The Messenger (2018 video game)

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The Messenger
The Messenger promo art.png
Developer(s)Sabotage Studio
Publisher(s)Devolver Digital
Director(s)Thierry Boulanger
Producer(s)Philip Barclay
  • Thierry Boulanger
  • Phillippe Dionne
  • Sylvain Cloutier
  • Thierry Boulanger
  • Michael Lavoie
  • Jean-Luc Savard
  • Savannah Perron
Writer(s)Thierry Boulanger
Platform(s)Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
  • Windows, Switch
  • August 30, 2018
  • PlayStation 4
  • March 19, 2019
  • Xbox One
  • June 25, 2020
Genre(s)Action, platform

The Messenger is an 2018 action-platform game developed by Sabotage Studio and published by Devolver Digital for Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. The story follows a Ninja from a village that foretells a "Western Hero" who will save them from the Demon King. Upon the fulfillment of the prophecy, the Western Hero appoints the Ninja as the Messenger, and is tasked to take a scroll to the mountain. The game incorporates elements such as time travel, with the visuals changing from 8-bit to 16-bit to represent the Messenger traveling to the future.

Development began as a personal project between Thierry Boulanger and Phillippe Dionne with inspiration coming from Ninja Gaiden and other 8-bit and 16-bit games that Boulanger played as a child. After a year in development, more people joined the project to establish Sabotage Studio. The game was well-received among critics, with praise towards the gameplay, music, and graphical style shifts.


The Messenger is a side-scrolling action-platformer, inspired by the classic Ninja Gaiden series. Players control a ninja known as "The Messenger" as he goes on a quest to deliver a scroll. The Messenger initially possesses a technique called "Cloudstepping", which allows him to perform an extra jump in mid-air after attacking an enemy, object, or projectile. As the game progresses, the Messenger gains new abilities such as climbing walls, gliding in the air, long-range shuriken attacks, and using a grappling hook to propel himself through obstacles and enemies. By collecting Time Shards earned by defeating enemies or hitting lamps, the player can purchase additional upgrades such as health bonuses or extra attack moves. If the player dies, however, a demon named Quarble will appear and automatically claim any Time Shards the player collects as payment for a short amount of time.

The game initially presents itself as a linear level-based adventure split across two eras; the past, which is presented with 8-bit graphics and audio, and the future, which uses 16-bit presentation. Later on, however, the game becomes a Metroidvania-style game, in which the player revisits past eras in any order and direction in order to find key items.[1] In this section of the game, the player can use special warps to instantly move between the past and present, instantly changing the layout of each level and allowing them to access new areas. Hidden in some areas are green medallions, earned by completing a challenging platforming section, with a bonus unlocked for collecting all 45.[2]


The story follows an unnamed ninja from a village of ninjas that foretells a prophecy of a "Western Hero" saving them from the Demon King. One day, the village of ninjas is attacked by the Demon King. The "Western Hero" arrives and gives a scroll to the ninja, appointing him as "The Messenger" and telling him to travel east and deliver it to the top of a mountain. During his journey, the Messenger is aided by a mysterious blue-robed shopkeeper, who provides him with upgrades, and a demon named Quarble, who helps to save him from death by rewinding time. After traveling through various areas and meeting and befriending foes, the Messenger arrives at the top of the mountain and encounters the Tower of Time along with more blue-robed figures, who send him 500 years into the future to defeat the Demon King's general, Barma'thazël. After defeating him, the Messenger loops around the world to the ninja village, where he deduces that he is the new Western Hero himself, passes the scroll onto a new Messenger, and takes up the role of a shopkeeper providing him with upgrades.

When this new hero ends up dying due to the previous shopkeeper's negligence, however, the blue-robe figures aim to break the cursed cycle, tasking the Messenger with collecting the notes of a mysterious music box in the Tower of Time. After the Messenger succeeds in this task, defeating the Demon King in the process, the shopkeeper explains the nature of the music box and the origin of the Messenger: it is the prison of a man known as the Phantom who had been cursed by the Demon King, allowing the demons to invade the human realm every 500 years. In an effort to stop the curse, Phantom created the scroll and attuned it with time magic, creating a continual cycle of Messengers that would pass down the scroll before becoming part of the Order of the Blue Robes to assist in the next generation. Venturing inside the music box, the Messenger finds the Phantom, defeats the curse possessing him, and rescues him; the curse breaks loose but the Messenger and the blue-robes team up together to destroy it, putting an end to the curse.

Picnic Panic DLC[edit]

In an alternate timeline, the Demon General Barma'thazël lures the Messenger into a trap. Using voodoo magic, Barma'thazël creates an evil doppelgänger known as the Dark Messenger before fusing with it but is defeated by the Messenger and the blue-robes. However, Barma'thazël reveals the Dark Messenger's defeat was necessary, absorbing its essence into a magic seed and escaping. As the heroes celebrate their victory, Barma'thazël has the magic seed planted.


The Messenger was developed by indie development studio Sabotage Studio.[3] The game began as a personal project between Thierry Boulanger serving as creative director and Phillipe Dionne as the level designer being worked on between evenings and weekends for a year.[3] Wanting to work on the game full-time, Boulanger reached out to Martin Brouard for assistance in finances and marketing, which he decided to co-found Sabotage Studio with Boulanger in 2016 and continued to develop the game for two more years.[3][4] Boulanger was inspired by Ninja Gaiden to make a game with a Ninja as a playable character ever since he was a child, believing they are the perfect player character due to their selfless and ambiguous personality allowing players to project onto them.[3] The Messenger released on Windows and Nintendo Switch on August 30, 2018, PlayStation 4 on March 19, 2019, and Xbox One on June 25, 2020.[2][5][6]

The music was composed by chiptune-composer Eric W. Brown, better known by his alias, Rainbowdragoneyes.[7] Each track was made in both 8-bit NES and 16-bit Sega Genesis styles using Famitracker and DefleMask respectively.[2][7] The soundtrack release also featured bonus tracks by Keiji Yamagishi.[8]


The game won several awards prior to its release. It won the Start-Up Numix in 2016.[22] It also won Best Music and Best Gameplay during the Montreal Indie Game Festival of 2017.[23] At The Game Awards 2018, it was nominated for "Best Independent Game" and "Best Debut Indie Game", winning the latter.[24] It was also nominated for "Best Debut" with Sabotage at the Game Developers Choice Awards,[25] and for the G.A.N.G. / MAGFEST People's Choice Award at the 2019 G.A.N.G. Awards.[26] The PlayStation 4 version won the award for "Control Design, 2D or Limited 3D" at the 2020 NAVGTR Awards, whereas its other nominations were for "Control Precision" and "Original Light Mix Score, New IP".[27]

The Messenger received "generally favorable reviews" according to Metacritic. GameSpot liked the dialogue, liking the self-aware tone it took, saying, "The excellent writing keeps things lively and fresh... regularly riffing on action-platformer tropes through the ninja warrior's conversations with various characters".[14] Kotaku called it a great metroidvania game.[1] Destructoid praised the controls, feeling they were "tight and responsive, even in handheld mode on the Switch’s tiny Joy-Con. I was able to make my ninja leap from platform to platform with ease".[12] Kat Bailey of USgamer enjoyed the 8-bit art and chiptune score, calling it "an outstanding achievement in artistic design".[20]

While feeling he could be a nuisance, Nintendo Life thought Quarble was an interesting way of replacing the lives system, describing it as "a nuisance to be sure, but a charming way of punishing players for their mistakes."[18] Nintendo World Report wrote that the constantly evolving move-set kept the player engaged in the combat, saying it was "a continual impressive trajectory that is an absolute blast to experience".[19] IGN felt the transition to 16-bit worlds hurt the game's pacing, describing the additions as "padding the back half with repetitive backtracking and boring fetch quests".[16]

VentureBeat praised the art, singling out the backgrounds as "gorgeous" and noting how The Messenger had a "distinct feel that goes beyond typical video game cliches".[21] Game Informer's Brian Shea enjoyed the bosses of the game, writing that, "each boss challenges you in unique ways, ranging from massive monsters with lasers and projectiles to smaller adversaries that jump around the screen and attack you up close".[13] Polygon liked the end of the game, but felt it took too long for the game to reach its stride, "The Messenger gets better with each hour, but that means that to reach its best moments, you have to muscle through some pretty familiar and blunt old-school game design".[28]


A prequel titled Sea of Stars, was announced in March 2020. Sabotage Studio crowdfunded the game via Kickstarter, and it was set to be released in August 29, 2023 for PC and consoles. Unlike The Messenger, Sea of Stars is a turn-based role-playing video game.[29]


  1. ^ a b Schreier, Jason (August 30, 2018). "The Messenger Is A Great New Metroidvania". Kotaku. Retrieved January 2, 2023.
  2. ^ a b c Parish, Jeremy (January 4, 2018). "The Messenger takes Ninja Gaiden on a cross-generational journey". Polygon. Archived from the original on January 4, 2018. Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d "Interview: Delivering the Messenger To Old-School Fans With Sabotage Studios". Comic Book Resources. August 27, 2018. Archived from the original on December 16, 2022. Retrieved December 16, 2022.
  4. ^ Grubb, Jeff (April 16, 2018). "Ninja Gaiden throwback The Messenger is great and makes me feel guilty". VentureBeat. Archived from the original on December 5, 2022. Retrieved December 16, 2022.
  5. ^ Romano, Sal (August 16, 2018). "The Messenger launches August 30". Gematsu. Archived from the original on February 3, 2019. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  6. ^ Romano, Sal (March 12, 2019). "The Messenger coming to PS4 on March 19". Gematsu. Archived from the original on March 12, 2019. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  7. ^ a b Ed (October 12, 2018). "Episode 13 – The Messenger with Composer Rainbowdragoneyes". The VGMBASSY. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  8. ^ Yamagishi, Keiji [@MoreYamasan] (September 4, 2018). "Bonus tracks (by me)" (Tweet). Archived from the original on July 17, 2019. Retrieved December 29, 2018 – via Twitter.
  9. ^ "The Messenger for Switch Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on August 31, 2018. Retrieved November 8, 2019.
  10. ^ "The Messenger for PC Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on June 11, 2020. Retrieved November 8, 2019.
  11. ^ "The Messenger for PlayStation 4 Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on April 6, 2019. Retrieved November 8, 2019.
  12. ^ a b Meister, Rich (September 1, 2018). "Review: The Messenger". Destructoid. Archived from the original on July 27, 2021. Retrieved October 20, 2019.
  13. ^ a b Shea, Brian (August 28, 2018). "The Messenger Review: A Tale Of Two Games". Game Informer. Archived from the original on August 30, 2018. Retrieved November 13, 2021.
  14. ^ a b Pan, Alexander (August 29, 2018). "The Messenger: Shuriken Sharp". GameSpot. Archived from the original on February 26, 2019. Retrieved October 20, 2019.
  15. ^ Helm, Jordan (August 28, 2018). "Review: The Messenger". Hardcore Gamer. Archived from the original on October 11, 2021. Retrieved October 20, 2019.
  16. ^ a b Saltzman, Michael (August 28, 2018). "The Messenger Review: Ninja Flipping Between Two Eras". IGN. Archived from the original on August 28, 2018. Retrieved October 20, 2019.
  17. ^ Anagund (September 7, 2018). "Test: The Messenger: Une pépite qui cache très bien son jeu !". (in French). Archived from the original on September 8, 2018. Retrieved October 20, 2019.
  18. ^ a b Vogel, Mitch (August 28, 2018). "The Messenger Review (Switch eShop)". Nintendo Life. Archived from the original on August 28, 2018. Retrieved October 20, 2019.
  19. ^ a b Ronaghan, Neal (August 28, 2018). "The Messenger (Switch) Review". Nintendo World Report. Archived from the original on September 1, 2018. Retrieved October 20, 2019.
  20. ^ a b Bailey, Kat (August 28, 2018). "The Messenger Review: The best retro tribute since Shovel Knight". USgamer. Archived from the original on August 28, 2018. Retrieved October 20, 2019.
  21. ^ a b Minotti, Mike (August 28, 2018). "The Messenger review — more than a simple Ninja Gaiden tribute". VentureBeat. Archived from the original on October 20, 2019. Retrieved October 20, 2019.
  22. ^ "Numix 2016 Palamares". Numix Awards (in French). Archived from the original on April 8, 2016. Retrieved December 16, 2022.
  23. ^ "Winners from our 2017 Event". Montreal Independent Game Awards. Archived from the original on May 16, 2022. Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  24. ^ Grant, Christopher (December 6, 2018). "The Game Awards 2018: Here are all the winners". Polygon. Archived from the original on December 7, 2018. Retrieved December 7, 2018.
  25. ^ Good, Owen S. (January 4, 2019). "Red Dead Redemption 2 tops list of Game Developers Choice nominees". Polygon. Archived from the original on January 5, 2019. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
  26. ^ Fogel, Stefanie (March 21, 2019). "'God of War' Wins Six G.A.N.G. Awards, Including Audio of the Year". Variety. Archived from the original on March 22, 2019. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  27. ^ "2019 Winners". National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers. February 24, 2020. Archived from the original on February 25, 2020. Retrieved February 25, 2020.
  28. ^ Plante, Chris (August 28, 2018). "New Switch game The Messenger is actually two games in one". Polygon. Archived from the original on August 29, 2018. Retrieved November 13, 2021.
  29. ^ Nunneley, Stephany (March 20, 2021). "The Messenger prequel Sea of Stars funded in less than 7 hours, first stretch goal about to be hit". VG 247. Retrieved November 13, 2021.

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