The fact that I am able to type this review today is nothing short of a miracle. That is not meant in a way that appreciates the cognitive ability it takes to write something but more so that after the hours I have put into N++ I just figured my hands would be locked into a controller holding shape for life. This iteration of N++ has been a few years coming and postponed with a few niggly delays but it has absolutely been worth the wait, prepare to have your nerves and fingers utterly destroyed.
For those who have never experienced N or N+ there isn’t too much to catch up on - you play as a Ninja and you must traverse a series of rooms, avoiding numerous and varied obstacles as you try to reach that elusive exit. Each level is broken up into five rooms, each delivering their own unique conundrum that will test your mental strength and digit dexterity. You’ll have ninety seconds to reach the end, but collecting gold units throughout the level will give you a bonus of two seconds and thus help you achieve a better leaderboard score. Armed only with your D-Pad (or analogue stick) and two buttons, X for jump and triangle for retry, you are thrown into a minimalist world of trial and error, filled with incredible failure and glorious success.
One of the most important, if not the most important, elements of a precision platformer like N++ is that the player’s precision must be accurately relayed into the game otherwise failure feels like a cheat and success unearned. Thankfully N++ is so liquid-smooth that it oozes from your screen in a sumptuous 60fps and movement is sub-pixel perfect, Metanet have done a wonderful job in giving the players absolute faith that they will never be short-changed by a rogue hitbox, even if the player would rather blame it on anything but themselves. To complement the clean and slick look of N++ is an amazing soundtrack that is brimming in terms of talent, atmosphere and sheer volume. There are around sixty tracks for your ears to savour and it will be a long time before you start to notice repeats in the soundtrack. From the tech House of Len Faki to the ambient electronica of Planet Boelex every music choice is on point and Metanet very graciously acknowledge all of the artists in the credits, and also link out to each of the band's web pages in a class-act move.
With a killer visual and aural aesthetic in place it would all count for nought if the rest of the package was wanting, but again Metanet could not possibly give the player any more than they have here. In single-player Play mode there are around 1000 levels, and you‘d be forgiven for thinking that over the course of 1000 levels there may be some duds but you would be wrong. Having played through a couple of hundred of the rooms, not once did it feel like anyone at Metanet let a sub-par level make the cut. Every level feels like it has been obsessed over and playtested to an inch of its life; every jump’s length is considered and every enemy, whether it be rocket launcher or mine, is optimised to be challenging but not unfair. Furthering that genuinely staggering amount of gameplay is the co-op mode allowing you to team up and take on a new set of levels. In co-op only one of you will need to make it to the exit, this will require you to help each other or in some cases you’ll need to sacrifice yourself to help make it out. The race mode adds a level of competitive edge to proceedings, with frantic races to collect gold and reach the exit proving to be nail-biting stuff.
Believe it or not all of that content is purely the tip of the iceberg, N++ is set up to hand itself over to its community and with its level editor the world of N++ is going to expand at an astounding rate. The editor that is provided is robust and easy to use and is a tool that is going to see N++ last for a very, very long time. Any levels you create can be uploaded for others to explore and set their best scores, these may even make it onto the ‘Featured’ section or perhaps someone may use the follow option to keep a track if their score has been bested. There has been great care given to making sure the players develop a community and that the community can interact with each other’s creations for a long time ahead. Already there are a staggering amount of levels and I couldn’t even put a rough figure on how many levels will be created in the next week alone. It’s a perfect way to round off an amazing package, and if nothing else, creating your own level will make you really appreciate the work that has gone into creating the 1000 or so levels in the main game.
The real hero of N++ however is its gameplay, which treads a sumptuous line of frustration and elation at all times. Each level will need to be repeated a number of times and broken into sections to achieve success. One of the greatest successes on show here is that it pushes you to the brink of controller-throwing anger and then suddenly the solution starts to become apparent, and when you eventually piece it all together you will be hard pressed to have a more satisfactory gaming experience any time soon. There is no talking down to players here, you will need to master the way of the ninja to get through each level; from acing wall sliding to slowing yourself down to perfecting timing your jumps to build momentum you will be the master of your own destiny with no help from the developer. Make no mistake N++ gets difficult, really difficult, but there’s always a solution that will present itself eventually. The difficulty may put some people off but the reward of success is incredible.
The true hero of N++ is my Dualshock 4, it didn’t snap as I squeezed it out of anger and it didn’t slip out of my hands as I moved around as if moving the controller would make me jump higher or further. It’s been a long time since a game has made me physically interact with it when the game was never designed for it. Where I would once lean left and right on my sofa while playing Mario Kart, N++ has made me completely forget myself and that is a testament to what Metanet have achieved. This is a game that fulfils the vision that the developer always had for the title and it has been delivered with confidence, consideration and with a firm eye on developing a community. N++ is a gem, a deliciously evil little treat wrapped in moreish gameplay that most developers can only dream of, eliciting cheers and screams in equal measure. Traumatising brilliance.