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GDC 2018: The Messenger Hands-On: Ninja Gaiden Magic

This tribute to classic ninja games of the past looks like it has a bright future. 


In the long history of video games, ninjas have always held a special place in my heart. Whether we’re talking Shinobi, Shadow Dancer, or even The Legend of Kage, I have always enjoyed leaping through the air and slashing things with a katana. One franchise, however, has always stood out from the rest, Ninja Gaiden. While the iconic series has had several iterations in the modern era, I can’t recall a time where anyone has paid tribute to the original, super difficult, 8bit series. Fortunately for me, the team at Devolver Digital is getting ready to publish The Messenger.

From my brief hands-on time with a PC build played with an Xbox controller, The Messenger seems to be hitting all the right marks for a perfect homage. Visually, it’s reminiscent of the more polished 8-bit NES titles of yore. If someone didn’t know any better it could easily be mistaken for another entry in the Gaiden series.

Players will get an opportunity to put their old-school action platforming skills to the test as they hack, slash and double jump their way through The Messenger’s levels. The one boss fight I got a glimpse at pitted players up against a giant rock monster and involved avoiding being smashed by its big, strong hands while attacking a gem in its chest.

Along with the traditional platformer elements, there’s a smattering of RPG aspects to the game, including a skill tree with stat buffs. Players will be able to level up by collecting crystals hidden in objects and enemies throughout the levels. Once your ninja has collected enough currency it’s just a matter of finding a checkpoint with a portal to the skill store for humorous banter with the shopkeep.

While I’ve heavily mentioned the similarities between The Messenger and Ninja Gaiden games, there is more going on here than just a straight-up clone. There are elements of other great classics like Wonder Boy and Contra thrown in as well as the game’s own personal flavor. The soundtrack is killer as well. I personally can’t wait to see what the full version of Devolver’s latest indie darling has to offer.

The Messenger is set to release later this year for Nintendo Switch and PC.

Blake has been writing and making videos about pop-culture and games for over 10 years now. Although he'd probably prefer you thought of him as a musician and listened to his band, If you see him on the street, buy him a taco or something. Follow him on twitter @ProfRobot

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