Why N++ Strikes a Chord With Me
Hello again! I’ve decided to take a small break from my anime reviews to talk to you all about basically the game that I play. Yes, I got briefly back into The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth but that was a small excursion from my usual habit of religiously devoting hours a day to a momentum platformer called N++.
If you don’t immediately recognize it, then you’ll probably recognize its grandpa, N.
N is a flash game in which you play as a ninja that has to pass through collections of five levels (called episodes), avoiding mines, rockets, turrets, and drones to reach the exit. You die in one hit, and your controls are very floaty. N later was updated into Nv1.4, and then even later into Nv2.0, and then it finally got an official sequel titled N+. You can then reasonably assume that N++ came after that.
However, I was two when N was released in March of 2004. N+ was released for the handheld consoles DS and PSP, which I never had. N++ itself was released for PS4 in 2015, and for the PC in 2016. Now this was a more reasonable time for me to discover the game and begin to play it. I have basically played PC games my whole life (PC master race, woot woot), and I was already known to be very into arcade style games. But no! 14 year-old me in 2016 was completely oblivious still, and during the time that I was unaware, an expansion to the game came out in 2017, making it N++ Ultimate Edition. However, it was later the same year that I finally discovered this series, as I bought it on steam in December of 2017, as a 16 year old.
Shout-out to my friend Liam for showing me this game when I went to his house once. Thanks, man.
But! This article isn’t exactly about the history of the N series. It’s about how this travels through all the right pathways in my brain, and has made its mark on me as a person. Oh, and how if any of what I’m about to describe sounds relatable to you, you should absolutely check it out. Without further ado… let’s begin!
Now is when I have to figure out what is most important to say about N++. I think I’ll mention things in the order you would notice them as a new player. The game is ferociously minimalist; the UIs are purely utilitarian, the main menu just has the normal game playing in the background, the music is constant and goes through a “radio” selection of songs, the visuals consist of lines and basic shapes, and there’s no story (except on the technicality that there are two paragraphs under the “story” option on the main menu, but that doesn’t really count).
When you play the actual game, your level selection is just a grid. A series of boxes. Your tutorial is wordless, unless you navigate to the “help” option in the main menu, which I would say is very much optional. The actual tutorial, the Intro tab, has lines of gold to incentivize you to learn your movement options and that’s that, maybe with level titles as hints.
That, of course, is when you will notice the main draw of this game. The movement.
My best word to describe it would be smooth. My second best word would be floaty. My third, fourth, and fifth are high skill ceiling. I have never played a game with better controls. Yes, as implied with “floaty”, the ninja feels very light, and can stay in the air quite a long time. Also, since the physics play a lot into momentum, you have to spend a good amount of time figuring out how long it takes to cancel out your inertia. If you’re going full speed to the right, you have to press left much sooner than you think if you want to make a tight turnaround.
But that is what gives this game such a high skill ceiling. Being good at that stuff isn’t necessary for playing the base game. There are a few times it will make you have to do tight maneuvers, but only in the later levels, by which point you should be plenty capable of doing what it asks of you, and what it asks of you is not nearly the limit of how tight you can get it. Getting good at this game feels good. You have so much room for improvement at all times, it’s crazy. I’m 1,500 hours in and I can still feel myself getting better. The way you can jump off slopes, the angles you can get when hitting the corners of blocks, how close you can get to different hitboxes without touching them… the speed you can obtain when playing perfectly. It’s ridiculous. And the whole game is built around making attaining that level of skill feel natural and engaging.
Speaking of the base game (even if I said it at the beginning of the last paragraph…)
So, slight spoiler alert. The biggest thing that separates N++ from its predecessors. The — here’s where the spoiler is — secret challenges!
The base game is compsoed of 385 episodes, each of which has 5 levels, making 1925 levels just to beat the base game. That’s not including co-op, which essentially doubles this number. But then, there are 240 secret levels. Well, what’s 240 more levels in the face of the previous 1925? That doesn’t sound like a huge addition to the game.
To which I say: no no no no, you don’t understand… to get these secret levels, you have to complete secret challenges.
There are 4 tabs. The Intro tab, the N++ tab, the Ultimate tab, and the Legacy tab. N++ and Ultimate each have one secret level per episode, and to get the secret level for the episode, you have to complete secret challenges for each level within the episode. That’s right. 1200 of the levels from the base game have at least one secret challenge. Many — most — have multiple. That takes a single level and turns it into sometimes more than five separate experiences. This, once again, nearly doubles the content in the game.
To see these challenges, you also have to collect all the gold in a level, though that is a less hidden goal. Each of the secret levels also have their own secret challenges, except these levels are known to be chock full of them, so they are each maybe four to five experiences on average.
I have also, up to this point, failed to mention the no-death runs of episodes, and also the hardcore stories, each of which are 25 levels in a row. Oh, and of course, no-death runs of the hardcore stories are also rewarded with completion points.
By now I hope you are appreciating the full breadth of content this game has. It is insanity. And this… this is all the official stuff!
I’m personally drawn to the game largely by two other factors. First and most intended, userlevels.
As if the normal game wasn’t enough, you have virtually endless content in the form of user made maps, and some of the people making levels are unbelievably good at it. Admittedly, this game is… a bit buggy, which is its whole own discussion, but it basically never inhibits gameplay. It is very apparent, however, in the menus. To make it quick, the Best & Top Weekly tabs are broken, as well as the Tracked & Favorited By Friends tabs, oh and the Made By Friends tab. So. Many tabs here are completely defunct.
But what is here is great! You can either scroll through Newest to see what’s been going on as of late, or you can pass through Featured to see what the devs of the game themselves have vetted and decided are userlevels worth showing off. They are meant to be representative of the highest quality that the mapping community has to offer. I would tend to agree that they hold to this standard, and that is not biased by the fact that I am now on the review team, thank you very much… ahem, anyways.
Behold some userlevels I think help illustrate my point:
I think now would be a good time to end this article. I should leave things for you to discover, right? Well, I’ll briefly mention that the highscoring scene is fiercely competitive and yet has the least toxic competitors I have seen, period. I myself have obtained a 0th (the leaderboards like to be fancy and have 1st place be marked with a 0), and the experience was entirely positive. The guy I took it from even congratulated me, and I’m certain he actually meant it.
The last thing is that the devs accidentally left a way for you to add in custom color palettes (palettes being a feature that also separates N++ from its predecessors, which is great for me since its classic colors are very very boring in my opinion). I have had a blast not only creating my own palettes, but feeling like a part of the community by helping other people with theirs. It’s really fun and taps into my creativity in a way that really blindsided me.
And now, I play no other video games unless I am with friends. 1,500 hours in and I see no signs of stopping. I have found my game. I hope I have convinced some of you to give it a try (and if you do end up trying the game because of me, why not join the N++ discord and let me know?).
I don’t have a very good way to end this article so I’ll just leave it like this:
PLAY THIS GAME!