Saturday, 26 July 2008

Live Arcade Review: N+

Publisher: Metanet Software
Developer: Slick Entertainment / Metanet Software
Formats: Xbox 360 Live Arcade, PSP, DS
Release Date: February 2008

There is something distinctly mistrustful, sadistic if you will about Slick Entertainment’s new physics based platformer. From unforgiving early difficulty spikes to fiendish mid chapter time guzzling levels, the whole game markets itself as an exercise in frustration. That is not too say it’s a bad exercise, N+ actually comes across as an extremely stylish puzzler bundled with a superb and addictive design ethos.
Picking up from where the original 2005 PC Flash game left it, N+ is a next gen redux with a simple premise. You are a ninja replete with flowing red cape and flares; you have a thirst for gold and a devout belief in the ways of “N” which is the way of the ninja and will come in handy in a world filled with various deathtraps and deranged robots. The game is set out in chapters which each total five levels. In collecting the little gold coins like a ninja Mario, you increase the time which runs down at the top of the screen. The time carries through the levels and throughout the chapter so it’s best to bank as much gold in easy levels so to avoid having to scramble to beat the clock towards the end of chapters. The basic aim is to press a switch and make your way to the door where your lil’ ninja will do a merry jig.
It all sounds extremely straight forward so far, but when you find yourself increasingly swarmed with electrocuting, laser shooting, rocket volleying enemies whilst simultaneously trying to time jumps to avoid mines and other such hazards N+ quickly begins to test the patience.
Furthermore there are no means of defense other than speed, precision and agility. The only actions your ninja can perform are runs and jumps. With good timing these can be used in combo’s to provide wall to wall jumps, an effective means of ascent, wall slides, an effective means of not falling to your death and, when a bouncy block is about, mega jumps across the screen, which is an effective means of watching the ragdoll physics sprawl your poor man across the floor.
Nevertheless you will continue to play, even after you have scored the achievement for a thousand deaths, why? Well N+ is addictive to say the least. That night out you had planned, gone, if your four fifths of a way through a particularly testing chapter and you just know what you have got to do, but your fingers aren’t letting you do it, you’ll push on. Smashed controllers and tears before bedtime, which could be anytime, it all comes into play because N+ constantly challenges you to be a better gamer before throwing something really nasty in your face. However, when you complete it, when you finally see your ninja dancing at that shining open door, you will feel like you have climbed to the top of Everest and planted your very own flag there. Then you will start on the next chapter.
You will quickly forget to notice N+ stylized, minimalist visuals which sum it up as a tidy standalone Live offering. Sure the game looks every bit a Flash big brother but Slick Entertainment have taken the power of the 360 and used it to add a clean crispness to its graphics engine. The levels are well imagined utilizing shades of grey and often offer recognizable images such as controller or the N+ logo as playgrounds for your ninja, whilst the various security bots are simple but effective. The ragdoll physics and continual disembodiment provide hours of fun whilst additions such as particle plume effects when your ninja makes a leap demonstrates an haute cuisine style of class that runs throughout the show.
That’s not to say there are not criticisms with the visuals, a victim of its PC past, the gaudy and unplayable slat grey borders are far from attractive and the ninja model itself could do with a little scale up. The game would suffer with bigger levels but why the game has to be presented in such a small box is baffling.
These are minor gripes however and the audio in N+ sticks to the minimalist theme with sharp electro tunes keeping just the right side of annoying as you reload and reload after many a death. The only real gap in the music is the occasional explosion, electrical zapping or sickening thud of a fall.
Difficulty spikes and frustrating experiences aside however, N+ is above all a tremendously addictive and rewarding arcade title. Easily dubbed one of those games that are easy to play,
difficult to master with over 300 levels spread over 50 plus chapters and leaderboards confirming your total mediocrity, the potential lifespan of N+ is timeless. Just try to avoid developing a physical twitch. As they say, dying is an inevitability of life and bleak adages aside, it is a frequent inevitability of playing N+.
A superb addition to the Live Arcade, which whilst simple to look at and explain, could be the most sense defying, aggravatingly, beautiful-difficult game you ever play.

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