When I first heard that Metanet's minimalist ninja game N was going to be released on Xbox Live Arcade as N+, I have to say I was skeptical. An excellent free game for the PC, why would I want to spend my hard-earned monies on a game that uses a mere fraction of the power of my Xbox 360, filling up my widescreen TV with a game that looks like it could have been made 15 years ago? The answer, in short, is that it completely kicks ass. N+ is gaming distilled down to its component elements. You have a door, switches, and obstacles. Your job is to get to the door. Simple. The single player is as fun (and as frustrating) on the 360 as it was on the PC, but where N+ really shines is in the multiplayer.
A Lone Ninja
The single player game is exactly what you would expect - stage after stage of increasingly complicated obstacles separating you from your door. At first you might simply have to jump from column to column, but soon you'll be introduced to homing missiles, rotating lasers, roaming electric sentry balls, and a whole host of diabolical little devices trying to keep you from escaping. Each of the game's levels is split up into five stages, with a timer counting down that can be refilled by collecting the gold in each stage.
The only real problem I had with the single player game was that the difficulty is all over the board. There really doesn't seem to be a steady build in difficulty, with some of the most difficult stages followed by the simplest. I suppose it's nice to take a break from the grind now and then, but it can tend to put you off your guard as you progress.
As you play you're sure to find a level that completely kicks your ass. I found quite a few as I progressed through single player, and while I was frustrated I wasn't discouraged. The small stages really lend themselves to repeated attempts, keeping the frustration level at a dull roar. I personally spent two hours retrying one level that was particularly tricky without even realizing the time had passed. That's a very rare occurrence for me, and a testament to N+'s brilliant design.
Single player is great and all, but the game really transforms itself in multiplayer mode. I'm not talking about the Survival Mode or the Race Mode here, but the four-player co-op. Teaming up with three other (good) players completely changes the experience. Playing over the same levels in single player mode the teams I have gotten with have come up with some truly innovative and entertaining ways to use our numbers to our advantage. Common tactics include sacrificing yourself to take out a batch of mines, allowing your teammates safer passage through tough areas, or having one player keep a homing missile busy by moving in circles while the others pass safely. All in all, N+ might be the most fun I've had in a multiplayer Xbox Live Arcade title.
For the most part, co-op multiplayer runs smoothly, though I've noticed some particularly nasty lag at times that can completely screw up a well-orchestrated plan of attack. Still, overall I haven't had too many problems finding a match to show off my utter lack of skill in.
Choose Your Own Ninja Adventure
N+ includes a level editor, and while I've not spent too much time with it, I can see where creating your own challenges could be a blast, especially when tailored to your own particular strengths so that you can let your skills shine. My experience with the editor is limited to seeing how many homing missiles I can avoid at one time. Answer? Not many. I hate homing missiles.
Go Ninja, Go Ninja Go!
N+ might not look like much, but it doesn't have to. The game is a triumph of substance over style, delivering raw gameplay without worrying about any of the bells and whistles game publishers feel are so necessary in today's high-end titles.