Review: N+

One-and-a-half minutes is not a long time to live. In that span of time you could brush your teeth, read one article in a magazine, or cook a Hot Pocket but not eat it. If you were a ninja, you could use that time to traverse rooms chock full of landmines, lasers and missile turrets all in the name of nabbing some gold and living to see the next death-filled room. This is the world of N+ on the DS, and it’s everything you could ever want in a handheld game.

There is no plot to N+, but it doesn’t really need one. Simply put, you are given ninety seconds to complete one episode (composed of five stages) by flipping switches and making it to exit doors. Along the way you can collect gold coins, each of which adds two seconds to your overall lifespan, staving off death by “old age” just a little longer. However, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever meet your maker in N+ due to moving too slowly and letting time expire; no, there are plenty of other enemies who are willing to speed up nature and end your already short life prematurely.

 

Death lurks around every corner in N+, but you can take comfort in the fact that you’re going to bite it in style. Mines line floors and walls, leaving almost nowhere to safely land. Laser turrets pick you off if you tarry in one spot too long, and homing missiles track your every move, relentless in their efforts to spread your body parts all over the walls. In order to defend yourself you are given the abilities to, well… run fast and jump. That’s right, no fancy ninja weapons and no time-manipulation powers You can only rely on your brain and reflexes to get your from one side of the room to the other (and sometimes back again) safely. The only assistance you have is the top screen of the DS, which displays a map of the current stage with all the switches, gold and enemies highlighted. Still, it’s up to you to figure out how to make it all work, and once you press the A button all hell breaks loose and it becomes more about survival than anything else.

It is this simplicity that makes N+ such a devilishly enjoyable experience. This is Platforming 101, and you realize that everything boils down to your planning skills and dexterity. There is nothing else cluttering up the game. Make no mistake, you will die and you will die often, but the deaths are never cheap and you always feel as though you are this close to nailing whatever tricky part is haunting you and moving on to the next stage.

Talking with one of the developers back at E3, he said that he wanted gamers to experience death in N+ not as a frustration, but as an extension of life. He said that dying in the game is meant to enhance the emotional high you get when you finally succeed. I have to admit they’ve achieved their goal, as I’ve never been more excited getting past just one stage. As you struggle to solve a level you will curse, you will fume and you may even throw your DS across the room, but you’ll immediately pick it back up and start playing again, and once you finally nail it you’ll thrust your hands into the air and then fall back exhausted at the Herculean task you’ve just conquered.

N+ features a robust single-player experience with over 150 levels to explore, but that’s not all there is to it. The title also showcases co-op and competitive multiplayer, with such modes as Domination, Tag and Blitz. Of these, Tag is likely the most amusing game, where whichever player is “It” continues to lose time off their life bar until they manage to touch the other player. This mode lends itself to crazy moves and ridiculous feats trying to stay one step ahead of the competition, and it’s the sort of game that can easily keep you occupied for hours if you aren’t careful.

Even if you’ve already played N+ on Xbox Live Arcade, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of the DS version as well. The new levels, great multiplayer and constant influx of available new content make this a game you’d be a fool to pass up. A ninja only lives 1.5 minutes, which is plenty of time for you to pop this in your DS and whirl through a few stages; it’s the perfect handheld experience and darn close to being a perfect game.

If at any point you’ve grown tired of being blown up, electrocuted or otherwise destroyed by the game’s pre-made levels, you can assemble your own with the title’s built-in level editor. This mode puts all the platforms, switches and enemies right at your fingertips and allows you to bring your own fiendish designs to life. Once you’ve got your level just the way you like it you can upload it via the DS’s wi-fi capabilities and share it with the community at large. If playing N+ gives you an idea for your own death trap, you can now easily create it and unleash it upon an unsuspecting public, relishing in their screams of anguish as they continue to throw themselves helplessly at that door that always seems just out of reach, thus landing on a big patch of mines that were just waiting for them.

The only real knock you can give N+ is that the visuals are a bit bland, but this game was created for the DS and not the PS3, so you can’t really expect anything earth-shattering. Some folks may also grow tired of the 8-bit nerdcore soundtrack, but you can simply switch it off in the main menu, so it’s not like it will be getting in your way or causing you to fail levels. I’ll admit that when I started N+ I was concerned that the difficulty level would be a major turnoff, but the game does a great job of easing you into the experience, and it won’t be long before you’re tackling the hard stages like a pro. This is really just a solid game all the way around, and trying to raise faults is just nitpicking.
 
Even if you’ve already played N+ on Xbox Live Arcade, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of the DS version as well. The new levels, great multiplayer and constant influx of available new content make this a game you’d be a fool to pass up. A ninja only lives 1.5 minutes, which is plenty of time for you to pop this in your DS and whirl through a few stages; it’s the perfect handheld experience and darn close to being a perfect game. 

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