Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a ninja? If you own a PlayStation 4, you can now sample one version of that extreme lifestyle. N++, the latest iteration of the N series from Metanet Software, has simple graphics, streamlined controls, and interesting physics that will undoubtedly lull most newcomers into a sense of false security, at least until their on-screen representative is torn limb from limb after landing on a mine. Metanet Software has once again struck a magical gameplay balance, creating a game that is both fun to play while being punishingly difficult, making N++ a platformer that will appeal to a wide audience.
The premise of N++ is explained in the menu and is very simple. You play the part of a ninja trying to make an acrobatic exit from a string of rooms filled with obstacles. Time is your enemy (ninjas have an exceptionally short lifespan), but you can compensate for it by collecting as much gold as you can from each level (gold increases your lifespan and will also boost your score if you don’t slow down too much). The only real tool that you have at your disposal is the ability to jump like nobody’s business because physics has a weaker grasp on ninjas than it does on normal people. Of course, as agile as you are, you will still eventually have to contend with all manner of traps, including drones, missiles, lasers and more, all of which have some manner of devious intelligence behind them.
N++ feels like a cleaned-up version of N+ (for the Nintendo DS), but with more than a few extra goodies. First of all, there are thousands of levels, so players won’t be able to complain about not having enough to do. Beyond the 2000+ stock levels, there are user-created levels (the game comes with a level editor and a global sharing mechanism), and Metanet has also sweetened the pot with several local multiplayer modes. Co-operative Mode forces two players to work together to solve a level, while Race is a competitive mode in which players have to race against each other to clear levels with the best time. Having the ability to get other people involved is a great addition, especially since previous versions of N forced other players to act as spectators. The game does lack online multiplayer, but that might be just as well. Any latency issues would play havoc with the precise timing required to complete the various levels.
As for the gameplay, one of the most common complaints put forth by hardcore and/or old school gamers is that modern platformers are too easy. While making one’s way through the many, many levels of N++ may not be the most difficult prospect (at least with minimal to no gold collection), reaching the exit of each level with a full purse can be mind-numbingly hard. Successful (full) completion takes more than tenacity and an intimate knowledge of the mechanics. It requires that you enter an almost meditative state, as too much anger or excitement will tip the scales in the wrong direction and destroy your most carefully executed plans. N++ is one title where brute force and rage will only impede your progress.
That zen-like simplicity makes it easy to lose yourself in a session. It also appeals to the anal-retentive part of my personality. Progress can be slow as you make my way through each level trying to grab every single piece of gold, but I’ve spent quite a lot of time playing the game and I’ve yet to get tired of it. The interesting thing is that while the difficulty slope tends to be very gentle, there is the occasional level that will stymie my skills until I have some sort of epiphany. I live for those moments when everything comes together. N++ can be difficult, but it’s incredibly satisfying when you break through and succeed. While I appreciate the well-crafted multiplayer modes, I’m all for a good single-player experience, where my body tries to escape my chair as I lean every which way, which obviously helps my on-screen character achieve the impossible.
On top of the gameplay tweaks, there are over 50 colour schemes to add some variety for your eyeballs (some of which are not recommended for people with hangovers). For your ear-holes, there is a veritable library with over six hours of music to keep silence at bay. The tracks are mostly trance, pounding away in the background while the classic sound effects appear sharply in the foreground. Overall, the aesthetics are strong, and play very smoothly on the PS4.
Metanet Software has taken a great game and maintained the high quality that I’d expect while still managing to squeeze out more value for players with some great additions. Addictive game-play, simple (yet elegant) visuals, awesome musical accompaniment and sound effects that evoke nostalgia all combine to create a very satisfying gaming experience that can play out in short bursts or marathon sessions. Only PS4 owners get to experience the joys of N++ at the moment, but it’s hopefully only a matter of time before Metanet brings it to other platforms, and it’s worth checking out if and when that happens. It’s always fun to share the pain.
You can listen to our interview with Metanet Co-Founders Mare Sheppard and Raigan Burns to learn more about N++.