Developer: Silverbirch Studios
Release Date: August 26, 2008
Let's be honest: We all love ninja. Fans always appreciate the silent assassin, the lethal warrior who spends years honing his skills to a razor's edge so that he can strike like a viper and vanish like the morning's haze. The elusive ninja hero in N+ for the Nintendo DS makes sure that it's not a game that you'll be able to put down anytime soon.
N+ puts you in the role of … what's his name, again? No, you never actually get to hear the name of your character, but that's probably for the same reason parents discourage kids from naming their goldfish; they know that death is soon to follow. Your little ninja cohort was apparently born with some kind of metabolic disorder, which enables him to perform amazing leaps, tricks, and other feats that should be well beyond the scope of any human. Unfortunately for him, this also gives him a 90-second life span; the pet goldfish has a better chance of making it through the day. So, what does your angular little buddy do with his brief time in this world? Why, get through rooms, of course! The goal in N+ is to use the time allotted to clear five rooms full of traps, enemies, and other hazards in order to reach the end of each level.
Mercifully, you have equipment like a flaming katana, exploding shuriken, the powers to teleport anywh — oh, wait, wrong game. Checking your actual arsenal reveals one word: nothing. There'll be no throwing of smoke bombs, no summoned monsters or flaming wheels of death; you won't be destroying anything, unless it's by flinging yourself onto a land mine. This brings us to one of the primary points about N+, and it's either a sour complaint or a cry of joy, depending on what kind of player you are. N+ is hard — tooth-grindingly, hair-pullingly, vein-poppingly hard. The good news is that it's not difficult because of the control scheme because when you tell your ill-fated warrior to jump, he jumps, and when you tell him to run, he runs. Of all the times I have died — and oh, how many times I have died — I could never legitimately claim a single time that it was the game's fault.
There are two little bits of mercy tossed in to assist you and keep N+ on the right side of "impossible." First, each level has gold strewn throughout, and collecting each piece gives your character a badly needed boost of two additional seconds to clear the level. Second, and definitely the most important, your ninja is immortal. Note that I did not say "invincible" because he can and will die in just about every fashion you can imagine, eliciting a "Nice One!" from the game. No, he can die with more regularity than Nintendo's competitors in the handheld market, but he'll come back again and again and again to take another crack at nailing that jump just so or dodging the lasers or escaping the robots.
Speaking of hazards, they're out there in vast numbers. Your ninja may be able to pull off jumps that make Olympic athletes jealous, but his legs are not made of springs; if you fall from too great a height, you will become a smear upon the ground. Other hazards are great and varied, ranging from homing missiles that never run out of ammo to robots that will chase you with surprising speed upon the most fleeting of glances to land mines that always seem to be positioned in just the right spot to transform a jump from a cakewalk into a "precise accuracy tester." As time passes, even more devious foes make themselves known; my personal favorite is the laser that tracks you. If it can see you, it can shoot you, and it's far too fast to dodge; you'd better keep moving and try to keep some obstacle in its path for cover, or you'll be restarting the level yet again.
If you're coming to N+ for a visual and auditory feast, this is probably not the game for you. N was originally a Flash game for the computer, something that you could play to pass the time. The designers even opted to give a nod to its roots by including an option for longtime fans to play in the original mode. Anyone who isn't overcome by nostalgia will probably want to go with the visually enhanced version. This game is difficult enough without having to try to figure out exactly what is trying to murder you. Sound effects are stunted at best, with only a satisfying "splat" when your ninja goes to that great dojo in the sky (for the next two or three seconds); this is clearly not where development dollars were spent. Of course, if it's a question of whether I'd rather have a pretty game that controls like a bus on an ice-skating rink or a visually simplistic game that does exactly what I tell it to do, there's really no contest.
The real question that must be answered is whether or not this title is a good value. With hundreds of levels to conquer, you'll be playing N+ for a long, long time to come, and the ability to connect wirelessly and download player-made levels (and create and submit your own) really stretches the value. At a price point of $20, you'll really get your money's worth with this purchase. And yet, the most important factor here is the one most forgotten: N+ is fun. It's truly enjoyable to watch your little character get splattered across the screen, and amusing touches, such as having the parts of him set off additional mines, offer a mildly sadistic outlet for even the nicest among us. Even in the instruction booklet's introduction, the game refuses to take itself too seriously; anyone who can get past the difficulty curve will find a tongue-in-cheek game that knows you're just in it for a good time, and it has no qualms about providing you with a quick little diversion.
Overall, N+ is exactly the kind of game that's tailor-made for the DS, and I don't mean that it uses the touch-screen. Quick and simple, this is the kind of distraction that can easily be picked up for five minutes and put right back down again, making it ideal for killing those last few minutes of a lunch break. Sure, some might be put off by its lack of superficial gloss, and there will be people for whom the difficulty level is a turn-off, but aside from those two gripes, N+ is a stellar port that's worth a look. Now, excuse me, level 22 is calling ….
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