Publisher: Metanet Software
Developer: Slick Entertainment
Release Date: February 20, 2008
I remember when I first heard of the idea behind the Xbox Live Arcade. I was convinced that this new downloadable game store would be weighed down by two types of games: shovelware, which a company releases to make a quick buck, and ports of games I bought 15 years ago. The service pleasantly surprised me. While there are certainly instances of both types on there, the bulk of the games offered by the service are well-conceived and strong titles. Thankfully, N+ is one such game, providing a lengthy, fun and addictive experience.
Originally a downloadable Flash game, N+ is, at its core, a puzzle game. You control a little ninja who must jump around each level, dodging enemies and rockets, collecting coins and trying to reach the goal. Each level consists of a room for which you must find a way to exit, and you'll encounter obstacles and platforms along the way. In order to access the exit, you'll need to hit at least one switch on your way to the exit, and therein lies the puzzle. Your job is to figure out how to get your ninja from the starting point to the switch(es) and then to the exit, all without dying. It's the simplicity that actually makes the game so appealing; anyone can sit down, mess around with the controls for 10 seconds, and start completing the levels.
The simplicity doesn't stop there. eotjer. Your ninja has a limited number of moves that pretty much involve walking and jumping. You can wall-jump and slide down walls, but other than that, it's pretty straightforward. You can also blow yourself up if you get stuck in a position you can't get out of. You can actually play this game with the thumbstick and two buttons — and that's only if you use the self-destruct button.
N+ is comprised of episodes, which are made up of five levels apiece, and this is where you start to see just how large the game is. There are over 250 levels in the title, and that's not including any online or user-generated levels. On top of this, the developers are open to adding content later, so I can only see the game growing.
By far the best part of the levels is the design; you can tell that someone had a lot of fun when they were developing them. For example, one level resembles a Cactuar from the Final Fantasy series, and another level looks like an Xbox 360 controller. On top of that, the game comes with a pretty cool level editor, which I'll talk about in a second.
Each episode has a 90-second time limit, which increases as you collect coins scattered throughout the levels. While you may only have 90 seconds to complete the first level in an episode, you could have three minutes to complete the next one.
Don't start celebrating yet, because there are still plenty of ways for your ninja to die in N+. Featuring a wide range of enemies, the title goes out of its way to frustrate you. In a single level, your ninja can blow up, get shot, and get electrocuted and fall to his death. This is really one of my only gripes about the game: While it's fun, you will die a lot. There's even an achievement for it, called "Practice Makes Perfect," which you receive when you've died 1,000 times. I believe that's across the entire game, but I could be wrong because I received the achievement after I had died a lot … during just one level. It might have been 1,000 times, but I'm not sure because eventually, the deaths start to blend together.
N+ can be likened to an abusive relationship because while it's incredibly tough at times and a bit painful to watch yourself get hurt so often, you can't escape it. The game just grabs you and doesn't let go. On the level for which I received the "Practice Makes Perfect" achievement, my eyes actually started to water because I was playing it so much. My poor little ninja kept dying, but I wanted to beat the level, and when I finally did, the sense of accomplishment was just so sweet. Despite its difficulty level, the title is worth every second of play time.
Another minor gripe I have with the game is the save system. N+ only saves in between episodes, so if you quit in the middle of an episode, you have to redo all of the levels leading up to it. This wouldn't be too bad, except for the difficulty level. There are some episodes in which three or four of the five levels are incredibly tough. In these cases, you just hunker down for the long haul, because it might be an hour or so before you're done. It's unfortunate, because that runs counter to the casual, "quick play" quality of most other XBLA fare.
My only other real gripe has to do with the controls. For the most part, the simple controls work great, everything is quick and responsive, and before you know it, your ninja will be jumping from platform to platform with great proficiency. Unfortunately, there are rare occasions when the controls almost seem too slippery; your ninja doesn't jump when you want him to, or he jumps a little too far, causing him to land on a mine and blow up.
In keeping with the simplistic style of the game, the graphics are less than spectacular. Everything, except for the enemies, is a dull grey. The backgrounds are all 3-D, and they certainly add to the visual appeal, but everything in the forefront is pretty uneventful. I think this works in favor of the game, though, because there's something charming about its plainness. It's almost as if the devs created the graphics that way on purpose, knowing that the gameplay would carry the game. And it does.
The audio is okay. There's some music and some decent sound effects, but nothing too spectacular, but honestly, when you're playing the game, you don't really notice if it's even there. I actually had to go back and play some more of the game and listen specifically for the sounds because despite the gameplay time that I'd invested, I didn't manage to notice if there was any music at all.
As I've said before, the single-player portion of N+ is massive, and the game will keep you busy for hours on end. There will probably come a time when you complete all of the SP levels and have no desire to continue dying alone, so N+ gives you a chance to die with a friend online, providing three different multiplayer modes: co-op, race and survival. You'll also find a lot of new levels online that are specifically designed to support play for up to four people.
I understand that some people have experienced some technical issues when they go online, such as lag and graphical glitches, but I didn't see any of that in my journeys. It was worth mentioning because according to the report on online message boards, it can get pretty bad.
I've saved the best feature of N+ for last. The game comes with a pretty handy and easy-to-use level editor that will have you creating and testing out designs within minutes. You can then take the designs online to share with your friends, which means that N+ is a game that has no limitations. It will keep growing and getting fresher every time you go online. From what I understand, the last iteration of the PC version came with over 500 dev- and user-created levels. I'd like to believe that the 360 version can achieve that as well.
If I had one gripe about the user-generated content, it's that it's pretty difficult to obtain. You have to be friends with someone and join a private game in order to download any of their levels. I guess there will be an update coming soon that will let you see lists of user-generated levels, but at the moment, be prepared to start making friends.
All in all, my gripes about N+ are pretty minor. The fact of the matter is that N+ is an incredibly fun game. Although its difficulty level can sometimes drive you up the wall, the simplistic, addictive gameplay is more than enough to keep you glued to your X360 for hours. Add that to the massive, constantly growing library of levels, and you'll find plenty to make this title worth the 800 Microsoft points.
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