STAFF REVIEW of N++ (Xbox One)

Thursday, December 21, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

N++ Box art When Xbox Live Arcade on Xbox 360 was in its infancy, N+ was one of the first titles that I played and truly enjoyed that was from a small developer. Metanet Software originally created a game called N as a small Flash game, eventually sparking the sequel, N+, which was to become one of the better titles from the Xbox Live Arcade’s early days. Here we are many years later with another sequel, appropriately named N++ (pronounced N Plus Plus), and even though it may not have many huge changes to its core formula, it’s much bigger in scope and has enough replayability to last you quite some time. It’s been 10 years in the making, but N++ still has a minimalistic approach to its gameplay with stripped down visuals, focusing on fun while being incredibly challenging at the same time. Just like N+, N++ deserves just as much praise.

Even though there’s a single player component, there’s no real narrative, well, not really anyways. What is there is a very clever way to explain the game mechanics as if it’s part of a story and reason why you play the way you do. In fact, here’s a piece what is written in the game under the Story menu:

"You are a ninja. Your god-like speed, dexterity, jumping power, and reflexes are all the result of an amazingly fast metabolism; tragically, so is your natural lifetime of 1.5 minutes. It emphasizes pacifism, humility, and the need to traverse a series of 5 rooms before the end of your lifetime, a feat known only as 'beating an episode'".

If you’ve played N or N+ in the past you’ll feel right at home and know exactly what to do with little instruction. If not, the basic premise is that you need to use momentum to reach your goal, oh, and you’re a stick figure ninja that can run, wall jump, and more. The catch is that you only have a short amount of time to beat a set of 5 levels, and each set is called an episode. A ninja needs some serious skills to reach the goal, a TRUE ninja will do it fast and accurately, collecting dots along the way to increase ones time. If anything, N++ almost feels like a map pack to N+, as the formula is vastly unchanged, aside from some tweaks and small additions, but included is a massive amount of levels that will challenge you the whole way, over 4000 of them actually.

The learning curve for N++ feels just right, as you don’t hit a brick wall of difficulty out of nowhere. The game does will get very difficult much later in the game. New mechanics and enemies are slowly introduced, allowing you to become accustomed to them, then slowly ramping up the challenge as you progress. Even though the game can test your 'gaming skills', I never felt any kind of frustration that made me want to quit playing. Movement and momentum play a large part of the gameplay, and once you get a feel for the controls and start to maneuver your ninja where you want, it becomes a smooth experience.

It should be noted that every one of the 4000+ levels are completely hand crafted, no procedurally generated levels here, which means that each level has been painstakingly created and tested for a specific solution. It’s a puzzle game in a sense, as to solve each level you need to hit a switch to open the exit gate before proceeding to the next stage. Jumps, ramps, and enemies are placed with purpose, so if you can’t figure out how to complete a level, it’s not because of the design, but you just need to think harder, and try harder. Every single stage has a leaderboard too, so you can see how you stack up against everyone else online including your friends. These leaderboards even exist for yours, and everyone else’s, created levels, which is unheard of, especially for a smaller indie game like this. While N++ may have a very bare bones minimalistic visual look to it, there’s a slew of color pallets and schemes you can unlock as you progress to further customize your game should it start to become stale.

The 4000+ hand crafted levels are spread across a range of different modes such as Solo, Hardcore, Co-op and Race. There’s more than enough content here to keep you, and your friends, busy for quite some time.

The cooperative mode allows for local play for up to 4-players, and the levels are designed with multiple players in mind, some of which will require one or more players to actually sacrifice themselves to be completed. Only one ninja needs to make it to the entrance, so you’re all working together, but some will get glory, and others, well they will get electrocuted.

Next is the competitive mode, which is for up to 4-players as well, called Race. Here you are racing against one another to reach the exit the quickest. The ninja with the fastest reflexes will earn a bonus before moving onto the next stage.

Lastly, and for those that can truly best all that N++ has to offer, there is a hardcore mode. Here is where you will find the hardest challenges that will require some serious skill to not only complete, but to finish with a good time. The clock isn’t reset when you die, unlike in the normal mode, and gold adds time to your bar, but only after you reach the exit. Dying equals a game over, so you better get those reflexes ready for some serious challenge.

If you’re the creative type, the fantastic Level Editor returns once again, allowing you to not only create any levels that you can imagine, but also share them online for anyone else to download and play. This essentially takes the massive 4000+ included levels to a whole new level, essentially giving you endless gameplay. Every single stage that has been created by users has a leaderboard associated with it as well, so you can see how you rank against everyone else, or how others fair on your creation.

I understand that indie games don’t usually include online multiplayer, and even though local co-op is supported, I kept wishing I could play with others online. Worst case, I wish that ghost downloads were possible from the leaderboard screen. I know this is more of a wishlist request, but it does feel that’s the one component that could have brought N++ to an even higher level. That being said, the soundtrack is a great mix of electronic artists and the gameplay is essentially refined to near perfectness.

N++ is incredibly challenging, but never unfair (not including the insane player made levels), as controls are very precise and everything simply works the way it should. It takes some serious skill to tackle the later stages and hardcore mode, but that comes in time. There’s absolutely no shortage of levels to play, as the amount of content is baffling, again, not even including the online creator level sharing capability. I’m glad that N++ is here and in my game library, as I felt right at home ninja jumping and sliding from the get go, as it caters to the gamers that want to sit down and play for hours, or the kind that only have 10 minutes to get a few levels in.

Overall: 8.9 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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