God damnit. There is nothing relaxing or meditative about N++. Most of the time, I’m uttering inappropriate words under my breath, clenching my fists, sweating profusely, and hoping I don’t mess up the next jump. And when I do, there’s a good chance I’m going to scream.
If you’re wondering “hey, haven’t I heard of this game before?” that’s probably because N+ was an early standout on Xbox Live Arcade in 2008, which itself was based on a 2005 web game. Raigan Burns and Mare Sheppard have been building on N’s formula for 10 years now, and it’s just as addictive in 2015. It’s incredibly fun to be totally pissed off in N++.
The difference between 2005 and 2015 is subtle, if you’re only looking at the game’s visuals.
N++ is a platformer, but one focused on momentum. Other hardcore platformers like Super Meat Boy give you some control over the character while you’re in the air, allowing you to pull off ridiculous feats and often course correct ill-timed jumps. That’s much harder to do in N++, as you’re often building your next jump off the last jump, so if the first one was wrong? Bzzt.
This is further complicated by mines that will blow you up:
Missiles that will track you across the map:
Ghosts that will shadow your movements and kill you if touched:
And god damn lasers everywhere:
There’s plenty more out there, too, slowly unraveled as you progress through the game’s hundreds and hundreds of stages. (A level editor ensures there will be plenty others, as well.)
Death is everywhere in N++, but the series’ masterstroke has always been the ability to quickly start from scratch. You don’t have to wait for death to come to you; the game has a suicide button that allows you to restart the moment it becomes clear you’ve messed up a jump. Within a few minutes, as you come to grips with the game’s nuances, it’ll become clear when mistakes are made before they appear on the screen—your fingers will communicate the error. If you had to wait anything more than a nanosecond to try again, this wouldn’t work, since the frustration would add up. But since giving it another go takes no time at all, what’s the harm in trying?
The basic goal remains the same: get to the exit. Getting there, however, ain’t easy, and it’s only become more complicated as the developers have added new hooks like friend leaderboards.
See, the exit won’t reward you with the highest score; you also need to collect the little yellow dots all over the screen, too. If that wasn’t enough, your score drops the longer it takes you to finish the stage, so the best outcome is a devilish combination of speed and accuracy. Unfortunately, engaging in either of those often results in death, as the best way through any N+ stage is taking your time and planning your moves. Good luck!
When N++ is operating at its best, everything feels barely out of reach, and it’s what keeps you coming back. “Oh, I barely missed that jump, I’ll get it next time.” “Eh, I can probably find a way to nab those other yellow dots, lemme try that level again.” “Damn, my friend only beat me by a few points, I’ll have to make another run.”
Sometimes, though, I wonder why I’m playing.
N++ gets me legitimately angry sometimes; the closest I’ve come to throwing a controller in my adult life is while playing these games. But N++ is purposely masochistic, trying to scratch the same itch one gets from tearing down a nasty boss in Dark Souls or making it all the way to Hell and back in Spelunky. It trusts the player will have an occasional moment of glory, a triumph of the virtual will, and that joyful drip-drip-drip will have them coming back when all seems lost.
And there’s so much to get lost in with N++, too—I’ve barely scratched the surface. I haven’t touched on the user created levels, the underrated co-op, or the competitive race mode that sounds like a great way to inspire lots of shouting amongst drunk people on a Saturday night.
You need to be in the right mood to enjoy N++, but when you are, there’s nothing else like it.
You can reach the author of this post at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @patrickklepek.