Screw people who think a platformer needs to be sunshine and rainbows.
I’ve seen people whine about the original N+, under the belief that “the controls are 2 tyte” or “itz to hard 4 my mind 2 compruhend :^(“, like they can be classed as actual complaints. N+ isn’t for the casual crowd, as developers Metanet clearly state along with the reputation preceding it. It’s a hardcore speed-runner that tasks the player upon actually brushing up on their skills. Imagine that! A challenge! And a consistent one with that. So here is N++, the sequel to the original Xbox Live Arcade brutality.
Today’s momentum master-craft comes to us from Metanet Software, a Canadian team who found a niche spot and filled it with the hardest cement possible, both figuratively and literally. The flash game N went over like gangbusters when it was originally released in 2005, and N+ only made that impact stronger, becoming a fan favourite after it’s release on XBLA. N++ has actually been around for a while on Playstation 4, and it’s not until recently that the ninja nostalgia of ’05 made it’s way to Xbox One, boasting over 4000 levels.
There’s no story, you’re just a ninja with an insatiable lust for gold, so you jump around lethal rooms looking for said gold. To the point, like everything else on display. Metanet clearly didn’t want anything else in the way so they put you in, strap you down and watch and you die, and die, and die, and die… you get the point. Before you can begin your journey to simple suicide, you’ve got to set the theme, with a smorgasbord of customizable features.
Before the game even starts, you have free rein to choose how it looks and how it sounds. N+’s colour scheme was black on grey, and while it was serviceable and fitting, it definitely numbed the experience after a while. Here though, you’ve got tens of colour schemes, ninja colours and music tracks to choose from. The music tracks themselves are definitely a highlight, with various artists lending their glitchy, skittish and Jungle House beats for the player to experiment with and use.
The phrase “The Dark Souls of..” gets thrown around a lot lately. This game? Of course not, it’s I Wanna Be The Guy with a minimalistic edge. Here you are, with a tight-as-a-walnut-corset control scheme, wall-jumping and the objective of making momentum your lap dog. There’s a skill ceiling to N++, and in order to reach it, you’ll be jumping through hundreds of hoops until the last few levels of each set break your back and laugh.
Are these metaphorical hoops necessary to complete? Absolutely not. While Metanet are keen on throwing you into the deep end, they also want you take your time for suffering. You’re in no rush to complete these levels, and even the games’ time limit is extremely forgiving, with the clock starting at aro– Actually, I cannot give you the actual answer because I feel a mini-rant coming on, and this goes out to all developers!
Most of my games are played on a 720p TV, as it’s the only TV I own, and will be for a while. It’s a super old Sony, I’m talking one of the first plasma flat-screens to be rolled out onto the market. This piece of crap has been in my family possession for more than a decade, and with the evolution of graphics getting sharper and bigger in scale, most games actually overlap the screen, with me missing crucial elements for HUDs.
It’s not been too bad recently, with Bloody Zombies, Feral Fury, Bleed, and even the minimalistic Thumper overtaking the edges of the screen, but not being too bad to the point where they hide HUD elements. N++ has decided to take it to another level, and have got the game so zoomed in, that not only can I not see the time limit, I also cannot see the walls of the map for larger levels. This is frustrating.
Is it my fault for being slightly behind the times? Of course not, I’m not going to be the only one having this issue, and screen size editing should be a thing for ALL games. N+ didn’t have this issue, and I was even further behind the times while playing that, using one of those old-ass CRT TV’s that weigh more than an entire house. In conclusion? Please make screen re-sizing a factor in EVERY video game from now on. Mini-rant over, back to the game!
Despite having the same clothes Metanet were making its father wear in 2008, N++ still has a few new patches on the jacket to try and mix-n-match the level design with. New enemies and gameplay mechanics are out in full force, and they’re easy to understand and develop your possibly new-found skills with. Boosters, duplicate ninjas who follow your path to try and take you down, and regular old metal balls ready to chase you to a shocking fate, are some of the new flavours added to make sure you die a lot.
It’s great that they somehow managed to add even more stuff to the game without it delaying the games’ true motives, but most of the new additions could have their job done by the bulky roster of enemies from before. The bulldogs that chase you down? They can be replaced by the shock drones that can track you if you fall into their direct line of sight. Duplicate ninjas? Again, shock drones. The boosters feel like the only worthwhile addition, and even then, the context they’re used for in gameplay feels flat.
The biggest shuriken to the ninja’s eye, like Butters in South Park, is the size of it all. We’re talking about 4300+ levels here. And again, it’s neat that Metanet have found literal thousands of new ideas for their levels, but what’s the point when we know the obvious outcome for half of them, is that they’re going to be duds? Crap that would fill a ROM hack, or the community-created section, which is already filled with Autoplay levels. Oh my good lord above, do I hate Autoplay levels.
They’re the equivalents of farts in comedy, or Pickle Rick. It’s not interesting or smart to watch your character dodge these traps by a pixel, especially when it’s already been done to death in other games beforehand. I was making stuff like this in Trials HD and Super Mario Bros. ROM hacks years back, and was met with the same reception you see here.
Every once in a while, you come across that one level in the single player, the test of pure sanctifying skill that will grant you clearance to win a chance to become Gaming Demigod, err… Derek. I’d say the levels that actually feel like truly hardcore tests of the player’s abilities and will, come to you every 30-40 levels. That’s a rough average of 150 levels you have to find as you wade through the other tripe, and that’s no fun.
There’s also a mini hill of levels, that can also be tackled by a friend in couch co-op, which has returned from N+, but without the online capabilities from before. Here, every single level needs a balance of skill from both players, and if one of you messes up, then both of you have to restart. It’s pretty neat, as it shows more effort from Metanet than the massive amount of guff and gunk that’s on display in the single player, and makes you feel proud of the teamwork you used.
Aside from a bulky and bloated SP, and a tightly-crafted co-op experience, N++ has no other tricks up its sleeve. The community-created levels are a nice touch, but this suffers from the Super Mario Maker conundrum, where every other level is Autoplayed, or rooms filled with 100 of every gameplay obstacle so you can meet your doom immediately. One such level almost bricked my console, so if Metanet could actually impede players from submitting levels unless they complete them themselves, that’d be fantastic.
Is N++ worth your time? Only if you’re into punishing yourself. It’s not accessible by any means, catering to the crowds that still play ROM hacks meant for the insane Japanese players. Am I still going to playing it? Yes, of course, considering my love for the original (both the flash game, and its XBLA counterpart), I feel an urgency to dig a deeper hole into the world of levels on display. Will I have fun? Probably not, as the developers have taken “bigger is better” to heart.
It's definitely bigger than its predecessors, but it just misses being able to recapture the spirit of the original XBLA hit.