to his story full for ancient wisdom, whatever the lesson may have been. I purchase a skill tree upgrade and head back out into the fray waiting outside for me. I am a ninja, with an important message to deliver . One that can save mankind or doom it forever. My thumbs hurt from the button mashing and timed jumps but I will continue on and the next time I see the shopkeeper I will be worthy for that super upgrade for sure. This is "The Messenger" a return to the ninja games of the past.




What is it?
The Messenger is a retro style game that starts out as a 8-bit style re imagining of the Ninja Gaiden and Shinobi games of back in the day when Nintendo and SEGA were battling it out on a quest for console domination. Even the music is designed on authentic chip-tune equipment to add to the authenticity. True to its inspiration the game starts you of on an adventure filled with enemies, and traps for which you need keen timing to get past them or start over from the nearest checkpoint. But that it not all to this game as it uses witty humor to address videogame tropes, pays tribute to the games that have come before and uses time travel as a vehicle to transform the game into a more modern, albeit 16bit  style version, of the itself. With that I mean you actually get to warp into the future of the game world which is displayed as a newer, better graphics version of itself , including the hero and it turns the game into a full on metrovania style game , complete with backtracking in all its glory.


Gameplay
Time Shards is the currency in this universe.
After a short introduction the game runs your though an introduction level where you quickly get familiar the controls including a unique take on the traditional double jump. In "The Messenger" this is replaced by "cloud stepping". If you jump and hit something it will allow you to jump again. This can theoretically be done ad infinitum as long as you have something to hit between each jump and this technique will be needed throughout the game to explore some of the more hard to reach areas and to defeat certain tricky enemies. Besides jumping you can slash with your trusty blade and you can throw shurikens, though you very limited ammo that takes a bit to replenish, especially in the beginning. Throughout the game you can collect crystals called time shards that you can trade for upgrades along the way. These upgrades can increase chances of enemies dropping life or shurikens or improve your other abilities. Sometimes the shopkeeper decides to give you a new skill altogether, usually for free in order to aid you on your quest of saving the world. One of those would be a squirelsuit/cape that allows you to float in updrafts and reach new places in the game and float over enemies avoiding their attacks.
Long gone are the limited lives and game ending deaths of the old days. If you fail (and you will) and die , you are brought back to the nearest checkpoint by a flying creature named Quarble who is willing to lend a helping hand, in change of some of those coveted time shards you have been collecting and he wont leave you alone until you paid off your debt, taking shards and slowing your chance to progress up the skill tree. To add insult to injury Quarble finds it necessary to advice you, after couple of deaths, to perhaps visit the shopkeeper to upgrade some skills. Thanks Quarble, maybe if you stop taking my money some day I will.About midway through the game things change. Once you unlock the power to transcend time you will be able to navigate through portals throughout the levels. You will be traveling back and forth often in order to access all the needed areas. For instance in the 8-bit version of the level a bridge may be broken or missing that is in working order in the 16 bit version enabling you to cross a previously inaccessible gap. The game becomes more exploratory, involves a good amount of backtracking and rediscover old areas not in a new 16 bit coat of paint.

Presentation

The simplicity of The Messenger is deceiving as it hides a deeper layer of gameplay within itself and you won't even have to reach far to experience it. The use of a more modern look for the future parts of the game is a fun addition to a game that up until then was already fun for me from a put nostalgia point of view. Ninja Gaiden on the Atari Lynx is one of my all time favorite handheld games and to be playing another Ninja on new generation handheld was already a fun experience. The fact that this game touch so well on the classics of the past, with tropes and all and then, when you thought you figured it out, flips the script on you was all just gravy on top of an already delicious meal. Off course the 8 bit and 16 bit presentation is in reality just 8 and16 bit-LIKE, as they are not truly designed in an limited engine and are able to pull things off that can only be done on a modern system. However Sabotage Studios has captured the feel of the era very well. The addition of the chip tunes and 16 bit sound design for the future parts reenforce that feeling and complements the game well. But with its unique approach the game does not just ride on the cheap thrill of nostalgia , it holds its own and provides a peak into the growth of games throughout two/three generations and brings a modern feel to it all at once. The controls feel tight and any death feel like a they were caused by my skillset, or lack there off.  Clearly I am starting to age to a point where I need a brake here and there to reset and start tackling a challenge again in order to pass it , and the game , though not always easy , is not a impossible  frustrating grind either. There is a solid balance in the gameplay difficulty throughout its duration.


Parent Reccomendation
The Messenger is a great game to bring on the road, Rate 10+ is possible due to the added text and the needed skills to play the game but not because of any inappropriate content beyond you know, sword fights and such. It is a great game to showcase classic games and nostalgia without the frustrations that the classic system brings with it.  And before you know it you will experience what it is to be outplayed by the younger generation with the much nimbler fingers and faster reaction speed.


Overall Reccomendation
Though there are many games that harken back to the "good ol times" of gaming and use pixel art and gameplay of back in the day , The Messenger successfully brings in a unique angle to the genre. It knows what it wants to be and delivers on its promise of a solid ninja game. Hopefully there will be a sequel that continues this trend and move in the 32bit (arcade) space at some point. Until then "The Messenger" should have a stealthy place on your Switch to play on the road or at any time at home. Get those shurikens ready !




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Game Information:
Title: The Messenger
Developer: Sabotage Studios
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release date: August 30th, 2018
Platforms:Nintendo Switch, PC   
Version reviewed: Nintendo Switch
Official Site: http://sabotagestudio.com/
ESRB: E10+

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