First Impressions: The Messenger
One of the best parts of PAX East this past weekend was having the opportunity to get hands-on with unreleased, upcoming games. The Messenger left a strong impact on me, combining beautiful art, an insanely catchy soundtrack, and gameplay mechanics that routinely subvert the player's expectations in the best possible way. Created by Quebec-based studio Sabotage, The Messenger puts you in control of a ninja whose mission is simple: deliver a magical scroll to the top of a mountain. The gameplay story of "get object from point A to point B" is nothing new, but players should expect to be adventuring in uncharted waters from there - The Messenger is as mechanically and narratively original as it gets. Sabotage has clearly invested a lot of time and consideration into keeping us guessing.
We had the chance to play through about 20 minutes of the game while getting commentary and gameplay insights from Sabotage's Co-Founder and Director Thierry Boulanger. It starts off in a familiar tone, during which you are given a quick tutorial mission on combat and movement basics, like jumping and simple attacks. Once the tutorial ends, it's up to the player to adapt to each new challenge the game presents, and overcome them with relatively little assistance.
At times The Messenger reminded me of Celeste. Like Celeste each new level will introduce new gameplay mechanics without explaining how they impact your mission, but expect you to succeed by equipping yourself with new knowledge. The trial-and-error learning style of this game is one that I envision that players will really enjoy, and will deliver a true sense of accomplishment as it drip-feeds success throughout each level.
Two features stood out to me as ones that lifted The Messenger above other similar titles in quality and creativity. The first is how Sabotage seamlessly implements graphical shifts form 8-bit to 16-bit gameplay. Without spoiling too much, there are several levels where your character can operate within both 8-bit and 16-bit worlds, and the result just flat out cool - especially with the soundtrack change that accompanies each shift. Moving between worlds also serves as a key plot device, and really highlights the creative weight of the Sabotage team.
The second feature that I loved was the RPG element of ranking up your ninja. As you progress, you can purchase additional skills using in-game currency at a "shop", giving the player a chance to customize their ninja to their liking with the ultimate goal of unlocking all skills to use in later levels. Thierry jumped ahead in the game to show us how the player can tie together an impressive set of combos and movement tactics after level up, and it looks fantastic.
I can't talk about The Messenger without mentioning how great the music is. I found myself bobbing my head to the beat even when I was getting roasted by enemies. Composed by Eric W. Brown, aka Rainbowdragoneyes, the pulsing and sweeping chippy music creates an infectious energy that will immerse gamers deeper into the game world while they jump, glide, and battle enemies. Little details in music design, like muffling the music when the player is underwater, added an impressive level of depth to The Messenger.
Thierry was incredibly informative and it was a joy to see how excited he was watching us play. One thing was very clear from talking with him: this has been a passion project of his for a long time, and that passion shines through The Messenger with every little detail. While there is no official release date we can expect to see The Messenger later this year on PC and Switch. After the brief time we had with it I can guarantee that it will be a day one purchase for me, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys 2D retro, platforms.
Keep and eye out for our interview with Thierry, and stay tuned for more info on The Messenger!