Slick, stylish, and bursting with content, N+ is one of the finest games to hit Xbox Live Arcade yet.

User Rating: 10 | N+ X360
Ninjas sit pretty high up on many dream job lists. Gaming icons like Ryu Hayabusa (of Ninja Gaiden fame) and Shinobi have no doubt contributed to the glamorous image of the ninja; N+ might not be on that same epic scale, but it's just one more justification for that unnatural affinity you might have for all things ninja.

N+ is best described as a puzzle-platformer. The goal is to lead your fleet-of-foot stick ninja to the exit in each map, but it wouldn't be so much fun if it was that simple. You need to hit a switch to unlock the door, and each level is full of environmental obstacles and enemies that make your life more difficult. Despite the fact that it's a one-button game – all you have is your jump – you can pull off loads of crazy ninja-style manoeuvres by manipulating the environment and timing your jump well. Wall-jumping and wall-sliding are two such techniques, but you can also take advantage of spring launchers and bouncy blocks in many maps. The pressure of the clock is a constant threat, but collecting coins will give you some more time to get to the exit.

Despite its relatively simple concept, there is something satisfying about leaping through the air like a ninja. Whether you're wall-jumping like a pro, launching yourself across a minefield, or evading a missile at the last minute, it's just plain fun. And part of the fun is accomplishing some of the insanely challenging maps. Gun turrets, awkward landscapes, and plenty of enemies conspire against you on many occasions. Everything from your reactions to spatial awareness will be tested as you dash through the levels, and there's plenty of variety to keep the game fresh. There's a lot of trial and error involved; your ninja will probably meet many deaths as you try and figure out how to beat the level, but that's part of the accomplishment. It's undoubtedly a tough game, particularly in the latter stages, but N+ has that "one more try" quality that will keep you coming back for more.

Part of this appeal is in the abstract-but-charming visual design. Staying true to its freeware roots, a "less is more" mentality is evident in the minimalist design. The whole game is made up of simple shapes and it works really well. You can see the retro influence immediately, and it won't take you long to find homage paid to games like Space Invaders, Mario, and Final Fantasy. It's something the old-skool gamers will understand and appreciate. The sound design is similarly minimalist, consisting mainly of techno-style beats. It compliments the visual style well, although it doesn't stand out nearly as much.

Puzzle-platformers all too often fail to have any real lasting appeal, but it's something the developers have really worked on. The steep difficulty curve contributes to this in part, but the fantastic multiplayer modes are what will keep you coming back. A co-op campaign sees you and up to three friends working together to beat a set of specially designed maps that demand team work. You'll often have to rely on a buddy to hit the switch for you to make the escape, and similarly to the single player game, it has some extremely tough later levels. For more competitive action, you can race against each other or play survival mode, where the last ninja standing triumphs. All of these game modes are supported for both local and Xbox Live play.

Unfortunately, N+ does have some online problems. Despite playing with and against a variety of gamers from different locations, there always seems to be some degree of lag. When it's mild (which is most of the time), it doesn't affect the game too much, but in a game that demands precision, it can be really frustrating. Sometimes it'll kick your ninja a few steps forward in the middle of a run which screws up your jump, other times the guy you're racing against appears to detonate a mine but has actually evaded it. It shouldn't be a big enough problem to turn you away, but it's an undeniable blemish on what is otherwise a fantastic online component.

If all that multiplayer goodness isn't enough to keep you playing, the powerful map editor should satisfy you (if it doesn't, I don't know what will). You have total control on the placing of switches and doors, the landscape, and enemies of course. Taking these maps into the multiplayer game is great fun, and you can create some brutally punishing maps if you put your mind to it. The promise of more maps in the future as downloadable content further reinforces how much bang you're getting for your buck.

There is no doubt about it that for 800 Microsoft Points, N+ is a real bargain. Blessed with simultaneous simplicity and challenge, backed up with loads of content, it's a very easy game to recommend. The challenging nature of N+ might be an issue for some gamers, and the fact still stands that all you're doing is hitting switches and running to an exit. However, you can't fault the sheer amount of variables – the enemies, the landscape, the timer – that make this simple concept so addictive. It may have some technical hitches when you take it online, but that doesn't diminish the fantastic package that is N+.