As we mentioned in the last piece, N+ is the name for both this 360 Live Arcade version of which I presently speak, and also an upcoming DS/PSP version. N is the original, flash game. The game is a classic 2D platformer in which your only controls are move and jump and your only goal is to complete the level in which you find yourself. The use of modern physics, however, gives the game a new feel: this is jumping of a whole different sort. Furthermore the sort of hijinks that happen if your ninja finds himself on the wrong end of his robot antagonists’ machinations – your flying limbs setting off chain reactions of bombs exploding, your legs collapsing if you fall too far – are so entertaining as to make you laugh when you die, offsetting the frustration you can feel when a game is this hard. But of course difficulty also makes you feel good when you clear a level, so the game generates a psychological win-win, whether you clear a level or die trying. So the fun of the game’s in jumps, deaths, in figuring out the puzzles that some levels represent and ultimately besting them.
The console adaptation is pure class, keeping the pixelated minimalism of the original, but optimizing it for the console. When you start a new level, you see the entire level displayed for you, waiting for you to press ‘a’ to start. When you do, the display zooms in closer to your ninja. It works perfectly, as without some kind of trick, the graphics would just be too small.
The controls are perfect. I almost always prefer analog, console control to computer key presses, and in general I prefer playing on my couch to sitting at my desk if only for carpal tunnel avoidance, so I may be biased. But I found it much quicker to get the hang of moving the ninja on N+ than with N. This doesn’t make it easy. No question, N+ is much, much easier in its learning curve than the flash original. But around episode 14 things get hard. There are a couple rough ones and then you hit 14-4 (which Mare and Reigan have jokingly apologized for on their blog). I may have tried this one 100 times. That I kept trying speaks to both the excellence of this game and the blight that is obsessive-compulsive disorder, but let’s skip that last one for now.
One thing that helped me on 14-4 was the replays. You can watch a replay of any level you do, but more importantly you can quickly see the leaderboards for any level, see the maniacs at the top of the ranks, and then watch their replays. And these are things of beauty, little ninjas clearing levels with motions so effortless they are like ballet haikus. And then you try it yourself, and you blow up.
The rest of the game’s features are like an added-value wishlist. There is a co-op mode, in which you can play dedicated co-op levels or the regular single-player campaign. There are online survival and speed vs. modes. There’s a level editor that has features I wish Halo 3’s forge had (I’m sure it’s a lot easier to implement a 2D level editor, but still).
Online competitive didn’t work so well for me the one time I tried, with the system repeatedly failing to find a match and waiting 15 seconds between attempts. Eventually I got in a race, but it was 7 maps long and then seemed to loop around and do all the same maps again. Two of the players in the race were far above everyone else’s skill level, so I lost interest around the third map and just wanted out. YMMV. On the other hand, local co-op is the tits. The dedicated co-op levels get too hard too quick and so aren’t that useful if you’re trying to introduce friends to the game, but the first few levels of the single player are easy enough to be great fun for everyone, even spectators. Again, great explosions.
I could have summed this shit up by saying that for the past two days, I’ve been imagining little ninjas scaling all the everyday objects I see around me. it’s one of those, that gets into your head and just rocks out. For 800 Microsoft Bones, you should let it into your head, too.