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.