Published Jul 31, 2015Toronto microstudio Metanet, one of the pioneering indies that has helped build the city's still-bustling scene, has been basically iterating the same game for over a decade — hence the plus signs.
This might seem like a lot of time for developers Mare Sheppard and Raigan Burns to spend on a game that, at first glance, looks like it time travelled in from the early '80s. (It kind of did. Despite the smoothness of its now-gen graphics, the franchise's direct visual and gameplay inspiration was the Commodore 64 classic Lode Runner.) But that's only until you play it and discover how sophisticated the physics-based controls and level editor have become since the retro 2D puzzle platformer first appeared as an award-winning freeware flash game called N back in 2004.
It first evolved into N+ in 2008, finding an audience on Xbox Live Arcade as well as Sony and Nintendo handhelds, and now has become the PS4 exclusive N++ in its best iteration yet.
The basics remain the same, of course — we guess that's why it's not called O or P — which is that you control a tiny ninja running, jumping, dodging and rebounding through a series of increasingly complex and incredibly fatal 2D levels. The control scheme is as distilled to its essence as the visuals, with the crossbar and jump button as the be all end all, albeit with precision derived from the length and force of button pushes and tricks, like ramps to break your fall or chaining jumps to get you where you need to go without touching enemies, mines, rockets, lasers, etc.
There's a 90-second time limit, and though gobbling up gold can delay your temporal demise, all other demises are one-and-done. That's the other thing it borrows from the old school: constant, instant deaths. Touch anything that looks like it will kill you and it will kill you. The game is tough, but because each level is small, the lack of backtracking softens the blows.
And there are a lot of levels. Metanet supplies 2360 (!) levels and, thanks to the editing suite, the shareable user-generated levels are essentially infinite, promoting creativity and community. The game also encourages community with multiplayer modes allowing up to four people to either race against each other or work together in co-op, often requiring sacrifice to clear the stage. However, the multiplayer is local-only. Concerned about the latency lag that plagued N+ as well as the cost to make it work as well as the rest of the game, they decided to focus online level-sharing and make multiplayer in-person.
It may be a bummer to many — and seriously, maybe Sony could have pitched in to help here — but it does suit the game's throwback aesthetic, considering multiplayer used to be only couch-based. Plus, there are leaderboards so you can still compete for time against the world's best ninjas.
Though the retro graphics are simple, Metanet does allow player choice in colour schemes as well as musical selection, letting you pick from a deep well of techno tracks by the likes of Alex Smoke, Ben Klok, Marcel Dettmann and Luke Slater's Planetary Assault Systems project.
Despite the double-plus signs, the game is minimalism incarnate, a reminder that the modern era's fixation on feature creep is more about marketing than gaming. (Metanet Software)