It is evident from the onset that The Messenger is heavily influenced–aesthetically and mechanically–by the classic Ninja Gaiden series. But it’s also quickly evident that the game doesn’t just wear its influences on its sleeve, it also brings a brilliant new take on the action-platformer genre.
You play as a young ninja warrior tasked with delivering a sacred scroll to the top of a mountain after his village is attacked by demons. It isn’t a wholly original idea by any means, but The Messenger eschews any self-seriousness in favor of a humorous and self-referential tone, regularly riffing on action-platformer tropes through the ninja warrior’s conversations with various characters. The excellent writing keeps things lively and fresh, with jokes and pop culture references interwoven with an ambitious and clever narrative involving a time-travel mechanic that ties well into the gameplay system.
The ninja’s skillset is initially limited, but it expands quickly to include abilities like a rope dart, wall climbing, and aerial gliding as well as a couple of optional techniques like a boomerang shuriken. Most interestingly, The Messenger replaces the classic double-jump move with something called cloudstepping, an ability that only makes double-jumping available after you’ve successfully landed a sword blow on an enemy or object mid-air.
This means you simply can’t double-jump just anywhere, and an element of skill and timing is added to regular proceedings–chain several hits in succession and you can almost fly across the map by cloudstepping, but whiff one slash and you will find yourself staring into a bottomless pit. There is a great satisfaction to be found in the demands of successful cloudstepping, and the controls are impressively responsive to accompany your needs here.
The rewarding high-risk mechanic is complemented by The Messenger’s smart design. Almost every level is crafted in such a way that it can be traversed using a number of different approaches, and exploration and experimentation are encouraged at every corner. You can take the straightforward route, or you can attempt the more difficult cloudstepping route that ultimately yields greater rewards due to numerous well-hidden secrets sprinkled throughout the game.