We spend some quality time with a near-finished version of Atari's upcoming ninja platformer.
Currently scheduled for release on the PSP and Nintendo DS in March, N+ is a ninja-themed platforming game that's essentially an updated version of N, an award-winning Flash game that was released as freeware in 2005. N+ can be played using either the same "pure" visuals as the aforementioned offering or in an enhanced "plus" mode in which the 2D graphics are a little more detailed. N+ casts you in the role of a particularly angular ninja who spends his days collecting gold coins and cheating death in rooms filled with pitfalls, explosives, robots, and other hazards. Ultimately, your goal in each level is simply to open the exit and then use it. However, it's rarely as easy as it sounds because you're playing against the clock, and the game's simplistic visuals belie a challenge that will really test your platform-hopping skills.
The ninjas in N+ are among the most athletic characters ever to appear in a platformer, and though they lack the ability to double-jump, you'll find that their skill set features plenty of familiar tricks. Besides being able to leap huge distances, ninjas can grab vertical walls when flying through the air or falling, they can slide down walls and slopes, and they can jump back from walls in a way that effectively lets them scale vertical surfaces. Although falls can certainly kill them, they're able land from considerable heights without injury.
In the earliest single-player levels, the only ways you're likely to die are if you run out of time or fall too far. It doesn't take long for other hazards to work their way into the occasionally ingenious level designs, though, so be on the lookout for mines, turrets that fire slow-moving homing missiles, and various spherical patrolling robots, some of which are armed with lasers or machine guns. Getting to the switch that opens the door to the next level and then reaching said door isn't always very challenging, but the gold coins scattered liberally throughout each level tend to be positioned quite cruelly. You'll want to collect at least some of them, not only for the high score but also for the valuable seconds that each one adds to your timer for the current episode.
The single-player mode in N+ boasts no fewer than 200 levels, which must be played through in one five-level episode at a time. Only four episodes are available from the outset, but the rest are unlocked several at a time as you progress. Your efforts will also be rewarded with other unlockable extras, including bonus levels, additional music tracks, the option to change the color of your ninja's outfit, and hazards that can be incorporated into your own level designs. That's right, N+ features a level designer, and regardless of which version of the game you're playing, you'll have the option to share your creations with other ninjas online. Unlockable hazards will purportedly include such ninja favorites as flame-throwing booby traps, crash mats that break your fall but then subsequently slow you down, force fields that mess with the direction of gravity, and even an enemy ninja with the same arsenal of moves at his disposal as you.
Although the multiplayer option was grayed out in our preview version of N+, we can report that the game will ship with at least 100 cooperative levels and 50 versus levels. Quite how those will play out remains to be seen, and multiplayer games might prove to be more popular on the DS than on the PSP, given that the former supports local multiplayer with only a single copy of the game. Online leaderboards promise to keep things competitive regardless of which version of N+ you're playing, and they should also add some much-needed replay value (and an extra incentive to bother collecting coins) to the single-player game.
N+ for the PSP and DS is currently scheduled for release in North America on March 18. An Xbox Live Arcade version of the game is also in development, but no release date has been announced for it at the time of writing. We'll bring you more information as soon as it becomes available.
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