- Street Date:
- July 28th, 2015
- Reviewed by:
- Brian Hoss
- Review Date:1
- July 28th, 2015
- Game Release Year:
- Sony Computer Entertainment
- ESRB Rating:
- RP (Rating Pending)
Digital PS4 version reviewed.
In the beginning there was 'N.' In time, 'N+' came to inhabit the 360. And now, according to endless declarations from the game's two person team, 'N++' has arrived on the PS4 as the "last, best version" of the 2D ninja series.
In many ways, the 'N' series has represented an ideal, that of a pure platformer. The only controls on the normally cluttered right side of the controller are jump and suicide. And while death is frequent, and time an ever-present, but still secondary worry, it's the levels and their devious obstacles that make all of the jumping, running, floating, wall-grabbing, and sliding come together like a beautiful dance. If done successfully, the gameplay is poetry, but frustration, brutal difficulty, and a nearly impassable brick wall lie in wait, near or far depending on the player and their specific to-the-moment readiness.
But while the level design of the series can bring order to chaos and vice versa, it's the game's physics that have made the best and worst levels worthwhile. Thus, it has taken new hardware to make a new 'N' worth the effort. 'N++' arrives on the PS4 with a 1080p/60fps presentation that is the sharpest in the biz, and with a staggering (at release) 2360 levels spread across modes. The new levels are full of dastardly new obstacles and enemies, but the aim is the same, unlock and reach the goal. Clear each five episode level set with time remaining. Clear with more time left to ascend the leaderboards, capture all the gold, and so on. In what is a startling move, local co-op supplements the single player experience (no online co-op beyond SharePlay), and that co-op, while supporting four players, is really meant for two.
'N++' houses its own replays of successful runs, and the game wants players to make and share their own levels as nearly as bad as any game out there. Though the game is simple, its strengths and weaknesses, while in the eye of the beholder, are a challenge to nail down.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
In my life, I have twice before devoured the joy and trouble that is 'N.' 'N+' on the Xbox 360 would be a required a study were I to write out any kind of gaming curriculum while the original 'N' is nothing short of a rabbit hole willing to suck a user in for free on every PC (more than worth braving Flash for). In contrast, 'N+' on the PSP and DS is not something I care for.
If there was any doubt about the triumph of 'N+,' one need only look to its recent arrival on the Xbox One as a backwards compatible 360 title. Incomplete though it is, 'N+' still rocks, and still demands the player become a momentum precise ninja.
With this love of the series in mind, I couldn't really pretend not to expect very good things from 'N++,' which I have been anxiously awaiting since its named announcement as a PS4 title, and before that, more nebulously as an unseen successor to 'N+.' After playing 'N++' for the first time earlier this year, any doubts I had were dispatched in a pile of stick ninja body parts. The feel was there, the look was even better, and the design, well it was the desired mix of new and old. 'N++' felt made to order for me, and if anything, the final product is even better. It runs wonderfully, and is full of clever and useful surprises.
And so, in order to really review 'N++' with any kind of critical eye, I needed some help. While I'm a devoted series veteran, my visiting 12 year old nephew is just about the opposite.
Putting his Xbox One run through of 'Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare' on pause, I let him know that we were going to play some co-op in a different game. My very young nephew is used to playing co-op in the 'Lego' games (and 'Disney Infinity' and so forth), and as I loaded up 'N++,' he asked the chilling and very telling question "is this just a game where you move the guy across the screen?"
Out of the mouth of babes, he had cut right to it. It's a 2D platformer, and a barren looking one by Mario standards. This same kid who had passed the controller on after five minutes of Riddler trophy hunting in 'Batman: Arkham Knight,' despite a love for all things Batman, was already issuing evasive signals as though I had dialed up a plate of vegetables.
As I ignored his murmuring about letting me just play while he watched, I entered into co-op. As I fumbled around, not understanding how exactly to get a second player in (Press X in the level select screen), we wound up not only in co-op, but I accidentally skipped the first 30 or so levels. Those would be levels that are meant to teach the basics. Somehow, inexplicably, the kid took to 'N++' like a pre-teen fish to water. We died many times. Sometimes, I could do the hard part of co-op, or even complete a level on my own, but just as often, we both had to survive, usually with one of use needing to hug some mines to get the other through.
He was hardly perfect. Tougher levels saw him running again and again into the same first mine while I tried to preach patience and control. Still, before I could explain wall running, floating or slide slowing, we had run through some 50 levels. (The limit on the fall-height I did have to explain as we encountered some more open levels.) He would often cheese up and try to jump up a wall without momentum or needlessly touch all the toggle mines- unconsciously he could display some impressive skill, skill which abated if started overthinking anything.
He attributed his relatively smooth adaptation to playing as the result of time spent playing Mario games on the Wii. What I found to be endlessly surprising is that while he was too impatient to examine a level carefully right off (like say before it had started), the two of us together could actively puzzle out and execute episode solutions as though we'd played the game for ages. For myself, the new obstacles the 'N++' throws in, like the toggle mines, shadow ninjas, and chop boxes are simple enough to encounter, study, and then attempt to circumvent. For my nephew, the whole of the game was this way. See an enemy or a trap, watch it kill you, and then avoid it. (The old "it hurts when I do that" joke applies).
At one point, we hit a level we couldn't puzzle out. On each side there was a switch hidden behind toggle mines. We could hit both switches, but that left no one left to exit the episode. In our frustration, I reasoned that an inert third player would be enough. I didn't have a third player on-hand or even a third controller so… that meant firing up Remote Play on the Vita. (My nephew had never seen a Vita before, so this idea momentarily blew his mind. He also thought that we must be missing another useful controller input like the triggers, but I assured him, it was only jump and suicide.)
Sure enough, with a third body, we could beat the episode, and we went on to beat the whole level. (I've since remembered and been reminded about using two players to get past one of the trigger mine traps to get the switch without dieing.)
But as the game announced when I readied a third player in, having a player 3 and 4 takes both high scores and built-in replays off the table.
With this whole approach, I gambled. I thought for sure the kid would be bored well before I could illustrate that the game was fun. I also thought that my experience with the series and his inexperience would diffuse the game's magic. At least, I thought we would only make it a few levels before hitting a co-op wall.
'N++' beat those expectations to a pulp, and often in ways that made me scratch my head. My nephew could accomplish a lot by being reckless, but also a lot just by being dogged. In one level, I had to pass through a one way platform which held the exit, and then hit a series of switches on either side while my nephew did the same in the starting area. The trick was that I had to die/become trapped to hit the last switch, and to reach the one way platform and exit (and toggle mines) my nephew had (I thought) to use one of two toggle mined ramps to get the speed needed.
I watched instead as he toggled on all the mines I carefully had avoided, and seemingly ruined the run. Then, just as I was about to comment, he jumped up. Not high enough to pass through the one-way platform, but high enough to barely touch the exit, which allowed us to beat the level.
That solution is crazy to watch on replay, but for most levels, the solution is only as good as all of the collected failures. The physics of 'N++' mean that some co-op solutions require blowing up one player in such a way that the pieces clear out rows of mines. Certainly an exercise in controlled chaos.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Unlike so many platformers, 'N++' adheres to its classic, clean aesthetic, sneaking in a few nice touches in a world where the foreground and background are never in doubt. One such area are the designs of the killer enemy bots, whose little shapes are as ominous as just about any cold, killing machine could hope for.
The game uses a plethora of color palettes that the user can select and unlock to keep things fresh. This seems to have limited ninja variety, but the palettes are nonetheless well worth mixing in. As I'm guessing with most users, I have my favorites, while most others I'd never care to use more than once.
The game's near pixel perfect vector graphics might not wow the uninitiated, but they nevertheless make 'N++' stand out even among the indie platformer crowd.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Sound effects for 'N++' are minimal and yet extremely potent in achieving their desired effect. What's more surprising is the game's 63-track soundtrack, which suits the electronic ninja action and can be controlled by the player. Some annoying electric sounds from physics funnies and dead ninjas are an example of the game's few minor sound issues.
'N++' is packed with a quoted 2360 levels at launch. (That number includes Legacy levels.) Then there is the level creator which is meant for sharable levels. There are colors to unlock and trophies to earn. There is local co-op and race modes. Oh, and there is the ever tempting and distracting desire to get all of gold in each level (or at least each level where it seems feasible).
There isn't any online co-op short of using SharePlay, and this is a big problem for many, one that the devs have been quick to excuse on account of potential lag and dev time. At the same time, however, there have been promises of additional included content (and a price bump) to come in time. While the game seems poised for further growth through updates, it's preferable that at launch it's nice and meaty.
It's possible that the 'N' in 'N++' stands for niche, but within that niche, the game easily bests almost everything a fan could ask for. For me, the co-op test with a next-gen kiddo beat expectations in a way that only winning gameplay can muster. The newest, and best version of a game whose subtitle could be 'Poetry in Motion and Killer bots' is a triumph on the PS4. Only users who absolutely hate everything about platformers should think hard before giving 'N++' a deep look, while everyone else should partake and celebrate the final form of this landmark series.
- Offline Co-op
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