Thierry Boulanger wears a lot of hats at Sabotage Studio. He’s the co-founder, creative lead, writer, designer, team cheerleader; basically, he’s “the guy.” He’s the guy that’s there to make sure the developer’s first title, The Messenger, is everything Sabotage Studio expects it to be. It needs to be as good as it can be. It needs to be smooth, inviting, and polished. It needs to be able to stand out in the sea of weekly Switch releases. It needs to be something Boulanger is satisfied with because this isn’t just a game to him. It’s the last 25 years of his life.
The Messenger, slated for a worldwide release on August 30 on Switch and Steam, is a metroidvania/platformer mash-up inspired by the ninja games of the NES era. It debuted at PAX earlier this year to rave reviews. Our own Rich Meister is so in love with it I’m sure he’d marry the game if he could. All year, it’s been in the ever-growing conversation about indie metroidvanias, usually at the tail end of it. This year has given us some of the greatest the genre has ever seen with titles like Yoku’s Island Express and Dead Cells establishing themselves as legitimate game of the year contenders. From my short time with the game, I think The Messenger has a chance at standing side-by-side with those titles as some of the best games of 2019.
Everything I’ve heard about the game up to this point is true. The graphics? An almost historical representation of the third and fourth generations of console gaming. The music? Criminally catchy. The controls? Tighter than a nun’s anus. Boulanger brought a Switch build for me to try out with stages from the game spliced together with dialogue written specifically for the demo. Extremely self-aware dialogue I should say. The shopkeeper — gunning for the role of “2019’s Best New Character” — is a riot who continually breaks the fourth wall for a solid joke.
The writing is indicative of the rest of the game. It’s absolutely solid all around. Traversal puzzles are organically implemented into the 8-bit/16-bit graphics switch mechanic. Cloud stepping, which gives me the ability to double jump if I hit an enemy or object with my sword, will make this game a speedrunner’s wet dream. I’ve haven’t been this impressed with a throwback title since I first downloaded Shovel Knight four years ago. That title’s been a bell cow for indie platformers over the years and its success gave Boulanger the validation to chase this two-decade-old dream.