The original N helped kick-start the indie precision platforming movement, and N++ is the same gameplay refined to a polished sheen and expanded to the point of near infinitude. Control and movement are as precise as any platforming fan could ask for, and the number of levels and challenges are truly staggering. Simultaneously, the minimalistic audio and video presentation tends toward monotony, and the lack of meaningful rewards means your primary reason for continuing is progress for the sake of progress.
Your stick figure ninja weaves between death traps with tremendous agility on his never-ending quest for gold, and few games offer such acute control of speed, momentum, and trajectory. The greatest joy lies in mastering the tiny inflections on the stick that make the difference between winning and losing a stage. Level design is immaculate and elegant, with perfectly placed obstacles and paths to success. Every wall, mine, and death drop has a purpose in shaping the stage, and everything else has been stripped away. New degrees of control are taught gradually with each passing level, with earlier challenges preparing you well for later ones. With no special power-ups or growth, N++ provides a pure platforming challenge that is refreshing in appropriate doses, but doesn’t lend itself well to marathon play.
All the solo levels can be tackled with up to three friends at your side on the couch for an easier win, but a separate set of cooperative and competitive levels provides the real multiplayer fun. Cooperative levels require cleverness and puzzle solving, often demanding the sacrifice of one player to open up level completion for the other. Players may also be partitioned into separate challenges on each side of the screen, forced to coordinate task timing. The fast-paced competitive race mode is my favorite way to play, focusing on desperate dashes to the finish line, along with big rewards for players who want to risk death for a shot at a higher score.
With low-key chill trance beats in your ear, utilitarian menus, and hard-angled lines and solid colors as an art palette, N++ embraces its pared-back aesthetic. The option to swap unlockable color palettes adds some visual variety, even if many of the color combinations are too garish to look at for more than a few minutes. The simplicity of presentation puts the focus squarely on precision action without any distraction, but the sparse and utilitarian audio and video does little to add to the entertainment.
A level editor offers robust tools to build the same sort of levels that Metanet has already crafted, and the system works admirably if you have the patience for it. The bigger benefit of this system for most players is reaping the rewards of other players’ work. A well-curated selection of fan-made levels is available at all times, organized into smart categories for easy discovery. The ever-growing number of levels expands an already huge serving of gaming zen.
The most striking thing about N++ is how little has changed, even while so much content has been added. There is little flash or grandeur to Metanet’s definitive and supposedly final N game, but for devoted and patient players, there’s a tremendous amount of value here, along with a gameplay formula that has been refined into its current form over more than a decade.