It’s Week 2 of Sony’s four-game PlayStation Store PLAY promotion (try saying that five times fast), and after offering an updated version of the excellent Journey as its opener, we’re now getting Metanet Software’s concisely named N++. It’s the sequel to N+, and once again the developer is looking to put your platforming skills and steady nerves to the test.
Your ninja does two things: run and jump. Simple, right? Wellllllllll… not so much. N++ is a physics-based platformer, and that means momentum plays a huge role in how you move. Early on, as you’re getting the hang of things, it’s easy to short a jump or fly right over your target by miscalculating your speed and mid-air adjustments via the left stick. Once you get the hang of it, though, things feel very tight.
That being said, it does feel like there’s some ambiguity as it to pertains to launching your ninja off of various surfaces. The tutorial mode tries to impart the differences between wall jumps and angle jumps and what not, but on the fly it seemed like leaps and slides would short circuit for no obvious reason. Then again, this is a game of precision, so I won’t rule out the possibility that I was off imperceptibly, which helped contribute to my innumerable failures.
While it can be frustrating to have these issues crop up, it’s doubly exhilarating when everything comes together for a truly epic run. Gliding over obstacles at high speeds, scooping up gold, evading enemies and reaching the exit in a single continuous blur of action is intoxicating. It feels like an accomplishment; a just reward for all the hard work you poured into learning a level and mastering the perfect way to go about completing it. It’s a feeling N++ creates about as well as anyone.
As a veteran of several graphic design courses, it’s easy to spot the influence in N++ with its clean edges and smooth continuous colors (you’re free to change the color scheme at any time, and as you continue to play you’ll unlock new combinations). Yes, it’s very simple looking, but it’s also a unique aesthetic that moves flawlessly at 1080p/60fps and resets instantly after failures. Although I’m sure there’s plenty of technical jargon behind the creation of this style, the bottom line is that it works effectively.
There’s a thumping electronic soundtrack that accompanies all of the action. It’s not my kind of music, but again, it fits here. To the game’s credit, there are a lot of tracks to sit through so repetition and staleness never became an issue even as I cleared hundreds of levels.
Good news: you’re a ninja. Bad news: your lifespan is 90 seconds. So how do you spend that time? Why demonstrating your impeccable skills by overcoming increasingly elaborate obstacles, of course! Each episode is broken into five levels, and you’ll need to complete all five of them in under a combined 90 seconds to clear it. Picking up gold adds two seconds to your eligible time, however, and aborted attempts don’t count against the timer — nice concessions to the game’s challenge.
There are essentially three aspects to every level. There’s the ability to finish it, the ability to finish it and collect all the gold, and finally to do both of those things quickly. Just clearing some of the levels proves to be a challenge, but N++ is pretty fair about keeping that aspect reasonable. It’s a good thing, too, as there were some levels where I’d glance at everything standing between me and all that precious good and make a bee line for the exit.
Of course, if you want to earn any bragging rights you’re going to need to collect that gold, and outside of some very early levels that can be a Herculean challenge. Level designs are devilishly clever and diverse, meaning odds are something is going to give you fits (personally, I struggled with boosters), and there are plenty of obstacles and enemies to choose from. It’s an embarrassment of content with better than 2,000 levels to tackle.
In addition to solo mode, you’ve also got a pair of multiplayer offerings. For competitive players there’s Race, and for the friendlier crowd there’s co-op for up to four players. Where some will take umbrage here is in the fact that there is no online multiplayer. That’s tough if you’ve got friends scattered about the country, but trust me when I say that random matchmaking would never work in a game that demands such a high level of coordination.
That doesn’t mean there’s no online component, as leaderboard positioning is a constant goal with each finished episode tallying your score and flashing your place. If you’re struggling with a level you can watch replays of other players, which can be very helpful. More important than any of that, though, is the level editor where the community can create and share homemade levels; in case the 2,000-plus it comes packed with aren’t enough.
Even though I noted diversity as a strength, it should be noted that I’m referring to diversity within a very specific style. This is a game aimed at testing your platforming mettle, and with such a vast number of levels you’re going to encounter plenty of similarities along the way.
Challenging, engaging, infuriating and frequently thrilling, N++ is a great game for anyone that enjoys the platforming genre. If that’s you, download this at once.