Everybody loves the idea of nostalgia gaming. If you were among the fortunate gamers who got to experience childhood in the 2d platforming days of Nintendo, Atari and Sega, you probably remember the hardships of spending hours in front of the television, playing games from start to finish because memory cards had yet to be invented. You probably also remember the frustration that came with running out of lives just short of victory. Some of us remember those days with more fondness than others, but being from that era, you’ve gotten to see the incredible leaps that gaming has made since. And despite these massive AAA experiences now on the market, like Halo, God of War, Assassin’s Creed, etc. there’s still a desire to return to the 2D platforming days of yesteryear.
Case and point, N++ a game that critics loved, but tends to tip the scale more in favor of punishment and frustration than it does fun and casual gaming. N++ is the third game to come out in the N series, which began as freeware developed by Metanet Software in 2004. Inspired by the side-scrolling games of our childhood, N won the audience choice award in the downloadable category of the Independent Games Festival in 2005. Having started out as an Adobe flash game, after many updates and a lot of feedback from players, the N series eventually made its way onto consoles with N+, which was released on Xbox 360, PSP, Playstation 4 and Nintendo DS. After garnering scores in the 80 percentile, N+ began building a cult following that eventually gained enough momentum for a next-gen sequel N++ and much like its predecessors, it’s captured the critical praise of a generation of gamers eager to relive the simpler days of 2d platforming. Though N++ might be inspired by simpler days, the game itself is anything but simple.
In the N series, players control a stick figure that acts and moves like a ninja. You play through tile-based levels, collecting gold, avoiding hazards, and trying to open an exit door. It’s what a Saw video game would look like if released on the Atari. The goal of this game is to complete each of the levels as fast as you can, without being blown to smithereens by the various traps and hazards setup throughout the levels. Each stage you progress through becomes increasingly difficult, and once you finish those, there are over a thousand more levels you can play, some of which have been designed by other players. If the frustration doesn’t drive you to throw your controller at a wall, you can literally play this game forever, and then make new levels so other players can play it forever.
N++ is a game that (despite not being overly fond of) I invested quite a few hours into. It’s gameplay is challenging, but it isn’t so challenging that you want to stop playing after dying a few times. While I can’t speak for PC and Playstation 4 players, I played it on the Xbox One and had to endure very little load time. The controls are probably the best part of the game. Unlike modern AAA titles, all you have to do is move from side to side and jump. Then there are the levels themselves, while some are incredibly frustrating, you don’t have to spend an exuberant amount of time trying to figure where and how to get from point A to point B, though, the act of getting there is far more complicated than figuring out the path. As for the level editor, who doesn’t love a good level editor, whether it’s a platforming game or a multiplayer map in a next-gen shooter, gamers love building levels that will frustrate the crap out of any poor soul who attempts them. While this is a very fun aspect of the game, it also has its downfalls. For example, they don’t exactly make it easy for you to test the levels you build, so while it might look really cool, you have no idea if it’s even beatable. Finally, I did enjoy my time with the multi-player. Much like Cuphead, playing with two people doesn’t make it easier, it makes it far more challenging, but in that challenge, there are so many different ways to play the game. Fortunately, only one of you has to finish the level, which means that sacrificing your teammate, while an undesirable strategy, can help speed things along.
As for the bad, let me start this out by saying that, while I did receive a review copy of this game, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about playing it. I’m one of those gamers who enjoy playing story-driven games, and as frustrating as they can sometimes be, a good payoff in the narrative can make the invested time feel worth it. This game was neither story-driven nor was it satisfying after putting in the time to play it. Not the fault of the developer, obviously people like this game, it’s just not my thing. That being said, several aspects of this game are overwhelming to say the least. There are far too many levels, many of them can be classified at a difficulty far beyond “challenging” and being timed only adds that much more stress to the gameplay. The obstacles, while fun to interact with, can be punishing if you over or under jump. While I do admire the game’s simplicity, if your reaction times are lacking, it’s going to be a nightmare.
After reading the reviews, many people seemed to love this game because of its precision and leaderboards, two things that don’t exactly play to the strength of casual gamers. The game is incredibly precise. You have time everything perfectly, and you won’t find many glitches that allow you to “barely beat” it. As for the leaderboards, yeah, they’re fun to look at, but the hours you would have to invest to even come close to getting on them are uncountable. All in all, the game is quite unforgiving and each time you think you have the puzzles figured out, they surprise you with new ways to endanger your wall and controller (and anybody who happens to be walking in between the two).
As far as platformers go, N++ definitely stands in a league of its own. It does a great job of recapturing the nostalgia of retro puzzle games, while (in the beginning stages) allowing you to mindlessly jump around until completing the level. However, everything past that point can be rather frustrating. I understand why people like this game, and why it has reviewed so well thus far, but for a game of this size, scope and difficulty, it’s not worth the $14.99 price point or the time it takes to reach levels that you’ll never finish. The multiplayer and level editor were two parts of the game that I enjoyed thoroughly, but not enough to get me going back to N++ instead of diving into the back catalog of games I have from 2017. For the nostalgia gamer, it’s like the trying things again with an ex-girlfriend only to be dumped for the second time. You’ll miss her, but in the end you can’t figure out why you tried in the first place.
(Please note that for this review, Pop Culture Cosmos/Game Source/Humannequin Media/Super BS Gamescast did receive a review code/model/sample from the company/developer/public relations firm responsible for distribution to the press.)