N++ is a platformer you can play forever

2016 GOTY Awards

Along with our group-selected 2016 Game of the Year Awards, each member of the PC Gamer staff has independently chosen one game to commend as a personal favorite of the year. We'll continue to post new Staff Picks throughout the rest of 2016.

When I first booted N++ for PC, I was determined to clear the high wall of difficulty I’d initially encountered during the hundred or so hours I put into the PS4 version. With the benefit of experience, I completed roughly 500 levels in a matter of days, on my desktop, and then ever so slowly managed to tick off the odd episode here and there which I’d struggled with back on the console version.

It’s undeniable though: I’m not very good at this game. I’ll never complete all it has to offer. But one thing that’s important to understand going into any N game—a fluid, minimal platforming series known for its difficulty—is that you don’t have to complete it. For a lot of people it won’t even be possible. I mean, it’s technically possible I guess, but you’ll no doubt reach your skill ceiling before you’ve cleared all 2000+ levels in the game. You might not even get halfway through.

Coming to terms with this is difficult if you don’t already have the game. Who wants to dive into something they won’t see the end of? I know plenty of people who fork out full price for triple-A games they never see the end of—not because they’re bad players, but because they couldn’t be bothered. They stopped having fun. But “winning” a game is never the sole reason to play one, and end-game success is rarely the best sensation we draw from a title. When I play an N game, I do so for the same reason I go for a walk or I drink a bottle of beer: because it makes me feel good. I don’t seek to achieve anything, I’m just enjoying that particular thing, with no expectations beyond that.

I don’t think there’s a better feeling platformer out there—and yes, I have heard of Mario, and even played several Mario games.

It’s possible to beat N++ of course (while you can’t beat a beer), and I’m not denying that it would feel very good to do so. But as far as I’m concerned, N++ is more a toy that you’ll stop and fiddle with occasionally, just to relish the silky smooth, momentum-oriented pleasure of knocking a stick ninja around a bunch of austere platforming gauntlets. I don’t think there’s a better feeling platformer out there—and yes, I have heard of Mario, and even played several Mario games. I’ve nearly completed Super Meat Boy. If you’re intimately familiar with the platforming genre you mightn’t prefer the floaty physics of N++’s ninja, but it’s hard to deny the artistry that’s gone into making it feel exactly this way. Metanet has nailed a platforming moveset that I’ve always wanted. 

I always have N++ minimised on my desktop. Sometimes I’ll stop and play it for ten minutes between doing other things. Sometimes I’ll boot it up with the intention of doing so, and get stuck for several hours, eyes glazed, repeatedly applying myself to a challenge that I will never overcome. There is frustration involved of course—sometimes immense, soul-crushing, I-need-to-have-a-lie-down anger—but with every death, the first leap I take alleviates that pressure, because this game in motion is simply beautiful. N++ can eat your life up whole, but it can also be a nice, temporary refuge. It’s a neat little toy, a stress ball, and I doubt I’ll ever own a system without it installed.

Shaun Prescott

Shaun Prescott is the Australian editor of PC Gamer. With over ten years experience covering the games industry, his work has appeared on GamesRadar+, TechRadar, The Guardian, PLAY Magazine, the Sydney Morning Herald, and more. Specific interests include indie games, obscure Metroidvanias, speedrunning, experimental games and FPSs. He thinks Lulu by Metallica and Lou Reed is an all-time classic that will receive its due critical reappraisal one day.