by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
Blast from the past
During my school years, a lot of game websites were blocked on the PCs in the computer rooms. One Flash game that often managed to slip between the cracks was N, a platforming game which looked simple at first glance, but was fiendishly difficult to master. Here in 2016, we have N++, the sequel to the sequel of that original lunchtime time sink. Souped up with an almost innumerable amount of levels, this is no longer a game to be played during school breaks. This is a game which could take over your life for months.
In N++, you are a ninja with a very short life span. Therefore you have to complete levels as fast as possible by jumping between platforms and avoiding obstacles and enemies. Picking up small pips will increase the amount of time you have to complete a level, and picking up all of them before leaving through the exit will grant you a bonus. Since you have all your platforming abilities available to you from the very start of the game, it’s startling just how much variety there is. Currently, official levels number in the hundreds, if not thousands, and that’s not counting any of the fan-made creations which can be made using the simple in-game level editor.
There are three categories to choose from, although there’s not much difference between them, each split into episodes containing five levels. To complete an episode, you have to finish all the levels in order, and while that’s easy to begin with, once you start unlocking harder and harder episodes, it’s not such a simple task. One complaint to be made is that this detracts from what should be a quick pick-up-and-play game. You can spend dozens of attempts trying to finish, say, the third level of an episode, and if you give up and quit the game before completing all five levels, you’ll have to come back and do it all again. Once you’re far enough into the game, it’s no longer something you can spend 20 minutes on while you’re killing some time, because you’ll feel like it’s a waste to do something you’re going to have to do all over again another time.
It’s a blast
That aside, N++ is a superb platforming game which is rewarding for both casual players and completionists. New players will feel a sense of accomplishment from just completing a series of harder levels, while the more hardcore can toil away and collect every pip to get their kicks. There are varying types of difficulty too. Some levels may be tough because there are tricky platforming sections where you have to be incredibly precise to progress. Others might be hard because of the combinations of obstacles and enemies, even though the platforming itself may be trivial.
Lucky, then, that the platforming feels as precise as it needs to be. Your ninja gains a great deal of momentum when jumping, especially if you hold in the button for longer. As the levels progress, you’ll need to get better at working out angles of the slopes too. Running up a slope will gain you vertical momentum, which you can use to wall jump and get much higher than you would otherwise. You can also use a slope by running up it, then jumping off it in the other direction to reach high platforms which seem impossible to get to. You can also wall jump indefinitely, so a vertical wall is no problem. If you’re in a free fall and attach yourself to a wall, you’ll slowly slide down it, and this is one way to avoid falling too far to your death. The other way is to hit a downwards slope running - and this is yet another way to gain a lot of speed.
There are a lot of mechanics in play here, and some that you may not realise are there until the game forces you to use them. Some levels have sections which look totally impassable based on the knowledge you have up to that point, and it’s only by trial and error and a couple of short text hints that you’re able to figure them out. It’s not a great tutorial system, but it does end up working, and you’ll keep that knowledge in mind the next time you come across the same set of circumstances until it becomes second nature.
Blasting off into infinity
Visually, N++ is very simple, and that’s what it needs to be. You’re just a stick figure, and the levels are made up of lines, blocks and slopes, as well as the enemies and obstacles. You don’t need to be told not to touch the red spiky things, as it should be obvious what they do. The sound cue that plays when an enemy charges towards you should be enough for you to know to jump over it. You will die a lot, but you’ll always know what killed you, and you’ll always know it’s your own fault for not being fast enough. That’s what makes completing a particularly hard level all the more satisfying. You’ll slowly unlock new colour schemes which simply swap the colour palette. Some are more conducive to good platforming than others, with the most garish being almost painful to look at. But you’ll soon choose your favourite and stick with it.
So many years after that first Flash game was released, N++ is still close to, if not at the very top of the platforming pile. It might not be the stress reliever you wanted it to be, but if you’re looking for a strong platforming experience which has almost endless levels to choose from, you might not ever need another game of its kind.
As good now as it’s ever been. Levels to last you a lifetime.
Having to complete an entire episode all at once is a pain.