N+ DS Review
“You are a ninja. And like all ninjas, you have an unquenchable thirst for gold.” So says the manual for “N+”, Metanet Software's new side-scrolling platformer on the DS. Wait—isn't it leprechauns who have an unquenchable thirst for gold? Whatever, Metanet. I'm willing to play along.
N+ is the sequel to 2004's “N”, a free internet Flash game by programmers Raigan Burns and Mare Sheppard. N's easily-graspable concept, dynamic gameplay and sweet physics simulation instantly caught the attention of gamers and awards committees alike, and created a rabidly loyal community of N devotees. N+ builds on N's foundation, adding new graphics and a healthy selection of new levels.
N+ can be played in either Pure or Plus mode. Pure mode is basically identical to the old freeware game. Plus mode includes new multi-player levels and slightly more polished 3D-looking art. Pick your poison—both modes play the same way. For those who have never heard of N or N+, the game isn't about combat. You play an ant-sized ninja, whose only job is to navigate a variety of maze-like map spaces while stuffing your tiny ninja pockets full of gold. It sounds easy, but it's not. The clock's ticking and you have a mere 90 seconds to get through the map without being blown up or falling off a ledge and becoming a ninja pancake.
With that kind of time limit, you might want to ignore the gold collecting side of things but don't. Each gold piece you pick up adds two seconds to your lifespan, giving you more time to get through the more challenging bits of the map and trust me, you'll need it. The official site for the original N game states, “expect to encounter death frequently” and they aren't kidding. This is not a game for the faint of heart or the uncoordinated.
At first glance, the controls are simple. Move by using the control pad and jump by pressing the A button. Don't get comfortable though; the evil geniuses of N+ pull you in with fun, easy starting levels, then hit you with some of the most gut-wrenching gameplay you've ever experienced. Thank goodness you get unlimited lives because you could easily spend hours trying to complete a single jump. In fact, some of the maps require such focus and split-second timing, I'm pretty sure you'd have to be Mr. Miyagi to finish them. I can't help but grumble about that but then again, some people like that level of challenge. If being a ninja was easy, we'd all be ninjas.
The game has 200 single-player levels in which you can practice all the classic ninja moves: wall jumping, wall climbing and wall sliding. These moves are fun on their own but becoming expert enough to combine them is the best. With a little momentum from flying off launchpads, jumping up ledges, sliding down slopes and running across half-pipes, you'll be bouncing off the walls like a super ball.
The lightning fast gameplay is a rush, but speed alone isn't enough to ensure success. The maps are littered with mines, turrets and ninja-cidal drones, all waiting for the opportunity to blast, electrocute, laser or chain gun you to death. To avoid them, you'll need sharp reflexes and superhuman skill. Those who reach this level of ninja mastery will be rewarded with more single and multi-player levels as well as a wide array of unlockables like different colored ninja suits and additional music.
Single player could keep you going for well...ever, but for the more sociable ninjas, N+ has 100 co-op and 50 competitive multi-player maps. Two-player Co-op is like single player, but with more enemies while Two-player Competitive (the more interesting of the two) has three different types of gameplay: Domination mode lets you and a friend battle for control of red and black switches, Tag mode has you playing a form of ninja tag, and Blitz mode pits you against one another in a race to the level exit door.
Once you and your friends have beaten all the single and multi-player maps, it's time to get creative with N+'s touch screen level editor. The editor lets you color, place and rotate objects and terrain shapes as well as create animation paths for enemy drones. You can test your maps in real time by pressing Select, and share them by logging into the N+ online community straight from your DS. Joining the community is a good move because doing so gains you access to other player's maps, as well as additional bonus content from Metanet.
N+ is definitely entertaining but there are a couple of love it/hate it aspects of the game. First there's the soundtrack. There are a lot of folks who love the soundtrack so much, they'd buy it and listen to it outside the game. For me, well let's just say I've never encountered a more repetitive, tedious game soundtrack in my life. I turned the sound off ten minutes into the game to stop my ears from bleeding.
Next is the difficulty. N+ has the fast-paced that action fans love but requires a level of skill and finesse that frankly, many gamers are probably not up to. The sharp difficulty spike, and the fact that the majority of the game is unlockable will likely exclude a lot of people from much of the game and considering how much fun the basic mechanics are, that hardly seems fair.
So—if you're a die-hard platform fan who thinks nothing of dying 65 times trying to jump a gap, then N+ is your dream game, available now on DS, PSP and Xbox Live. If game-induced hypertension is not your idea of fun, then N+ may not be for you. But if it is, the $20 price tag will also be a... plus.
The Good: Fun game mechanics, bouncy physics, level editor to create and share maps
The Bad: Repetitive soundtrack, difficulty makes it for hardcore gamers only