N++ fully earns the “Ultimate Edition” subtitle attached to its marketing. The original N was a Flash game from 2004 and was followed up by N+ for the Xbox 360, DS, and PSP. In 2015, Metanet Software released N++ for PS4, Xbox One, and PC, and as of May 2018, the definitive version of this addictive momentum-based platformer is available for the Switch.
(NOTE: the 2015 versions of N++ have received a free update so they all include the same amount of content as the Switch version.)
The Ultimate Edition subtitle is also fitting because it’s hard to see where the N formula goes from here. With over 4,000 levels in N++, not including community created ones and those you create yourself in the level editor, there’s not much need for another sequel or special edition. That makes N++ an easy recommendation, especially on the Switch where it is perfect for short pick up and play sessions. Yes, as much as it pains me to say it, N++ is “perfect for the Switch.”
Every single one of those 4,000+ levels revolves around a central premise: taking place on just one screen, you must move your stick-figure ninja to the exit via a switch that unlocks said exit. If you get hit, you die and have to start again. That’s all there is to it. If you like, you can collect gold pieces to boost your high score, but that is entirely optional.
The controls are equally simple. Left, right, and jump. You can vary your jump height slightly with a longer button press, and there’s also wall-climbing and sliding, but you only need those two directions and one button. You can pick it all up in seconds and there’s nothing to forget if you take a break from the game and then pick it up later.
Most levels have obstacles. The most common are explosive mines, but some levels have homing missiles, lasers, and even launch pads that can throw you up into the ceiling with such force that the impact kills you. There are also ninjas that copy your every move. I expected these to be one of the more annoying obstacles, however they are placed in levels where you’re encouraged to keep moving anyway and that tends to be the most satisfying way to play. It’s a great example of an enemy that forces you to play the game “the right way.”
The challenge is found in N++‘s momentum-based movement. Your speed doesn’t only increase as you run; it also increases while you’re in the air, letting you pull off jumps the length of the screen so long as you’ve built up speed beforehand. Diagonal slopes also boost momentum, even if you’re running uphill. Falling from a great height usually results in insta-death, but you can safely land on the diagonal slopes which lets you maintain speed even when performing screen-length jumps.
The need for momentum means that each input builds on the last and therefore not all jumps are the same. If you’ve just landed on a diagonal slope after a large fall, you’ll be able to jump a large distance with ease, but if you’re jumping from a standing position you won’t get even half as far.
This momentum-focused approach means that levels can feel completely different depending on how well you play. Your first attempt at a level may see you jumping carefully between platforms to reach the exit until you realize that taking a few seconds to build momentum first lets you run between them without stopping.
It probably sounds like there’s a catch coming. You’re perhaps waiting to read that these simple controls become devilishly fiendish as you progress, requiring split-second timing and pixel-perfect precision. That’s not the case. N++ has its fair share of hard levels, however most of them are perfectly manageable. You never get the impression that N++ is trying to trick you or punish you. The later levels don’t add new moves or enemy types. Sure, some levels are tougher than others, but they’re always testing the same skill set.
The frankly absurd number of levels are split into four categories. There’s an introductory set which acts as a lengthy tutorial and there are legacy levels straight from N+. The vast majority are new N++ levels and “Ultimate” levels. The Ultimate levels might be slightly harder than the N++ levels although I didn’t notice much of a difference.
You have ninety seconds to complete each set of five stages however each gold piece you collect adds two-seconds to the timer and the timer restarts after each death. Once you know how to complete a level, it’ll likely only take you a few seconds, so the timer rarely comes into play.
The beauty of N++‘s challenge is that the difficulty is somewhat variable. Just making it to the end of the level isn’t all that tough so if you don’t find a particular level much fun, just ignore the gold pieces and hit the exit. On some sets of levels, I wanted to collect all the gold in all five levels whereas other sets just didn’t jive with me so I sped to the exit.
The grouping of levels brings me to what is probably the only weak point of N++. While each level is handcrafted, the organization of the levels into groups of five often feels random. After the into, the groups of levels don’t have a consistent theme or difficulty curve to them. You might start on a level where you only have to fall off a small platform into the exit, and then play one where you have to negotiate lots of small platforms to reach the switch and then trek back to the exit, and then play a fast level where you can build up speed to flow around the level in a zen-like state. There were some great levels where I got into a rhythm and would have loved to see the same level get progressively more complicated to test my skills, however that never happened.
I had similar issues with organization of the community created content. There’s undoubtedly some good stuff in there, however there’s plenty of garbage to wade through before you find it. There’s no requirement to complete the levels you create before uploading them, so people are making lots of extremely hard levels that they can’t beat themselves. It’s not much fun to play a level that might be unbeatable.
Level organization aside, the package put together in N++ feels like a culmination of what Metanet Software has been working on for over a decade. The vector graphics can’t be improved but there’s now a massive collection of color schemes that you can switch between in an instant. The music is pleasantly soothing, letting you slip into a trance-like state as you play through the levels. I credit the music with almost completely mitigating any frustration I might have otherwise experienced at regular deaths.
Outside of the solo levels, you can also race against friends and complete levels in co-op. Both modes work really well. Races are perhaps a little redundant with high-score leaderboards already in place, but co-op provides special opportunities to work together, occasionally having to kill yourself to help others succeed. Unfortunately, these multiplayer modes are local only, so you’ll need nearby friends who play N++ to make the most of it.
The lack of a consistent difficulty curve or sense of progression means that N++ is far more suited to short play sessions than lengthy ones. I don’t necessarily want to sit in front of my television for three hours playing N++, however every time I pick up my Switch I’ve found myself playing through at least one set of levels and sometimes forget why I picked up the Switch in the first place.
I don’t say this lightly, however I believe I’ll still be playing N++ in a year’s time. It’s packed full of consistently high-quality content that is perfect for short play sessions, such as the half-time break in football matches (the World Cup is on as I write this). For $15, it’s excellent value and truly an “Ultimate Edition” of a great concept.