Developer: Silverbirch Studios
Release Date: August 26, 2008
The ninja has become quite the pop culture icon, and although the image has become very marketable, few video games truly capture the feel of the ninja's inhuman agility and speed quite like N, an independent (and free) Flash game released in 2005. Games that feature ninja — Izuna, Naruto and Ninja Gaiden — have done well in recent years, and someone finally realized the marketing potential of a title like N and repackaged it into an Xbox Live Arcade offering, N+. The XBLA iteration featured customizations, multiplayer options and a level editor. A sensation was reborn.
N+ is back again, and this time, it's heading straight into the pockets of the gaming public. Now in its third format, N+ may be trying to reach a fan base that feels it's already been there and done that. N+ still looks and feels great on the PSP's sharp wide-screen display, but the little black avatar is starting to act just a little bit tired.
For those who are hearing about N+ for the first time, the PSP is an almost perfect platform. A fresh coat of paint has been layered over the bare bones of the original Flash game, giving everything an extra bit of polish without fundamentally changing everything. The levels run smoothly and at a perfect resolution without any slowdown, and the online community is apparently thriving and ready to provide players with boatloads of additional content.
Unfortunately, the excellent sound in the XBLA version of the game has been toned down a lot. The music has been reduced to endlessly repeating three-second loops, and as a useless bonus when you gather enough gold, you can unlock new repeating three-second clips to pound into your skull. It's still bearable, and in a portable game, it doesn't matter most of the time. Yes, it's annoying, but it's not even close to being a deal breaker.
N+ is one of the simplest games you're likely to find on the market. You only need to know three buttons to control your digital ninja: left, right, and jump. This ninja has no shuriken, exploding kunai, or twin katanas. He simply hops and wall-jumps his way past ninja-killing robots and deadly mine fields, all the while searching for precious gold. Players should be forewarned that this is not an ultraviolent twitch-fest like Ninja Gaiden. The only dismembered limbs you're likely to see are your own floppy little black twigs scattering in all directions after you hit that mine for the 30th time.
N+ is a game of survival. As the introduction explains, your ninja is suffering the curse of a fast metabolism: a 90-second life span. Fortunately for you, that same ninja also has gravity-defying jumping talents and the ability to rise from the dead as long as your PSP remains firmly in your hands and not shattered against a wall. The time limit is not your greatest nemesis because it can be extended by collecting gold, but it is a motivational factor to keep those crazy legs pumping, climbing and jumping to reach the exit.
Just because it's a simple concept doesn't make N+ an easy game, though. On the contrary, this is probably the most difficult game to come out of the Internet short of I Wanna Be The Guy (and if you don't understand that reference, count yourself lucky). Thanks to some startlingly accurate physics and the anti-ninja technology that crawls through the later levels, making it to the end of a five-level episode can seem as impossible as climbing Mount Everest. More than a few levels may kill you hundreds of times before you finally defeat them and bring an end to their N-stomping ways.
Sadly, the learning curve doesn't ease you into the teeth-grinding experience of the later levels. The first episodes are easy enough for anyone to defeat, and then suddenly around episode 14, things become tough. Instead of dying a dozen times trying to figure things out, you may die hundreds of times. You'll start out right next to a missile, a roving killbot, or a giant cluster of mines. I firmly believe that one or two of those levels are impossible, and there's really nothing to prepare you for it. Much like your ninja, you'll find yourself running along smoothly as you go through the first levels, and then suddenly dropping off a cliff to your death. Even the tutorial levels aren't much help at improving your skills; you just have to keep playing. Thankfully, you don't have to beat every single episode to experience all of them, or I'd still be clicking away in some levels well into 2012.
If you get tired of letting the premade levels kick your butt, you can always go online and try out the hundreds of levels offered up by the community. You can browse and play them directly online, as well as download them. It's a very smooth system, which shouldn't be taken for granted on the notoriously spotty PlayStation Network. Uploading created levels is also a simple process that consists of a couple of clicks, and the level editor is so simple that almost anyone can contribute to the masochistic pleasure of N+. Just make sure the level is possible before you upload it, please.
Unfortunately, the multiplayer suffers from separation anxiety from the Internet. While it's definitely worth a try and is a highlighted feature of N+, it's drastically limited. It doesn't even feature single-pak download play, so both you and your friend need to own the game if you want to enjoy these extra modes. From a cost comparison angle, it doesn't make much sense that you'd have to spend $40 between two people when you could just spend $10 on the XBLA game and play multiplayer right away.
The co-op and versus modes are joys to play. Co-op isn't the best because a death from either partner can equal almost infinite frustration, but the race and collection games are a fun substitute for good ol' leaderboards. It is really exciting to try to be the top ninja. It's just too bad that you can only do it for such short periods of time and with such a limited number of people.
Despite some of these nitpicks, N+ for the PSP is still as great a game as it ever was on XBLA or the Internet. While the formula is getting a bit passé, the physics and levels are still as sharp and tightly constructed as ever, even if the sound is repetitive and the multiplayer modes are inaccessible to most. N+ is a good game, but it's not exactly cost-effective if you're going to play against a friend.
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