N+ Xbox Live Review

Ever since Donkey Kong the platform genre has constantly been a staple diet to video gamers. Nintendo took the genre to 3D and ever since companies have used the Mario 64 template as a starting point – trying and mostly failing – to push the genre towards something new and recreate the magic. N+ on the other hand takes the original 2D template as seen by the likes of retro classics Lode Runner and Jet Set Willy, adds some new physics and produces a nice, if minimalist take on the genre. The game is available as a free flash download to MAC and PC owners but on Live you sadly have to pay 800 points for the privilege. So is it worth your cash?

The basic premise of N+ is simple; you play a Ninja who must complete levels in the quickest time possible. The end time after the stage is completed basically reflects your score. The more time remaining at the end, the better you’ve done. Gold can be collected to increase your time and its here we see the main risk/reward system put into place. The gold and door switches will usually be positioned in such a way so that it’s a real challenge to reach. So you have to decided weather you want to risk gaining the bonus time or try and finish the level instead. Bear in mind the time will carry over the 5 missions per chapter so if you’ve taken a long time to do the first level, you’re going to really struggle to get a good time later on.

So simple eh? You wish…

The first requirement to master the game is inertia. You don’t simply jump and stop on a platform, you’ll land and slide a bit. So on small platforms you have to land directly onto them because if your moving too fast you’ll fall. You also have some control over how far ‘N’ jumps and so not only do you have to take into account his position, but also the speed he’s moving. This tiny physical ability is what differentiates the 2D Mario games from all other 2D platformers games. It was actually a masterstroke on Nintendo’s part because adding slight inertia made the Mario games far more “loose” in feel, and much more playable then any other platformer of the day. In N+ the inertia is largely controllable and different heights are available with quick taps or long pushes of the jump button. You can also scale walls by quickly tapping the jump button to jump away from a wall then moving back towards it. You can also scale enclosed walls by wall climbing. Walls can be gripped onto and slid down and this facet makes a big difference in how you play the game because once you realise you can slide down walls without dying, it also means you can jump and drop massive distances providing you grab a wall at the end of your flight. Failing to do so will result in your Ninja dying a very nasty sounding and initially very funny death.

The levels themselves have been cunningly designed. The one downside to the levels is their colour. They’re all dark on light grey with only your Ninja, the gold, the AI and the blood providing the colour but this actually works to good effect and makes for a nice contrast. The levels look shockingly basic at first but do gain from being lovely and clean. If any texture details were added to the levels it would only serve to make them too complicated so this initially plain design flaw actually works to its favour as you progress. Once you’ve mastered the earlier learning levels the in-game AI makes its appearance. It starts off simple, with mines providing the first challenge – touch one and your treated to a lovely small explosion tearing your Ninja into tiny pieces. If any of the pieces hit mines more explosions occur until there’s nothing left. Fall onto a mass of mines, and you’ll get a mass of gore flying all over the screen!. Other AI includes droids of various forms, ones that electrocute, launch rockets, laser snipers, squashers, etc so as simple as the levels may look, you can bet it won’t take long before you start to have a tough time. That said, the nature of game make it highly addictive. Being mainly timing based, the puzzles reveal themselves pretty quickly so its just case of your timing. You’ll brain will know when to move, but will your hand?

There’s a few online multiplayer games including co-op, race and survival but the online play can suffer lag issues including rockets that jump to your position and mines exploding but not killing your Ninja. One hint – if you’re shade blind, like me, don’t choose the yellow Ninja as its actually hard to see amongst the grey. In Co-op the host will usually play hero and will have his own part of the level, whilst the other 3 players attempt completion. Usually this consists of the 3 players operating the switch and the host completing the level by exiting. This can be a little frustrating because the 3 of you could solve your part, and the hero will go and die but this usually works both ways and its great fun once your all good at it, which won’t take long thankfully. Another problem with multiplier is the fact the screen size will pan out to accommodate both or all the Ninjas and so the Ninjas can look a little small. If you play this on a SD TV you may suffer.

In Survival you have to get across levels strewn with AI all over the place and this makes for a good laugh at levels which are just absurd in their evil. Racing is a dash across levels to see who’ll finish first. All good fun and it adds immense value to the already cool single player game. One last bonus is the level editor which is used to construct your nightmare visions, and these can then be shared with friends. Building stages are simple enough with various pieces being placed on a grid. Testing on the fly is available as well and this part alone is probably worth half the cost of the game.

To “N’d” this review then, what starts off as being a basic platformer soon reveals its highly addictive nature and is well worth the cash – 300 odd levels with more being available over time, the Multiplayer aspects and level editor makes for a hugely enjoyable game that’s a lot of fun with friends. Featuring a retro look that’s basic but massively functional, this game has oozes charm spliced with masses of evil and cunning. The sound too is retro is style with a very 8 bit feel to it. Well worth the download.

More bounce then Tigger.

8 out of 10
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