The Messenger Review – Delivering Hot Retro Realness

The Messenger Review

The Messenger suffers from a sort of identity crisis. First, it wants to be an 8-bit side-scroller, then it wants to jump into the future and become 16-bit, and then it morphs again into an entirely different game that I don’t want to spoil. Somehow the game manages to make all of this work, creating one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever played. The Messenger delivers, plain and simple.

The game starts in total Ninja Gaiden territory, feeling very similar to that NES classic in every way except difficulty. It’s tight side-scrolling action at its finest, with some challenging parts that require thought and strategy to overcome but nothing that raises the blood pressure. Save points appear throughout each level in just the right amount, and some of them lead right into the shop.

Shop Keeping At Its Best

Aside from being the place to upgrade my Messenger, the shop adds a degree of levity I wasn’t expecting. When I’m not buying upgrades with Time Shards — the game’s currency — conversing with the hooded figure behind the desk yields funny anecdotes, fourth wall-breaking references to other games, and some interesting stories that get deep. Clearly, developer Sabotage wanted their shopkeeper to be more than just an NPC behind a wooden desk, and this guy’s personality definitely shines.

The Messenger’s upgrade system isn’t revolutionary but makes sense in the context of the game. Purchasable upgrades include standards like higher attack power, more health, and higher defense. Sometimes the shopkeeper will just give me a new item, like the grappling claw that lets me clear pits quickly or the Cloudstep technique where I earn an air jump for every airborne sword hit. Not needing to buy these items makes a ton of difference, showing that the developers respect my time by not forcing me to grind for Time Shards in order to proceed.


That zig/zag line is something I read a lot in my time with The Messenger, as it’s one of the many quips Quarble the tiny demon throws my way when I die. Lives are infinite in The Messenger, but dying sends me back to my last save point with this little guy in tow. He then proceeds to eat every Time Shard I collect until he disappears after a time. Sounds like a slap on the wrist, but when I need an upgrade and Quarble is still hungry it’s ingenious.

A Legit Challenge

I didn’t take long to get used to Quarble either, because I died a lot. Yeah, it’s not as difficult as the platformers of yesteryear, but it’s still pretty stinkin’ challenging. Most obstacles test my reflexes, like slashing airborne lanterns to earn Cloudsteps and jump over large pits. One false move means a return to the last save point, progress be damned. By the game’s third phase I had died 112 times…a number Quarble was happy to report. Little jerk.


I cannot stress enough how cool it is to flip between 8-bit and 16-bit formats on the fly. Going from one look and feel to another just by jumping into a portal amazes me every time. Sabotage truly made it feel like I’m playing two games at once, despite the basic side-scrolling format being the same. There’s literally no change in the action, only the aesthetic.

The game’s fantastic soundtrack highlights the aesthetic change, morphing from NES-style bleeps and bloops to a Sega Genesis sound. No matter what format I’m listening to the music is incredible, perhaps the best part of the entire game. The first stage Autumn Hills sets the tone early, and other songs like Glacial Peak keep getting better. Now that the game is coming I need my hands on that soundtrack as soon as possible.

I cannot say enough about The Messenger. The retro side-scrolling action works in both 8-bit and 16-bit. The story is one of the best in any retro game I’ve ever played. The soundtrack is absolute dynamite. There are some nitpicky things here and there mostly in the controls department, but nothing that kills the vibe. The Messenger is a love letter to a bygone era that drops me right back into those wonderful times as soon as I turn on the Switch. Make sure you schedule a delivery with The Messenger, because you will not be disappointed when you sign for it.

***A switch code was provided by the publisher***

The Good

  • Fantastic side-scrolling action
  • Stage design never seems unfair
  • Incredible soundtrack both in 8-bit and 16-bit

The Bad

  • Occasional control slip
  • Deaths on deaths on deaths