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Review: The Messenger (PlayStation 4)By justin-p At 20.04.2019 08:05

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The Messenger tells the tale of a young shinobi tasked with carrying an ancient scroll through a demon-ravaged land and depositing it at the top of a mountain in order to save his clan. The reason for this escapade is unclear initially, but through an intriguing tale steeped in time-travel it gradually begins to make sense. The gameplay itself does an excellent job of making the player feel like the ninja they are controlling; mastery of the game's core mechanics is rewarding thanks to an impactful upgrade tree and frequent new gear unlocks, which in totality contribute to achieving a flow that can be immensely satisfying to pull off. The varied and well-designed levels and bosses are often enthralling, and the masterfully hilarious dialogue is a treat to read through. In typical genre fashion, none of the characters are voiced, but this opens the door to a deeper appreciation of the fantastic soundtrack. For many of these games it's the music that makes or break the experience, and on these grounds The Messenger "makes it" with aplomb.

That being said, The Messenger is first and foremost a fascinating genre study. It emulates the fluidity and challenge of the NES era, and pays homage to the original Ninja Gaiden, but the story is so self-aware and the script so drenched in hilarity that it manages to forge its own identity in amongst the borrowed tropes it totes so proudly. The result is a mostly well-balanced game with a captivating plot and a rewarding skill factor. The ability to only double jump after performing a sword attack in mid-air, for example, is a refreshing mechanic that demands carefully timing the button presses. Used in tandem with various gear upgrades such as a grappling hook and wingsuit, The Messenger's traversal makes the experience a unique and enjoyable one.

All this points to The Messenger being an undisputedly ambitious title, but it unfortunately trips over its own aspiration at times. The second half of the game sees it transition from a simple action platformer into an expansive metroidvania, by taking past levels and smashing them together to form a large overworld. While the stylistic switch is satisfying (the game morphs from 8-bit to 16-bit and the soundtrack changes in kind), the execution of the back half of the game is not; old assets are reused in an uninspired manner as the player is forced to backtrack through the various levels they have already beaten. It's a shame that this evolution doesn't pay off because the rest of the game is well polished and feels right at home on the PS4.

If this disjointing transition had paid off, or better yet been omitted entirely, it would be a much better game. However, this negative aspect is indicative of something positive: Sabotage Studio clearly has lofty ambitions, and the solution to the problem created by these ambitions may simply be a case of refining their vision for a second attempt. All this isn't to say that The Messenger is a bad game; on the contrary, it is a very good one. It just stumbles over itself in its own excitement.

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Final Score
[i]The Messenger[/i] is a unique and enjoyable 2D platformer with a strong personality and exciting gameplay, and its fine-tuned appearance on the PS4 is a welcome one. The first half of the game is worthy of unfettered praise, but the experience takes a hefty blow at the halfway point from a failed attempt at expanding the scope. This aside, it remains a lovingly conceived game and is well worth playing through on this basis, but its flaws prevent it from going down as a true classic. In light of the fact that this is the first game by Sabotage, it's fair to say that the studio's future is bright.



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