Everything is Better with Ninjas
Ninjas are cool.
This is one of life’s universal truths, only slightly sullied by the second season of Daredevil. From shurikens and katanas to black masks and garb, ninjas capture the imagination and inspire loads of awesome fictional characters. Sometimes, to make a good thing great, all you have to do is add a ninja to it. And nothing makes the point better than N++.
If only it came with a pair of nunchucks.
N++ is an action-platforming game, taking place across tiny screen-sized stages. Your only goal is to open the exit door and walk through it. Players run, jump and slide their way through 225 episodes of 5 stages each. Each stage tests your ability to navigate courses while avoiding hazards and falls. Episodes must be completed in 90 seconds, though time can be replenished by collecting gold pieces which are spread across the environment. Levels are surprisingly diverse, and test much more than just your finger dexterity.
All of the action in N++ revolves around running and jumping. There are no power-ups to collect, and enemies can’t be killed through any means. Momentum is your only weapon, though it is also your greatest obstacle.
Each of your actions is affected by momentum. A jump at high speed will take you farther and faster than a jump done from a standing position. The same is true of wall jumping, and the slightest hesitation in your actions can alter your momentum, and thus the trajectory of your jumps. Movement and momentum must be carefully manipulated in order to successfully traverse walls and floors, which are often littered with bombs.
Enemies and obstacles are varied in type, from rocket launching turrets to rotating lasers. Floor guards will rush along the ground towards you when you drop onto their path, while deathballs relentlessly chase you through the air. Some levels are wide open and allow you to free run them however you see fit, while others require meticulous route-running while performing well timed jumps and lightning fast dodges. My favorite obstacle is the evil ninja; a shadowy version of you that follows each of your actions on a slight delay. Often you will have to plan your routes carefully so that you don’t run into it while doubling back across the stage.
Levels are consistently well-designed, particularly for a game that features over a thousand of them. Each one requires thought and planning, and must often be tackled in a way that may not occur to you on the first try. In one level, you must hop back and forth across a platform in order to open the exit. Each time you land on this platform, you activate a bomb at your feet that will explode the next time you touch it. In order to beat the level, you must land in a different spot each time you touch the platform, or risk detonating a previously activated bomb. In N++, every platform, inclination, and enemy serves a purpose. Often, that purpose is pain.
N++ can be relentless, unforgiving, and at times frustrating. It is a game designed for difficulty enthusiasts, as it continues to test you time and again, by introducing loads of challenges as rapidly as you can beat them. Those who appreciate having their limits tested will not be disappointed, but don’t expect a lot of exterior motivation. There’s not a story to unravel or new sites to see. N++ is gameplay first, but that’s almost an understatement. It’s gameplay first, second, third and fourth.
If you find yourself struggling through the mid-levels, or uninterested in the sense of competition and community, N++ can be intimidating and ultimately off-putting. The game doesn’t offer a huge sense of accomplishment, because each success is like pulling a single tooth from a shark’s mouth. There’s still a lot of teeth left, and now you have an angrier shark.
But if you’re a fan of the mechanics, there’s nothing better. The experience is so robust that it will last you as long as you want it to. There are challenges upon challenges, and when you get through them all you can still collect all the gold, or improve all your scores. Should you become an N++ demi-god and master all of that, there are an infinite supply of community levels to test out.
Community levels come by way of N++’s level creation mode, which allows you to construct your own stages by using an intuitive interface. Levels are constructed using a grid, and each action is linked to a mouse or keystroke that is clearly indicated on screen. It may take a few minutes to get used to the nuances, but if building levels is your thing, N++ makes it easy.
From a graphical perspective, N++ is as basic as it gets. The visuals are functional and do a fine job of articulating the gameplay, but they’re devoid of texture and lack detail. Nothing looks particularly interesting. At worst, certain enemy types are difficult to distinguish from one another. Most of them just look like the power symbol on a home computer. If nothing else, the game is visually distinctive, with a minimalist style that sets it apart from other games.
The rest of the presentation is great, from a ton of game options, to the many stages, creation center, and leaderboards. There are cooperative stages and competitive racing that allow you to play with other people, both of which harness the gameplay and challenge of the robust single player campaign. The game isn’t as original as its predecessor from 2008, but it captures the spirit of that release, and builds on the formula that worked so well the first time. It’s not different enough to satisfy folks who grew tired of that game, but it’s ideal for those who enjoyed it and want more.
N++ is an unabashedly punishing game with tight controls, great level design, and enough content to last for ages. The momentum-based platforming provides a wide array of challenges sure to satisfy fans of the genre. If you’re on the fence, just remember that you get to play as a ninja.
Ninjas are cool.