The biggest PSP releases of 2008 probably have titles like God of War: Chains of Olympus and Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, but the handheld will always be home to a slew of excellent and highly addictive puzzlers. These are titles that never get old - no matter how old-fashioned they may appear - and they're the games that make those long road trips bearable. Well, the original N was released for computers back in 2004, but it makes far more sense to make such an engaging little action/puzzler game for the PSP; N+ on the go sounds great! It may not feature cutting-edge visuals, a professional soundtrack or complex tactical gameplay, but what it does have is a large amount of simple appeal. At its core, something like N+ reminds us of the way video games once were, and how success relied upon nothing but our reflexes, dexterity and timing. You had to think fast and move fast, and that was the entire experience. Some may consider that a negative in this new generation, but old-school gamers categorize this style of gaming with one word: pure.
And when we say simple, we're not exaggerating. Puzzle games - or even action/puzzlers, whatever - don't have much of a storyline, but it's completely non-existent in N+. There's no devious plot, there's no evil force to rail against, there aren't really any enemies to battle, and in general, there's really nothing stopping the agile little dude from doing whatever he wishes. See, all he wants to do is gather up as much gold as humanly possible before time runs out. Apparently, this mini-ninja is one greedy guy; the more money he can snag in a level run, the better off he'll be. One can argue he does have a foe (time) just because the counter will start counting down the instant you start the level, and once it runs out, that's that. We're wondering if there will be item pick-ups in the game that serve to slow down the clock or something, but so far, we've seen nothing of that in either the screenshots or the latest video. Remember when, just a moment ago, we talked a bit about reflexes and dexterity...? Yep, it's quite obvious that both will be crucial for success in N+, so if you're only used to turn-based strategy, perhaps this one isn't for you.
While it's true that the entire game centers on running around and picking up gold coins, there's more depth here than you might believe. The money pieces are arranged in complex ways; some are hanging high above your head, others are sitting on the edge of a hazardous precipice. It's your job to grab as many as possible before time runs out, but there are two distinct ways of approaching each level- you can either zip through and collect however much you want, or you can attempt to get every last piece in the level. See, with every gold coin you nab, more time gets added to the clock, combating the countdown and allowing you to stay in the level longer. And of course, the longer you're there, the richer you will become and the happier Mr. Ninja gets. The player has the aforementioned option because the game never hits you with an overall gold requirement for the level; at any given time, you can just click the door switch and move on. Therefore, it's like a balancing act. Straining for that challenging set of coins might be worth the money, but if you can't make it back to the door switch in time, it's game over. Wouldn't it be easier to just hit the switch and ignore the coins?
That's exactly the question you'll be asking yourself literally every few seconds. Now, we said you won't be fighting any enemies, but that doesn't mean there aren't any obstacles in each level. In fact, while he is incredibly nimble and quick, the ninja dies immediately upon hitting hazards like rotating "killer" orbs, mines scattered on the ground, or mechanical drones that chase you around. Also, even though there's nothing simulated about this title, you can still die if you fall from a high enough point. So there will be plenty to avoid during your frantic quest to snap up as much money as possible (wait, it is a real-life simulator!), but just because you can't utilize any high-flying kicks or karate chops, that doesn't mean you're helpless. This little dude has some crazy platforming ability. He can sprint to launch himself higher, slide along inclines to slow down, and even bounce off walls in an effort to reach the more difficult-to-obtain gold pieces. We assume the controls will be relatively simple and accessible, especially considering all we really do is run and jump. Eh, we suppose the slide could be another button, but we can probably handle that.
Initially, the game was scheduled to arrive later on this month, but it has recently been delayed until April 22. But that's okay, because once it arrives, you'll definitely be getting your money's worth if you decide to make the purchase. It'll cost the standard $30, and that thirty clams will let you partake of 200 different levels! There are also 100 co-op levels and 50 versus levels, so you and a friend can have endless fun, which only adds to the entertainment factor. On top of all this, there's a level editor that lets you create your own levels, and we can probably expect to see downloadable content (in the form of new levels) at some point down the road. N+ is going to give you all kinds of bang for your buck, and certainly seems like a supremely addictive little title. Another great addition to the PSP's library!
2/4/2008 Ben Dutka