I didn’t really know what to expect, beyond the obvious, when I first started playing N++. I knew the game was a puzzle platformer that boasted stylishly minimalistic visuals and would probably make me pull my hair out by the end of the review (I’ve never been the type to master genre titles in the past, despite my great affection for them). But there I was with a weekend to kill, and confidence bolstered by a number of new and fresh speedrunners I had watched ace their way through various titles in this year’s SGDQ not so long ago, thinking, “yeah, I could do that.” As it happens, I’m not destined to master the physics-based puzzle platforming genre, but that’s okay, because N++ was a blast to play, even for a talentless hack like me.
The first thing you should know is that N++ varies slightly from most other puzzle platformers in that the game’s physics (acceleration, inertia, etc) are not a consequence of gameplay, but more of a core focus than I’m used to in similar titles. Learning to master the technique of gaining acceleration bonuses, jump height bonuses, or mitigate the “cratering” effect of long falls is pivotal in your journey through the game’s 2,360 hand-crafted levels. Thankfully, the game is broken up into both blocks and rows of tiles, each containing several thematically similar challenges with new mechanics, themes, and enemies slowly introduced in a manner that’s intuitive and gentle without being patronizingly obvious. It strikes a rather clever balance of being simple enough to understand, despite its lack of explanatory text, yet never quite so frustrating as to spoil the “eureka” moment.
Stylistically, N++ is brilliant—clean, efficient, and functional, yet swelling with a minimalistic beauty. Everything on screen has a function, yet contributes to a form at large. The effects (particularly of the death variety) are particularly entertaining and just satisfying enough to alleviate the frustrations of failure. It all reminds me of the sort of thing I grew up playing on Newgrounds, and being the platform that spawned Super Meat Boy, as well as plenty of others, that’s pretty high praise.
The core loop for N++ features one key departure from the norm that I think truly sets it apart. It’s not just about platforming around levels, avoiding traps and enemies, to unlock a door and escape; there’s a time-based mechanic involved. Each block in the level selector contains five maps, as it were, which have a set amount of time in which all of them must be completed. Within each map, there are numerous gold coins that can be collected, each of which will add two seconds of available time. For the most part, more than enough of these coins can be acquired as a consequence of maneuvering your stick-ninja towards the exit, but there are an awful lot of these coins that are in remote or otherwise extremely difficult to reach parts of the maps. Cue the hundred-percenters.
As an experiment, after I had finished my first couple hundred maps or so, I decided to take what I had learned and attempt to apply it to collecting ALL the coins in each map. Suffice it to say that this is when any romantic notions I once maintained about becoming a speedrunner were well and truly put to rest. But holy eff, next year’s AGDQ/SGDQ is going to be a blast if someone runs this game. Paired with the level creator (which already has more than ten thousand custom maps thanks to the PS4 community) and the unlockable colour palettes that range from soothing, to striking, all the way to retina-piercing, this is a game that feels destined for those events. Meanwhile, even just playing it for yourself is a thrilling experience. Frustrating at times, but ultimately soothing and rewarding thanks to its excellent blend of stylishly simple visuals and taxing puzzles, all put to an excellent soundtrack with influences of both Trip Hop and Synthwave—wonderful.
Despite my great affection for them, I’m not the biggest fan of actually playing puzzle platformers. I am however a huge fan of playing games with clever, intuitive, and elegant design. Whether you enjoy either the former or the latter, or any combination of the two, N++ is a game that’s all-too easy to time travel with; sitting down with it during a coffee break, only to look up and discover it’s tomorrow.