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N (Windows)

87
Critic Score
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
3.5
User Score
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Curlymcdom (47)
Written on  :  Oct 23, 2008
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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Summary

Dance with N

The Good

In almost any platform game you always find yourself holding the jump button long after you've jumped, or tried to coax your character to manoeuvre mid-air. To actually be able to do such a thing, and to make it feel so natural, is the main appeal to N.

Your character doesn’t miss a jump by a pixel for any other reason than your skill. The ninja reacts to your every impulse, becomes an attachment to you. He’s a Parkour Jesus and you ARE him, down to every movement. Techniques such as jumping from wall to wall and sliding down vertical surfaces come easily and work just like they feel they should. And crucially you are always affected by gravity and momentum, no matter how hard to fight them. The antics of the Prince of Persia feel nowhere near as organic as the delicate dance of N.

N’s strength is in its ingenious simplicity. Each level has the same basic enemies and goal: open the door and get the hell out. But it’s the understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each enemy that the designers have exploited that distinguishes each. The moving blocks have one electrified edge. Some levels it’s a moving platform, some it’s an attacking enemy. Mindless drones are coerced by opening and closing doors to change their routines or even pursue you. Homing missiles chase you and suddenly the whole dynamic of the level changes. Jump the entire length of the level to reach the button and, as the ninja scrapes down the opposite wall, you realise you are too low to jump back and must brave the dangerous maze below.

Crucially you never strike back at the enemy, or turn them against each other. They are single minded obstacles for you to duck, jump, bounce and fly over.

There is an option to play through the levels in a trial mode, letting your skip particularly difficult ones. But that’s not why you play. You play with a timer. Ubiquitous gold coins are your life-blood, extending the timer by the tiniest bit. You often have to deviate from your course to collect these gems or risk a death-defying jump into the unknown with only a second remaining.

Oh and my favourite feature? The game starts up almost instantly in a separate window, allowing you to play and do whatever you want simultaneously. Play your own music in the background for added affect. I’m playing it right now if you’d like to know ;)

The Bad

That little animation when the ninja reaches the door, the little dance or the collapse on the floor. You truly feel his exuberance every time you see it. Because before you do you have to watch your protagonist’s corpse blasted to pieces, bounced from enemy to enemy, toyed with and desecrated. A lot.

This game is HARD. So hard it even has a suicide key. Absolute and total control is demanded of you throughout each level. The tiniest slip and those limbs scatter about once more and you smash the space bar key to restart. People with sensitive internal organs or are Aneurysm-prone should steer clear to this game because even the smallest of levels have you perched on the edge of your seat, eyes an inch from the screen, hairs on the back of your neck tingling. My room gets odd looks from passers-by when they hear my constant “oooh… no… yes… nonono… aw… n… FUCK!” *smash*. I’ve screamed incomprehensible German at the screen in all seriousness many, many times. In fact I’ve probably lost a few years from my life because of this game.

Yes this game is hard, but it’s a real shame that some missions are genuinely impossible. In the two I’ve stumbled upon you are given a 3 second timer and expected to either press a button which is about ten seconds away or grab gold coins that are about five seconds away. Frankly it’s insulting that these levels made it into the game. With no way of passing them there’s no way of legitimately completing the game. It’s making me pound the keyboard a little overenthusiastically just thinking of it so I’ll move on.

Not quite as bad is the occasional habit of buttons locking permanent doors halfway through the level that prevent its completion, meaning you have to kill yourself and start again. But sometimes these buttons are hidden behind objects, or put somewhere that momentum makes very hard to avoid. They look almost identical to standard switches as well. This poor little ninja has enough to compete with. Outright trickery is a step too far.

Do yourself a favour and turn Sticky Keys off on your computer, or just map the controls to the arrow keys (it plays much more naturally that way anyhow). Terrible things have happened to nearby inanimate objects when that goddamn message pops up right after a carefully placed jump. What the hell are Sticky Keys for anyway?? Screw them.

The Bottom Line

You'll lose many hairs and break many desks and keyboards, but always come back to the elegant dance of N.