I’ve played ‘computer games’, as the general public know them for years. I’m 28, so I’m a member of the generation that grew up with games; the generation that started out playing a Spectrum and now plays the Xbox 360.
Of course, graphics have changed a hell of a lot since Treasure Island was the game to buy on the ‘Speccy’ back in the day, and – with the possible exception of the Nintendo Wii – the main selling point of every subsequent generation of gaming system has been the improvement in graphics.
Some people wrongly subscribe to the belief that Better Graphics = Better Game. That’s why the infamous but amazing looking Dragons Lair is one of the most successful arcade games of all time, despite costing double to play than any other and being absolutely terrible.
Things seemed to get a little bit out of control in the late 90s and early 2000s when every game had to be 3d. Graphics were often considered at the expense of gameplay and yet the irony is because these systems weren’t equipped to deal with 3D like the current generation, their games often look even more dated than the ones released on consoles like the SNES, Megadrive or Atari Jaguar. Look at the pictures for the perfect example.
Thankfully, the quest for the continual improvement of graphics has slowed down with systems like the Xbox 360 and PS3. The 3d graphics are as good as they can realistically get without making gaming too expensive for the masses to purchase, and crucially, with
the aid of the internet, 2D games have been able to make a comeback under the banner of Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Network, where graphics aren’t everything.
Only seven or eight years ago, the notion of Pac Man or Space Invaders making a comeback outside of some sort of Classic Games Collection would have been scoffed at, and yet they have found a new lease of life on XBLA. Some of the best and most innovative games to be released in the last few years have been on these platforms. If it wasn’t for XBLA and PSN, they wouldn’t have been produced.
And the ultimate example of that is – in my opinion – N+.
Ok, despite what I’ve written above, even I will admit when I first saw N+ I thought “That looks a little bit basic!” And I didn’t mean that in a good way.
But then I played it.
The point of the game is simple. You control a Ninja (which is what the N stands for) and your aim is to jump, dodge climb and rebound from walls to escape a room without dying or without the time running out.
Of course, it’s not that simple in its execution. The timer applies for the entire level (or ‘floor’ as is it called in the game) which amounts to 5 different rooms. So if you manage to beat the 3rd of the 5 rooms with only 10 seconds left on the timer, you’re pretty much screwed. To increase the amount of time available to you, you can collect gold – because as we all know, if there’s one thing that Ninjas live for, it’s financial compensation.
Also, there are many obstacles in the Ninja’s path though and anything that is dangerous to the Ninja will kill him instantly. These dangers include Droids of varying abilities (seeking missiles, flying droids, ground-based droids, chasing droids, laser droids and rapid fire droids), proximity & timed mines, laser & missile turrets, one-way walls that can trap players, falling blocks and even gravity itself (if you try and jump from too great a height to reach your target, or fall off a high ledge, the Ninja will die).
And there is a puzzle element as well. Often-times the exit door is locked or blocked by walls, so you have to flick the necessary switches to clear the way for your exit.
The controls fall in line with the simple look of the game. You move with the Left Stick, Jump with the A Button and if you are stuck, kill yourself with the X button.
But be aware; the direction and pressure you apply to the control stick as well as your timing pressing the A button determines how fast you run and how quickly you climb, so there is a lot of skill involved.
The game gets harder as it goes along. At first – and almost to lull you into a false sense of security – escaping the rooms is very easy. But as you progress through the levels, things begin to get tougher. It no longer becomes simply a case of moving from A to B, but rather you have to think about the best route to take, when it’s worth collecting gold, how to avoid the most dangers, whether or not you can make a jump without killing yourself. It certainly becomes a very challenging – and at times frustrating – game.
Thankfully, this game just manages to avoid being ‘too’ difficult. Yes, it will have you tearing your hair out, but as you have unlimited lives you will find yourself thinking ‘Ah, so I know what I can do to avoid that happening next time’, and as such success is achievable. And when you do manage to beat that level that has been troubling you for the last 3 hours, it’s a great feeling!
The game has a multiplayer element as well. You can play Co-Op levels locally or online where you and up to 3 partners have to join forces to find an escape route to the room. As I found to my chagrin though, in this case you are limited by the ability of your partner(s), so if they keep getting killed by a rocket before managing to unlock the door have made your way to for the 50th time it can get a little frustrating.
Alternatively there competitive multiplayer modes like ‘Race’ (where you have to get to the exit before your opponents) and ‘Survival’ (where you have to consume enough gold to outlast your opponent’s timer)
In an age where there are less and less ‘Local’ multiplayer games (as in games you can play with people sitting in the same room as you), N+ is a game you can come back to time and time again. Similarly, the single player brings with it long lasting appeal. Sometimes you’ll get annoyed at being unable to beat a level, but you’ll come back to it. And you’ll want to replay some of the harder ones just to prove that beating it wasn’t a fluke the first time.
The game comes with a generous amount of levels as well, so it’s not as if finishing the single player game will happen in a few hours, and beyond that, there are plenty of levels you can download and even the ability to create your own levels to play through.
Put it this way, I bought this game in 2008 and I still regularly play it. I don’t think there is any other game I bought that year that I can say the same about.
To sum up, N+ is a game worth signing up to Xbox Live for. It is what gaming should be about. No, the graphics aren’t great, but they don’t need to be. You can sit back and enjoy the wonderful visuals in the cut scenes and general play of Halo: Reach or Mass Effect 2 but the chances are you won’t come back to these games more than once after your initial playthrough – if that! N+ isn’t a game where you sit back and think ‘Wow, that looks spectacular’, but the chances are you’ll be sitting there thinking ‘Just one more go before bed’ a few hours after you have finished off the 8 hour campaign mode of your latest big budget First Person Shooter. And whatsmore, because it’s on XBLA it only costs £7.50
Thankfully, you don’t even have to take my word for how good this game is because – as with all Xbox Live Arcade titles – you can download a free trial version of the game.
So go on and give it a try!