There are certain characters in fiction who always seem to tickle our collective imaginations. Patch-eyed pirates, rapier-flailing musketeers and high-flying superheroes are but a few. They all seem to embody a special blend of adventure and panache that keeps us coming back over and over for one more flight of fantasy.
Gamemakers understand this connection and use it to send us cartwheeling with Persian princes or blasting aliens with Master Sergeants in more and more realistic adventures. But sometimes even the simplest low-tech games can use creative personas to grab our attention.
In fact, that’s how a little downloadable title gained lots of eager fans and was quickly translated into a handheld game that everyone cheered for in 2008. The game’s title, N+, is shorthand for ninja. And its black, stick figure, central character—looking like a bit of Japanese kanji script brought to life—never says a word while he deftly uses all his acrobatic skills to climb and hurdle his way through one puzzling maze after another.
Wall-Sliding Through Life
The gameplay and storyline are both pretty elementary, even if the challenges aren’t. Gamers control their own little ninja who has phenomenal speed, reflexes and jumping power. The game’s instruction booklet tells us that his super abilities are due to an amazingly fast metabolism. Unfortunately that metabolic rate also makes the shadow-leaping guy’s lifespan a mere minute and a half. So to keep your dexterous little fellow from collapse you have to maneuver him through a series of increasingly difficult, artful labyrinths before his silver cord snaps.
Your ninja’s available list of moves includes 1) a wall-jump—that allows him to bounce his way up between two closely spaced walls 2) a wall-slide—that lets him safely slow his descent and 3) a springs-for-legs leap—that grants him the ability to bound off walls, cross gaping chasms and vault to thin ledges and gravity-defying blocks.
While gamers are given an infinite number of do-overs, strategically placed hazards mean that game-ending crunches can be swift and often. Implanted mines, laser and missile turrets, and diminutive robotic droids create formidable environments for your little ebony acrobat. With each new level the puzzles become increasingly more thought-provoking and the traps more numerous. But fear not, grabbing little gold blocks as you go—after all, stick figure ninjas have to make a living, too—add microseconds to your ticking clock and offer a little more time to make it through.
If you don’t want to face the challenges alone, you can join another cunning ninja by connecting two consoles wirelessly or tackling the puzzles together via the Internet. Not only that, but if you’re yearning to compete with your pals by creating your own death-defying levels, N+ offers an editing tool that can help you take your creative genius to new wall-climbing heights.
There’s really no negative content in this little E-rated game—no throwing stars or stealthy assassinations. Add to that the convenience of carting this little puzzler around in your back pocket on a DS or PSP, and you’ve got a quick pick-up game that can fill a dull moment with a bit of brain-teasing, fast-fingered fun. But not in class, kids! Speaking of kids, though, be forewarned that this can be one tough nut to crack for the younger set. No matter how many platformers or puzzlers the kids have played, there are levels here that are bound to frustrate.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.