A few people might get their knickers in a knot over a game that was initially released to the masses across the Internet as a freebie, to then be presented with a pay-to-play alternative. This may hold particularly true to those who like to play their flash games as a way of getting out of work or school. Originally released in 2005, N took inspiration from old school platformers such as Lode Runner and Soldat, as well as a 1980's 'Way of the Ninja' image. After several additions and revisions, the freeware developers have now released an enhanced version on the Xbox Live Arcade in the form of N+.
N+ retains the same concept as it's freeware predecessor. You play a stick-figure ninja, who has to platform their way through a level to find a switch. Once the switch is found, the exit opens up, where by then you proceed out. However, you've only got a 90-second time limit, which lasts across five levels. There's no need to fret though, as this time limit can be extended by collecting the gold scattered in most levels. It's not compulsory to collect the gold, but your final score is determined by how much time you have left at the end.
The single player portion of N+ is divided into 50 episodes. Each episode is divided into five levels, and you start with the 90 second limit. To get to the end of the episode, you need to complete all five levels within the time limit. As mentioned above though, you'll have a chance to increase that time limit. As simple as all of the sounds, it actually can become a very difficult exercise due to the numerous hazards that you're exposed to and some dastardly designs. You may be a nimble stick-ninja but you'll find that the game demands a high level of skill.
Through over 300 creatively (and sometimes deviously) structured levels, you've got to contend with mines, homing missiles, lasers, moving blocks, chainguns, floorguards, electrically charged enemies and long drops to a painful splat on the ground. What's more, players will need to contend with a mixture of realistic physics and controls that demand precision. While the console controls allow for much more precision then the PC controls, the game can still be very uncompromising, as you'll often want to do something, only to see a lack of a response.
N+ is a very enjoyable and addictive game, but it can get very frustrating. While most levels can be wiped through reasonably quickly, some will just crop up and take a long, long time to finish. With infinite retries, you could spend a lot of time just trying to finish the one level. It's a combination of fiendish level design and frustration with the controls, which are good, but demand a level of precision and an understanding of the game's physics, which is crucial to your success.
Just like it's freeware predecessor, N+ has the option of making user-created levels, which is actually a very simple process and you have the ability to export them. While there aren't too many out there at the moment, we're looking forward to seeing what weird and wonderful creations the community can come up with. Downloadable content is promised in the future as well. N+ has a number of co-operative and competitive multi player modes. Though again, there aren't as many contenders as we would have liked.
The game is only 13Mb, so you can't really expect a visual or audio feast. Still, both aspects of the presentation get the job done really well and faithfully replicate the spirit of its freeware predecessor. The minimalist visuals may not push the system but there is an uncanny charm in their simplicity, though you could argue that the gray makes for some dull scenery. While the sound effects and the music are rather limited, they seem like a throwback to an era once past.
While 50 episodes may not seem that much, N+ is actually much better value then it lets on. While 800 points is a decent price, the game would have been brilliant at 400 points. Still, the game is a great addictive challenge but one that can get very, very frustrating at times, particularly when things aren't happening as you want them to. As a bonus though, you can create your own content and play against and with friends. While not as illustrious as some counterparts, N+ lets you let out a different kind of inner-Ninja, as well as providing one of the better XBLA games available.