The rise of digital distribution has led to the release of several unique games that wouldn’t have had much of a chance at retail. With that came a rise in the number of retro-style titles, new games nigh-indistinguishable from old games to most people. While focusing on big-budget games, large gaming companies also partook in this trend for some old franchises. Capcom did this through Mega Man 9 and 10, for instance which strongly resembled the NES games. Recently, Arc System Works made Double Dragon IV, which also channeled its NES predecessors. This isn’t getting into the laundry list of indie and classic-style games inspired by those titles, because I’d be here for hours.
There was one series several gaming types who enjoy old school titles were hoping would get the treatment, but has yet to: Ninja Gaiden. Though Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo have no issue acknowledging the older titles, typically through them being available to play as bonuses in the newer games, they aren’t in the habit of developing classic-style games of this type. The desire for this type of project intensified after the bitter disappointment that was Ninja Gaiden 3, which touted the return of writer Masato Kato to the franchise after two decades before its release in early 2012. Though there’s been a desire for rereleases of the old Ninja Gaiden music, Team Ninja hasn’t expressed any interest in this.
Fortunately, independent development outfit Sabotage Studio is finally making a game that channels parts of what made those old titles memorable: The Messenger.
In fairness, the description for the game doesn’t specifically say it’s channeling the old NG titles, but its inspiration is clear upon seeing the game, even in stills. The Messenger’s graphics, according to Sabotage Studio, include styles from both 8-bit and 16-bit titles. The NES-style palette as seen in some parts wouldn’t have been possible on an actual NES, but that also applies to the aforementioned Mega Man titles and DDIV and others like Shovel Knight. That’s not a big deal, as simply recreating the look of one is important enough, as the developers should be free to go for the look they want without too many hindrances.
The game will also shift to a 16-bit graphics style and a color palette at certain points, which makes this project even more intriguing. This should distinguish it from its inspiration.
Like those classic titles, The Messenger’s story will be a simple affair. It stars a young ninja who ventures to a cursed world after his village is ravaged by a demon army, whose itinerary is to travel through time to deliver a scroll to his clan to ensure their survival. The story will be presented through dramatic manga/comic-style cutscenes, another element reminiscent of the old Ninja Gaiden games.
The presentation may be channeling Tecmo’s old trilogy, but the gameplay is going in a different direction. Instead of being a mostly linear platforming affair, The Messenger actually channels several other indie and small titles in being a Metroidvania. You could interpret the end of the last sentence as me thinking this is a generic idea, but the concept of a Metroidvania game with ninjas isn’t quite as common as you might think. The game also won’t take itself too seriously, as its story will have several goofier moments, and its bosses will reflect that humorous intent. This is a good way to not only further distinguish it from its main inspiration, but other inspirations like Shadow of the Ninja — a title whose Game Boy port was actually turned into a Ninja Gaiden spinoff (yes, a Ninja Gaiden gaiden).
It will also have features more endemic to modern games. The Messenger’s ninja will start with a small skillset and arsenal, but it will grow over time as he obtains and learns more. He will start with one unique technique, though: Cloudstepping. Instead of having the ability to double-jump anywhere, this ninja needs to springboard off an object for a second leap, like one in the environment or even an enemy projectile.
Since the game will utilize 8-bit and 16-bit graphical styles, it will be accompanied by similarly 8-bit and 16-bit music, here composed by Rainbowdragoneyes. He’s a good choice, considering he uses actual classic gaming hardware for his compositions. Hopefully the soundtrack does a good job channeling the works of Keiji Yamagishi and Yuzo Koshiro, though it will be extremely tough to match them.
The Messenger is due for release sometime later this year, and will arrive for PC and unspecified consoles. Hopefully they’re capable of releasing it for every platform they can, so everyone’s satisfied. The developers will undoubtedly have more to share later this year.
P.S. The existence of this game is somewhat fortuitous, as Ninja Gaiden will commemorate its 30th anniversary near the end of the year. It would be nice if Koei Tecmo has something planned, even if they only announce and potentially release HD remasters of the Ninja Gaiden Sigma games and Razor’s Edge. It would be sad if an indie developer provided the only piece of remembrance this year.