N++ is a very simple game. It’s also a very accomplished one. It is in simplicity that N++ succeeds the most, taking the most basic of concepts and making it something very special, challenging and thoroughly rewarding.
In N++, you are a ninja and your only goals are to hit a switch that opens a door, leave through said door, collect as much gold as possible along the way and try desperately not to die. That last objective will be attempted mostly in vain, you’re going to die a lot.
The game is essentially a series of one-screen platform levels filled to the brim with obstacles that will blow your stick-figure ninja to stick-figure smithereens. Your only means of defence against N++‘s catalogue of horrors are running and jumping – the only mechanics at play in the entire game.
Despite being created from two of gaming’s most basic aspects N++ still manages to feel unique. The whole thing is about momentum. Whether that be a running start that allows you to jump greater distances, soaring over the dangers below, or holding onto the jump button just that one second longer to allow your ninja to sore over a wall of mines, momentum is the key. This is equally true for wall -jumping; you can slowly hop between surfaces with precision or launch up each wall with a blistering pace in order to reach new heights.
It was this focus on momentum that drove me forward and kept me re-playing levels over and over again. I wasn’t satisfied to just reach a level’s exit door. I wanted to do it in one fluid, fast, rhythmic move, hopping from wall to wall, squeezing through gaps in the mines, dodging lasers just in time, grabbing every piece of gold as efficiently as possible and then, only then, would the exit door feel like a true option.
But to accomplish these goals, patience is a must. Realistically, no level should take more than a minute to complete but its not uncommon for half an hour to be lost to just one screen, pressing “retry” in a rage of four-letter words. By the end of N++‘s lengthy set of intro levels, which sufficiently manage to show you the ropes and ease you in, the difficulty has already been ramped way up to borderline maniacal and it’ll take perseverance, skill, a commitment to trial and error and a keen puzzle-solving mind to beat each screen with flair. But when you do – dear Maker, is that a rewarding moment.
And before you ask, the gameplay is absolutely flawless. The jumping is floaty, by design, allowing for fine control over the character. And though the game is challenging, to put it mildly, a loss never feels unfair and N++ can never be blamed for your failures.
Behind this master-class in gameplay is a simplistic art-style. Platforms are just blocky, textureless shapes and the challenge rooms are always two-tone, although a host of colour palette options are available (there’s a hot pink option that proved tough on the old peepers). And while this basic aesthetic serves a purpose – never distracting the player – it becomes dull and downright repetitive. The soundtrack on the other hand, though a similarly repetitive pulsing of techno, never outstays its welcome and helps drive you on with the somewhat rhythmic nature of navigating each level.
Though it may be nothing spectacular to look at, it doesn’t need to be in order to be a resounding success. N++ takes a concept older than gaming itself – running and jumping – and makes it feel totally unique whilst delivering a master-class in rewarding gameplay.