Platforms: PC, PS4
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Metanet Software Inc.
Publisher: Metanet Software Inc.
Review code provided free of charge by the publisher.
Videogames often attempt to sweep us up in complex, deep narratives that provide context for our actions. N++, though, has just one small page of story, and even it is relegated to a separate screen. Yup, you actually have to go and look for the narrative. You’re a ninja who loves to collect gold strewn around the many death traps you’re attempting to escape. To get out you find the switch that opens the door and then head for the exit, grabbing as much gold as you can along the way in order to net those high scores. But the context doesn’t matter. No, what does matter is that N++ is sublime in its stark simplicity, a direct contrast to the visually stunning, mechanically complex videogames of the modern era.
N++ is an incredibly minimalistic, simple game that demands complete precision as you navigate it’s basic 2D levels. Underlying everything is momentum and how to use it. N++ has a floaty sort of physics system, which combined with the emphasis on momentum means you can use angles to survive great falls, gain speed and leap absurd distances. At your disposal is a very limited selection of moves; you can run, jump, slide down walls and jump up or off of flat surfaces. That’s it. From this moveset is built one of the most challenging, satisfying and beautifully slick platformers to ever grace the world of videogames. There are a shade over a thousand levels to play in the main campaign which slowly but surely ramp up the difficulty, introducing more and more elaborate designs with which to drive you crazy. The learning curve is so well judged that you barely even realise how much better you’ve become along the way until a eureka moment when you realise that you’ve just navigated a level involving pinpoint jumps made through a minefield, while dodging missiles, lasers and other nonsense.
And oh boy does N++ like to throw a lot of stuff at you. There’s a couple of new introductions here in the form of an annoying ball that seeks you out, and even an evil clone of yourself that follows your path and will instantly kill any hapless ninja it touches, i.e. you. Later levels require a level of spatial awareness that I’m absolutely certain that only a fantastic Twister player possesses, and as everybody knows fantastic Twister players are akin to the Gods themselves. Thankfully the spatial awareness you need can be learned by dying a whole lot, as illustrated by one of the game’s Achievements titled, “You suck. But that’s okay.” Yup, N++ is a hard game that needs a patient player who is willing to fail and fail and fail and fail again until that magical moment where you stop doing one jump and then come to a halt and instead tap into that mystical zen-like state that makes you feel…invincible.
That’s what N++ revolves around, really. Eventually the game’s physics will click, making you realise that you’ll accelerate faster on the ground than in the air and that time can be saved on a huge drop by performing a wall slide at the very last second, and that momentum is everything. What that means is that you need to take a second to look at a level before even moving, analysing the many threats and what will need to be done to counter them. Then and only then do you move with a sense of purpose, because losing momentum often means death, either because that missile finally catches you or because you can’t make that big jump. You look, you plan, you execute and you probably get yourself blown up on a mine. Perfection does not come easily.
You’d almost think it comes easy to the developers, though, because there are so very few levels which aren’t extremely well designed. We’ve already touched upon the subtle incline in difficulty which is masterful in its own right, but considering the sheer quantity of levels it’s hard to believe that they are almost all great. Of course it helps that they’re all quite small, and not taking countless restarts into account are completed in mere seconds. However, that doesn’t in any way discredit the designers who have clearly spent countless hours poring over every level to ensure that not only is the difficulty balanced but that everything just works. The mines are placed just far enough apart. There’s just enough space to avoid the gun. There’s just enough of a gap to slip through the lasers. It’s a great example of what can be done if you decide to essentially ignore the visuals in favor of tweaking the gameplay to a tee, with every level having a guiding hand of sorts in its design that indicates what you need to do to progress, and that also taunts you. You can see the path, but are you good enough to follow it?
Both the music and visual design seek to help elevate players into the zen state needed to complete the harder levels. Nobody could call N++ a pretty game, it’s incredibly simplistic visuals providing about as much detail as a politician when it comes to giving a straight answer. Yet this does serve to help free you of all distractions. There’s no lovely scenery or amazing character designs to catch your eye, which means you’re free to focus on the task at hand. All the best platforms lull you into a state where the luscious graphics disappear from your vision anyway, so N++ doesn’t even bother to include it in the first place. The only hiccup in this plan is that for some reason the color palette sometimes shift, perhaps introducing a garish pink or something. It’s weird because this is otherwise a game that aims to have the cleanest levels possible, and those changing colors clash with that ideology a little. Still, there’s no denying that it brings a nice break from the monotone greys. As for the music it’s a mixture of soothing techno sounds that try to keep you from tossing your controller at the screen. Considering my screen remains unbroken, I’m going to say it’s doing a reasonable job of it, too.
If you somehow manage to work your way through the entirety of the core levels then you can also head into the streamlined editor to make your own, coming up with fiendish designs that will hopefully make others as crazy as you’ve become.Best of all creations can be shared with the rest of the world, providing a community platform for the game to be expanded, especially since this apparently going to be the last N game ever. There’s doesn’t seem to be much in the way of moderation, though. People can upload impossible to complete levels, for example, so the developers could have done with taking a leaf out of the Mario Maker book and required creators to beat their designs before being allowed to post them online. Still, even though the featured tab is currently filled with pretty bad examples of level design I’m looking forward to seeing what the community puts out. There’s some talented folk out there, after all.
If that wasn’t enough there are leaderboards to track how crap you are and a race mode which is pretty much exactly like it sounds. There’s even local co-op with its own set of incredibly challenging levels where players have to work together, sometimes even having to sacrifice themselves so that the level can be completed. It’s just a shame that there’s no online multiplayer support, so you and your mates in different countries can’t get together to enjoy a night of precision platforming, which feels like a wasted opportunity.
It may not look or sound like much, but N++ is an impressively addictive platformer with a finely tuned physics system. It’s a joy to play, easily sucking you in with its bite-sized levels that scream, “just one more go. One more level.” And of course it also heavily rewards perseverance with a powerful sense of satisfaction. Nailing a level that has been murdering you for the past hour is a reward by itself, as is then putting in even more practicing and securing a good place on the leaderboards. For some the minimalist style might put them off all together, but all I can say is give N++ a chance, because it might just be one of the finest platformers ever made.
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