It’s a cliché at this point to talk about how perfect a game is or would be for the Nintendo Switch, but hell if I can think of a better example than N++. Metanet Software’s magnum opus was endlessly engrossing when released on the PS4 three years ago, and its freeform structure and bite-sized stages turn out to work even better in portable form.
In case you’re not familiar, N++ is a hardcore physics-based platformer with stark vector graphics, a extremely good electronic soundtrack, and several thousand single-screen levels. You move your character, a floaty stick-figure ninja, with simple left-right-jump controls, but making it to the end of each level will require you to master momentum, timing, and gravity.
N++ is very difficult, and you will die a lot. Despite this, the game doesn’t feel unfair or excessively punishing. The opening levels explain how everything works through clever introductions of mechanics and layouts, and you’ll usually figure out soon enough what you have to do to get to the end of a given stage. The problem is how you pull that off.
N++ is a sequel to N+, itself an expanded version of the 2004 freeware game N, and its minimalist aesthetic may not immediately impress. Even videos don’t quite convey the game’s appeal. I’ll just say it here, then: N++ is a staggering achievement and one of the greatest platforming games ever made.
This is because N’s creators, Raigan Burns and Mare Sheppard, are really, really good at making N levels. They’re as good at making N levels as anyone is at anything. They make N levels like Jiro Ono makes sushi, and each level in N++ is an exquisite nigiri of precision platforming design. N++ is what happens when you spend more than a decade on the same simple idea, refining your technique and sharpening it to perfection.
The best N++ levels put you right inside Burns and Sheppard’s heads, laughing at the elaborate death traps they’ve devised and marveling at how they could have come up with the idea. It’s then on you to figure out exactly how you’re going to balletically float through the air and wall-jump onto tiny moving platforms while dodging laser beams and homing missiles on your way to the exit.
There’s not much to say about the Switch version of N++ other than that it runs and plays great — it’s all you could hope for from a portable N. The screen is big and sharp enough to display the entirety of each level at once, and the pseudo-D-pad on the Joy-Con (or even the analog stick) works fine for a game with only two directional inputs. N++ is deceptively complex from a technical perspective, but from what I’ve played the Switch has no problem maintaining the essential 60 frames per second. I do recommend playing with headphones, because I wasn’t kidding about the soundtrack.
You will never finish N++. Thousands of included levels and various modes aside, the game comes with a robust editor and a strong community of players feeding it new content. Each level itself has the potential for fierce speedrunning competition — even in the simplest stages, there’s always a way to pick up another piece of gold or shave off another nanosecond. This is a vast, generous bounty of incredible platforming action.
And now you can play it all on a plane or in a park. Sold.
N++ is out today on Nintendo Switch and costs $14.99. It’s also available for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.