Review: N+ (Sony PSP)

Genre: Platform/Puzzle
Developer: Silver Birch Studios/Metanet Software
Publisher: Atari
Release Date: 08/26/08

The platform-puzzle game is not even the tiniest bit new; even back during the days of The Lost Vikings we had seen the idea a few times before that, and arguably Prince of Persia is probably what invented the whole genre in the first place. We’ve been given something of a break from the genre insofar as the console market is concerned, but people have been making games that combine platform jumping with maddening level design and/or crafty opposition in the intervening time, with the vast majority either ending up as online flash games or downloadable freeware games.

So it should be no surprise that this is where N+ made its start.

Originally an online flash game, the original N became something of an internet hit, due in no small part to the fact that the level designs were diabolical, the controls were simple, the concept was easy to understand and, oh yes, it was free. It still is, in fact, and you can grab the PC version here, in Macintosh, Windows or Linux flavors. Anyway, the point is that after having been free on the market for what seemed like forever, the developers, Metanet Software, decided to take it out into the world and see if it would sell, as an XBLA title which was cleverly named N+. Boasting a whole lot more levels, multiplayer options, and a significantly awesome soundtrack, all for the low price of ten bucks, it was a pretty sweet deal, and many people (myself included) were sold on the awesomeness that is N. Having succeeded, apparently, in that attempt, N+ has now found its way to the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP as budget priced handheld games, boasting much of the selling points of the XBLA title. Is it more of the same, or is it worth the budget price? Let’s find out.

The story of N+ as it is can be summed up as follows: you’re a gold-collecting ninja who is trying to escape each stage without dying. Got it? Good. Fortunately, there are plenty of modes to play around with in N+, in both single and multiplayer flavors. Single player offers you the option to jump into a new game or continue an existing game, as well as assemble your own levels and play through a tutorial, while multiplayer allows you to join or create a game, and offers four modes of play: Co-op, Domination, Tag and Blitz. You also have the option, through a wireless internet connection, of going onto the N+ community and uploading your own created levels or downloading other created levels as you wish. In short: so long as you have access to friends with the game or the internet, you’ll have lots to do with the game, giving you plenty of reasons to jump into it at any time.

N+ is a minimalist game on the presentation front; the visuals and the audio are generally enough to get the job done, but they are by no means the focal point of the experience, and they’re not at all intended to be. The levels are all generally similar in that they’re more or less designed from the same basic shapes, and the enemies and obstacles you face are animated enough to be noticeable, but not enough to be spectacular. The only significantly animated object in the game, really, is your little ninja, and his animations are also “serviceable”, though he has a little more personality to him what with his silly victory poses at the end of each stage and whatnot. He also dies in all sorts of creative ways, often with his body parts flying around the stage and little pixels of blood flying out (though this can be turned off if you’re so inclined). You’re also offered the option of choosing “Pure” or “Plus” visuals; the former is more akin to the old visuals of the flash game, while the latter is a visual overhaul of the game that’s a little slicker, but doesn’t change the experience any. Aurally, the game runs through a few basic music tracks that are generally acceptable, though they’re not really as interesting as the music track from the XBLA version of N+. The various sound effects amount mostly to some gunfire and explosion effects for when you end up tripping the various traps in the game, and again, these are serviceable and sound good enough to get the point across. N+ is mostly stylistically simplistic, and the presentation is incredibly functional as a way of making up for its artistically barren design, as the gameplay is really meant to be the star of the experience.

So this, then, is the gameplay of N+: you are given a room with a switch, a door, some gold, and various obstacles in it, and you are tasked in each of these rooms to trip said switch to open said door, then make it out of said door, while collecting as much gold as possible and dying as infrequently as you can. To accomplish this, you can manipulate your ninja with the d-pad, jump with X, and (on the off chance you get stuck or you simply want to try the room over) blow yourself up with Triangle. You’re given infinite lives to get through each section, though the goals are obviously to try and get through each stage as fast as you can with as much gold as you can carry, as gold also increases your timer a bit for each piece you pick up. You are provided various “episodes” to play through, each of which is divided into five stages, and by completing all five stages, you complete the episode, which may unlock either more episodes or various other things.

Now, the above is a fairly basic description of how N+ works, and I’m sure some of you are reading that and saying “Big deal, I have to jump around, collect gold, and flip a switch? That’s simple,” and while that’s partially true, there’s a lot more to the game than that. See, the stages are designed in such a way that you have to REALLY use everything at your disposal to survive. If you’ve never played an N game before, you really probably should check out the tutorial just to get a feel for how things work, as the game becomes unfriendly as it moves forward. The first few stages are fairly friendly to new players, in fairness, but as you progress, you’ll have to face down intricate level designs, killer robots of all shapes and sizes (some that home in on you, some that fire homing missiles, some with machine guns, and some that just follow preset patterns along walls you need access to in order to progress), bombs in the most awkward of places, one-way floors, and more, all specifically designed to make your life difficult. You’ll also have various jump pads, moving platforms and other fun novelties to work around that can help or hinder your progress, and your ninja can also wall-jump and, with enough momentum, can jump nearly the entire length of the screen if needed. You’ll need to learn how all of these things work with one another to make it through the various levels presented to you, which is, in all honesty, the major selling point of the experience: the game is ENTIRELY about the gameplay mechanics and how everything works in relation to everything else, and in that respect, it’s an awesome attempt to bring back this sort of game that generally works incredibly well.

Aside from the single player missions, you also have a few multiplayer modes to fool around with. Co-op, as you would expect, allows you to play cooperatively through levels with a friend. Tag works similarly, as you tag off with a friend to complete a level as time ticks down to completion; whoever runs out of time loses, as they are the active player, making the mode a bit more hectic than normal co-op. Domination and Blitz are both competitive modes of play that work about as well as you would expect. You’re also offered a Level Editor to build your own custom maps as you see fit, which is confounding at first and, on the PSP, isn’t the most friendly product around, but once you learn how the editor works it’s pretty easy to manipulate. You can upload your creations to the community by way of a wi-fi connection, which also allows you to download the created content of others; thus, you basically have infinite content available to you, so long as you have the option to go online. There are also plenty of things to unlock; aside from the various episodes, you can also unlock different colors for your ninja, different winning animations for said ninja to perform upon completing a level, and different musical tracks that will play as you go through the episodes. You can also check out your personal play data, in case you’re curious as to how much gold you’ve acquired and how many times you’ve died while playing. Oh, and as a plus, the tutorial in N+ is both visually demonstrative AND interactive; by hitting a switch at the beginning of the mission, you are shown how the video would complete the level, and you can then go through the level yourself to complete it on your own as you see fit.

The only really bad thing that can be said about N+ that might put off some people is that if you already own the 360 version of the game, unless you want to play some N+ on the go, there’s no reason to really own this version of the game. The 360 version has a better camera (the PSP camera is somewhere in the medium range, and focuses on MOST of the environment, while the 360 version offers multiple camera choices), offers d-pad and analog support (the PSP version doesn’t use the analog stick), and is more friendly to multiplay and online play; unless you know how to set the game up to play online (I’m told that, much like how Monster Hunter Freedom 2 can be played online with XFire, this is possible with N+, though I’ve no clue how to do such a thing) or you have local friends to play with, seeing as how you can just jump on Live and play with someone.

But, assuming you DON’T own a 360, or don’t have Live, or what have you, any other complaints about the product are largely “eye of the beholder” complaints. The game is very bare-bones, archaic, and challenging if you’re not really a fan of this sort of product by and large. If you have no friends with the game and no wi-fi access, all you’ve got to work with is the core product, which you can blow through in about seven to ten hours if you’re good enough, and if THAT’S the case, hell, you can just download N from the website and play that on your PC for free (though, if you clear that and like it, this will probably be up your alley as well).

Those are minor nitpicks, honestly, and to be up-front: go download N from the link above and play it for a bit. If you like it, N+ for PSP is only twenty bucks, and frankly, even if you don’t have any wi-fi access or friends with the game, it’s honestly worth it. It’s a fun, frantic, challenging game that’s easy to learn and hard as hell to get through that should put a smile on the face of older gamers and fans of challenging gameplay alike. Granted, the XBL version is a marginally better, cheaper product, and if you’re not a fan of this sort of game, you’ll find N+ to be a bit dated in its presentation and gameplay, but frankly, for twenty bucks, it’s fun, it’s portable, and if you’ve got wi-fi access, you’ve got access to tons of free content. There are few games that are as simple and as fun as N+, and it’s worth the budget price to have on the go.

The Scores:
Game Modes: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: GREAT
Balance: GOOD
Originality: MEDIOCRE
Addictiveness: GREAT
Miscellaneous: GREAT

Final Score: GOOD.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Whether you are a fan of the older styles of platform-puzzle gameplay or you’re just looking for a portable game with some challenge to it, N+ should easily fill your needs. If you’re even a little curious, again, scroll back up to the top, visit the website and download the PC version to give it a try. If you like it, you’ll like this; it’s fun, challenging, and is stuffed full with content, and also has multiplayer modes and the ability to download new maps to keep the game fresh for a good while. If you don’t like it, N+ might not be for you; it’s complex, dated, and more about the gameplay than the aesthetics. If you already own the XBLA version, you might find this to be a bit redundant, but if you’re looking for something portable, or you like the series enough to grab another version, or you’ve never played it at all and like the idea, N+ will certainly justify its budget asking price.



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