'Oops' is a word you’ll often see in N++, but it never quite epitomises the correct feeling of watching your tiny ninja avatar splatter into a thousand pieces from a landmine. Nor will it truly capture the frustration of watching them mulch into a pile of limbs because you missed landing a jump by a fraction. It does, however, give you a sense of the game you’re playing; one where you’re taxed by nimble movement, often unfair circumstances and rooms of death. Seeing the word 'Oops' on the death screen feels like the developer is giving you a mocking nudge in the ribs as it goads you into trying one more time, because after all, the concept of the game is very simple: run and jump.
There is no plot for N++ and there doesn’t need to be. The game spells this out clearly in the ‘story’ section of the main menu – you’re a ninja, you like gold, you’re incredibly fast, but this means your natural lifetime is only 1.5 minutes. You like exploring rooms and they come in sets of five. It’s obvious that the developer made a great game based around precision platforming, then stuck its tongue firmly in its cheek to add on a story. N++ doesn’t need a narrative, it needs good mechanics and interesting level design. And it has these in spades.
The aim of each episode is to reach a button which opens the exit to the level, thus ending the episode before your lifespan of 90 seconds runs out. This can be topped up by collecting gold pick-ups strewn around the room, each adding a small increment of time and giving you a little longer to reach the end. Not that there’s really an end in sight as the game features hundreds of levels and the ability to download more from creators across the world.
This is pure bitesize gaming. A level can take just a few seconds to complete, even with numerous deaths a room will be reset repeatedly until you finally land the movement you need, but it will take mere minutes. Rarely does a set of rooms require a marathon session, unless you want to play the ‘hardcore’ mode, which changes up the rules and puts more emphasis on balance. In ‘hardcore’, time restraints become stricter and deaths don’t reset the clock, it keeps ticking away piling on pressure and forcing you to decide between taking a chance to score more gold or just dash for the exit.
Of course, our tiny ninja has many obstacles in their way. There are turrets that blast lasers, others that launch homing missiles. Robots dash towards you intent on killing if you step into their line of sight, there are landmines everywhere and lots of glowing orbs that cause you to explode upon touching them. And all you’re armed with is a jump button.
Admittedly, that jump button is pretty special. A brief tap and you’ll effectively hop over gaps; hold it longer and the ninja will soar through the air. Get a bit of a run-up and momentum will launch you across the rooms with carefree abandon. Momentum is key to N++, without it your ninja will fall to their death or simply miss jumps resulting in a loss of time. Sprinting up ramps and hitting jump at just the right point is all there is to it, but it’s not that easy. If only it were.
Our ninja is a floaty little swine. He can be hard to control at points and often feels like a helium balloon on the loose. It’s easy for him to drift off course, especially if you prefer the stick to the D-pad and this isn’t ideal when running through tight corridors of bombs or landing on minuscule platforms. Considering this, N++ is still precision platforming at its best and its unforgiving angle is part of the charm.
Some rooms feel structured to drive you insane, leaving gold pieces in places that seem impossible to reach and you’ll want to try getting them all if your goal is to hit that lofty 100% mark in the stats screen. This screen, it must be said, is incredibly detailed. So if you like analysing where you go wrong or which levels you can better, the devs have you covered.
More gold and more levels means customisation. Change the colour of the ninja, give them a jaunty scarf that flutters through the air and you can even change up the music or colour palettes of the levels. These are purely cosmetic changes, the base controls never change, but it is nice to put your own spin on how things look. And while the game is very minimalist, it achieves a beauty in its simplicity. The animation of the ninja is just lovely and everything feels butter smooth. Some may find it hard to constantly watch such a small sprite move around, however. It can be a strain on the eyes.
That’s a small quibble because N++ is a joy to play. The difficulty ramps up slowly and steadily and even when the rooms become harder, you know that you just have to adapt your skillset. You can always rope in a friend or three for some co-op play or race through the obstacles. This spices up the playstyle greatly and brings a competitive edge to proceedings. As mentioned previously, there’s a lot of content here and while the servers weren’t online for community creations, there’s bound to be a wealth of new levels vetted by the developer itself every day.
Bags of levels and increasing difficulty will keep N++ refreshing for hours and days on end. The mechanics are simple and yet incredibly deep, which opens up a wonderful game brimming with customisation options and new modes to try out. Floaty controls sometimes hamper progress, but the deaths are always spectacular.