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N+

They make it look so easy. The ninjas, I mean. They’re so awesome at what they do. Leaping around rooftops is like playing hopscotch to them. They can make themselves virtually invisible, lurking within the shadows for that single, perfect time to strike. A quick flick of the wrist can leave dozens of bloody, shuriken-ridden corpses littering the scene. But it’s not like ninjas have always been like that; once upon a time, your favorite veiled assassin was just some inept little rookie with dreams of murder and money. Can you imagine the kind of training these guys had to go through to get where they are? The years of lonely seclusion, the combat drills for every waking hour, the immense physical strain required to bend the average person into the ultimate killing machine? It’s almost beyond comprehension. But thanks to N+, you’ll be given an inkling of what a ninja must be capable.

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It doesn’t look too daunting at first glance. You control an anonymous, stick figure-shaped ninja trainee and tackle dozens of challenges in succession. The basis for these missions is plat forming; since your character can step off walls and make incredibly long jumps, bouncing around a given stage shouldn’t be difficult to comprehend. Even the controls are basic; a directional pad and the A button – both of which are wonderfully responsive – are all you’ll need to get things going. The goal is simple: you get the ninja from the starting point into the open doorway nearby. Along the way, you’ll have to hit an assortment of floating switches to open gates or even the door itself. Since your score is constantly falling, you’ll have to get through the levels as fast as possible. While the bland techno music and limited sound effects don’t do much for the pacing or atmosphere, you’ll definitely feel the need to rush. The progress of the game boils down to choosing a level, running to the goal, enjoying a little animated victory dance, and unlocking more challenge. Rinse and repeat over a hundred times, and you’ll be in for a fun, addictive experience.

That’s assuming, of course, that you can actually beat any of the levels. Since you’re essentially controlling a character with superhuman physical abilities, Atari was more than happy to create some of the most ridiculously tough stages for you to master. Sure, some of the early stages are nothing more than a handful of platforms and goal close by. But once you start getting into the upper echelons of N+’s list of levels, you’ll realize just how sadistic the game really is. You’ll have to leap up narrow shafts, narrowly missing rotating electrical orbs and dodging heat-seeking missiles. If you manage to get to a safe area, you might have half a second to rest; wait any more, and you’ll be roasted by automated laser cannon you didn’t see. Or you might get run down by the sentry that decided to stalk you once its sensors activated. Other levels will have you wandering massive labyrinths, or carefully jumping along tiny platforms while just barely avoiding all of the proximity mines that were carefully placed in literally every direction. These hazards are meant to test your ability to time your jumps, how you manage your characters’ momentum, and how willing you are to take risks for the sake of a higher score. It’s kind of funny in a way. You wouldn’t think that a stick figure would have blood and guts…

But yours does.

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He could be flattened, electrocuted, blown up, flash-fried, and endure a handful of remarkably violent deaths. You’ll get to watch your ninja’s body parts get blasted off and go bouncing across the stage. You might not able to see all of the ruptured organs or the splashy ruin of a crushed corpse, but you’ll still wince when you seem him regress into his death-crumple animation. You might enjoy seeing his lifeless body being torn and ripped apart before starting over again. Yeah, your little ninja is going to die. A lot. You’ll see the Game Over screen more times than you’ll ever care to admit. The level of finesse and timing required to beat some of these levels is both insane and unforgiving. It’s a good thing the game comes with infinite continues; you might fling your DS into the nearest wall if it didn’t. However, your efforts will pay off; if you spend the time collecting all of the little yellow boxes strewn throughout each area, you’ll eventually amass enough bonus points to unlock additional ninjas, specialized levels, bonus music, and a nice cache of unlockable content. A little perseverance, plenty of time, and even more patience can work wonders.

But if you don’t want to endure the hardships alone, feel free to indulge in the game’s multiplayer options. You and a friend can tackle over a hundred specialized levels of all shapes and sizes. Though the game has a co-op mode, you can always test you skills via the Domination, Tag, and Blitz competitions. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as seeing the humiliation on your opponent’s face when you thoroughly outclass him or her with your skill of a given stage. But if you want something a little less personal, N+ sports Wi-Fi capability that allows you to share your own originally designed levels with gamers worldwide. While the single player mode may be incredibly addictive, it’s these secondary features that’ll keep you coming back for more.

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In fact, that’s the game’s real trump card: its level editor. This surprisingly extensive feature allows you design a level based anything you can possibly think of. The great thing about it is its easy-to-use interface; all you have to do is hold down a shoulder button to browse the menus, choose whatever you want to appear in the level, and use the stylus to tap the object onto the screen. It’s a really straightforward and practical use of the touch screen. Once you’ve gotten a feel for the editing mechanics, you’ll be able to create stuff that’ll put the regular levels to shame. Imagine turning a labyrinth of platforms into a giant tree, with explosives hanging around the branches like lethal fruit. Or how about exploring a miniature version of your favorite level from an older platformer? What about leaping off Phoenix Wright’s signature pointed finger? Thanks to all the options available, you’ll never have to settle for all the stuff that Atari tries to stuff down your throat. Thus N+ isn’t just for the hardcore platformer fans, but those with a creative streak as well.

Look, folks. If you have any interest in challenging platformer gameplay, you need to play this. Period. This game makes all of the other titles in the genre look like a joke. Many of these levels are specifically designed to test what platforming is all about: timing and skill. Pure and simple. Bottomless pits and bouncy walls aside, the sheer amount of brutal hazards and the ridiculously high learning curve are not for the faint of heart. If you get N+, be ready to fail at what you might consider yourself good. Be sure to take advantage of the multiplayer gameplay; both local and Wi-Fi options ensures that you won’t have to suffer through the ordeals alone. The real key to this game’s success, however, comes with its surprisingly deep Level Editor. In the hands of the right gamer, N+ could be one of the best titles in the DS’s library. Needless to say, ninja training has never been so fun.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2005.

Gentle persuasion

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