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A Tales of Two Ninjas: A Review of N+ for the PSP and DS

Arguably, one of the greatest advancements in early 80’s gaming was the notion of the construction set. Designers realized that most games had a finite life span; no matter how innovative a game was, a player would inevitably lose interest with the title over time.  In 1983, programmer Bill Budge released Pinball Construction Set, a game that came with its own revolutionary graphical user interface, which allowed players to design their own pinball tables. In that same year, Wizard was released for the Commodore 64; it was a simple platformer that allowed players to create their own relatively complex levels.

As a fan of these titles, I spent much more time with the construction sets than playing the actual games. Gradually, one would learn what made a compelling level, and what didn’t work. As the player became aware of these design methods; a second diversion appeared- constructing the ideal level was the goal of this meta-game. Based upon the success of the previously mentioned two games, gamers soon saw applications that let them build music compositions, adventure games, racing tracks, and even firework displays on their limited hardware.


  A screenshot from the PSP Version. Those little red things are mines; from our experiences, a ninja’s worst enemy.

While prevalent on the PC gaming platform, the incorporation of construction set fell out of vogue on consoles, until the industry took recent notice of Little Big Planet. Recently, Bangai-O Spirits for the DS, Boom Blox for the Wii, and Halo 3 all shipped with level editors. Although N+ was a recent addition to the Xbox Live Arcade, Microsoft inexplicable pulled the level editor at the last moment.
 
N+’s gameplay consists of moving a diminutive but reasonably well-animated ninja, through various 2D single-screen environments, to an exit door. Players use only the digital pad and jump button to control the protagonist in a nod to the days on simpler gaming. Two additions separate N+ from the myriad of 80’s based platformers: the ability to scale walls, and the incorporation of a minor physics system. Players, especially in later levels, must use momentum to access required areas of the screen. Although N+ starts at a level of difficultly accessible by all, it soon becomes an exercise in frustration. (Episode Nine, Level One on the DS in an early aggravation) Later levels demand multiple retries- a single contact with an enemy object causes a quick death for our ninja.


                   Dual-screen Ninja action. We use the word ‘action’ loosely, as this Ninja assinates no one.
 
While both games only have a handful of enemies, ranging from stationary mines to raving drones, their placement and behavior is modified to make this continually interesting. N+ contains a bit of a risk/reward system for repeat play: there are gold squares scattered throughout the level. Initially, players will want to focus on making it to the exit in one piece, later gamers can top their scores by replaying to level to strip the stage of all treasure.
 
While play is identical on both handhelds, there are a few differences that separate the two versions. On the DS, the top screen shows the complete map of the level, while the bottom screen shows a scrolling, zoomed-in area immediately surrounding the player. The PSP version, on the other hand, shows the whole playfield on the screen, although strangely, the screen will scroll a few pixels. Level selection is completely different across both platforms, obviously the designers wanted to take advantage of the PSP’s widescreen output.

The level creator, while powerful, is not as intuitive as it should be. For example, enemy rovers have four different AI patterns, and can start in four different cardinal directions. Instead of allowing the player to select the placed enemy and alter the variation via a simple menu of check boxes, a ‘shift’ key must be pressed, while the player awkwardly maneuvers from the various options- that is if the player is in the right mode. Moving the initial location of the players starting point took us about ten minutes to figure out, and no information was available in the game’s manual. While we did get the hang of things after a half-hour, the interface never felt innate.

At an MSRP of twenty dollars, some of the N+’s faults can possible be overlooked. For fans of old fashioned, pre-narrative gameplay, the title may be worth a look, especially if you factor into the nearly limitless amount of levels that can be created and downloaded.

Final Grade: B-

Buy N+ for the Nintendo DS
Buy N+ for the Sony PSP

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert 'DesertEagle' Allen is Tech-Gaming's resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.

55 comments

  1. Noice review! Played the 360 version, and may pick up a portable if I get bored.

  2. Bring back construction sets! Let’s hope Little Big Planet will singlehandedly do it.

  3. Looks fun!

  4. PSP graphics look a bit better.

  5. I hated this game on the xbox arcade.

  6. I agree, I got the game on 360 and it got really frustrating quickly. Superhuman reflexes are needed for completion.

  7. Ok game. 20 seems about right. It would be a steal at 15.

  8. Good review. I’m excited about LBP.

  9. Deserves an A+, best game ever according to Nick Suttner at 1Up.

  10. I was bored by the end of the xbox demo. No thanks.

  11. Too simple of a concept for me.

  12. That fool loves everything.

  13. Looks interesting despite the lame name. I can imagine asking walmart if they have “En Plus” for the PSP. They won’t know what the hell hit em.

  14. Wow, ugly graphics! I think my eyes are scarred.

  15. Bought the DS version. Played the shit out of it for three days, never put it back in the DS slot.

  16. Nice review. Curious whether DS or PSP version played better.

  17. I played Ultimate Wizard and PCS. Memories!

  18. I tried the DS version, and man, this game is hard. It’s really fun and seems addicting, but… hard… Fragile ninjas have no place trying to be treasure hunters!

  19. great game, but hard as hell. I get too frustrated with these type of things.

  20. Both games played the same. Trying to make a jump, I found myself pressing way too hard on the d-pad. (The analog control is only used in the PSP’s editor)

    The graphics on the PSP have a slight edge, but the DS has touch input for the editor.

  21. I might have to blow the dust off of my PSP if I win.

  22. Pinball Construction Set was the best C64 game ever.

  23. Great review, desert.

  24. I think I need this, but I’m curious about the multiplayer elements: is it identical in both versions? Is it local only or wi-fi?

  25. So no big load times on the PSP? Some reviewers complained, but it looks like it’s only in the pre-release version.

  26. solid review. might have to buy.

  27. I played the PC/flash version a while back and loved it. Might have to pick this up for the DS at some point or another.

  28. Load times are a non-issue.

    3-4 seconds before each set of four levels.

    N+ does take longer than the average game to ‘awaken’ from sleep mode; it takes about 5-6 seconds for the UMD to spin up. Still that is a relativity minor issue, that most gamers wont even notice.

  29. Thanks for that info. I also say other site complained about this. You bust have the retail copy.

  30. Eh, it doesn’t seem that impressive to me. Unless level-editors are the same as the developers used they’ll never really satisfy.

  31. Pretty good summary. I’m thinking about getting it for PSP since you can save a bit more data, but the touch screen interface would definitely be cool too. Nice work.

  32. Sounds like a great game.

  33. I wanted to like the game, but I found the DS version too difficult.

  34. I liked the review! I dig the video game history lesson in the first couple paragraphs.

  35. Desert and tide are all about history. If you like that you’ve come to the right place.

  36. Haven’t played the game yet, but this review convinced me to try it, especially at $20. Thanks guys.

  37. I can tell this is my type of game.

  38. I looked for this today; Best buy and Target didn’t have it. Must be popular.

  39. Great review; very well written. You sound like pros.

  40. PSP looks world better than the DS version.

    How many download levels are available for each?

  41. Never heard of this game.

  42. awesome looking game

  43. Wish this was on the PSN….

  44. Damn right!

  45. I can’t wait to get this game! I got the original “N” for PC and I was amazed at how good it was.

  46. N+ is a great game and all, but I’ll wait for a price drop on this one.

  47. Just bought this today. So far not too hard. I’ve cleared the first 7 series of levels.

  48. Good review. Seems worth the asking price.

  49. Yeah, I regularly write about retro games. Just not always here. The more you look for great old games the more you realize there are SO many you’ve never even heard of.

  50. More retro game info, guys.

  51. I have played the demo of this for Xbox Arcade and liked it then. It would be cool to have a version for on the go.

  52. I love the Flash version of this.
    I’m really thinking about getting it.

  53. My friend “bought” this game and let me play – so addictive. I need to save up money to get this and the Orange Box for PC.

  54. I’ve tried a demo for this and played N on PC. I really love retro gaming stuff and the price of the game sounds reasonable.

    Nice review.

  55. Great review. I was able to play about a hour of this on my nephew’s PSP. I loved it, but I agree with most in it being frustrated at times.