Ever heard of N, maybe N+ or N++?
Those who were interested in browser based flash games about 10 years ago should, as N was very popular back then. But, of course, there are those who did not get into those sorts of games, and for them I will give a brief run-down of what N is, and what it is about. Feel free to skip down if you know the game already.
Created by Metanet Software and released in 2005, N is a flash-based 2D puzzle platformer where the player controls a ninja – the eponymous N – through a series of levels, the goal being to complete the level within the time limit, but one can restore lost time by collecting ‘gold’, in the form of yellow blocks located within the level. The player can only jump and run, and they will encounter an interesting variety of enemies and environmental hazards, none of which they can defeat, since there are no weapons for the player; all dangers must be avoided. The graphics are quite simple, but that means they are not more complicated than they need to be. There are hundreds of levels for the game, divided into 5 level groups called Episodes. An Episode must be completed all at once for it to count, and unlock the next episode. It has been updated over the years to include more levels and features, including a level editor. N+ came along in 2008, a console and portable version of N, available on Xbox Live Arcade, Nintendo DS and Playstation Portable, and introduced multiplayer as well. N++, a sequel to N+, came out on Playstation 4 in 2015, and is cited to be released on Steam sometime this year. The gameplay across all three games is the same, as are the graphics, though more colour is introduced in N++.
So why am I going on about this game? Well it’s because I had the opportunity to have a talk with David Karetai and Alex Bartley, who have defied all logic and probably broken some laws of physics to obtain and together hold the number 1 position on the World Leaderboards for all episodes of co-operative play, 94 in total, equating to almost 500 levels. So that means they hold the world records for those levels, and trust me, that is an extraordinary feat, considering the difficulty of the game alone, and even more of one when you take into account the fact that others are trying to get those number 1 titles too.
The task took them a combined total of about 4 days, over 100 hours, spread out across a 3-month period to complete, made more difficult by only having local multiplayer on the PS4, meaning they had to physically get together to play the game. But in saying that, being in the same room when trying to accomplish these sorts of records improves the co-operative experience significantly. In my experience with any co-op game, I’ve enjoyed them all the more when I’ve been in the same locale as the people I’ve been playing with. David and Alex told me they wouldn’t have been able to achieve this level of completion had it not been in co-operative mode, the fact they were playing together was what prevented them from rage-quitting, though there were close moments, where they had to just put the controllers down and get away from the game for a bit, lest a controller end up embedded in the tv, or flying out the window. And there were other difficulties too, having to replay levels multiple times, sometimes into the hundreds, because of mistakes or a desire to shave a few more seconds off the time. Alex told me of a situation that occurred several times, where one of them would unwittingly move past the exit point, and the other would hit X on the controller to jump, but since X also doubled as the button to end the level, one would accidentally finish the level, even though the wanted time was not reached, or all the gold was not collected, so they would be forced to replay the level.
The game is known for it’s difficulty; the levels get progressively harder as one moves through the episodes. For Alex and David, their movement through the levels had different challenges to overcome. The earlier levels were easy, completing them was not the challenge, the focus of those early levels was to beat everyone else. Like most games, the difficulty of the levels is inversely proportionate to how many people had completed it. As the game gets harder, the challengers get less, casual players fall away and only dedicated players remain. So as they progressed through the levels, initial focus had to be applied to making sure they could complete the level first, before working on strategies to get the best time. And they went into the levels blind, with no fore-knowledge of what might lay before them. Their method was – Get in and play the level, have some fun, work out how to complete it first, then work on how to chop down that time, where to jump, what gold to get and what to leave behind, find the most efficient route and all the other necessary components to create the perfect run-through. The later levels had been completed by fewer and fewer opponents, to the point where the final level had only been completed by two other pairs.
What David and Alex made abundantly clear was how important playing in co-op really was to the whole process. Both emphasized greatly that what they achieved was only possible because of playing together, and physically being together in the same room. The same result would not have happened if it had been through online play. They also mentioned their skill level, and how that helped too, both being of a similar level. I was told they watched videos of others playing certain levels, and frequently one player was significantly better than the other, obviously having given the second player controller to a very young sibling, dog or grandparent. “Failing together” was the term used by Alex to describe their experience, how the blow of not succeeding at a level was softened by playing with a friend, and how it (largely) eliminated anger at the game. My experience with co-op supports this, I’ve always had a more enjoyable time and not cared nearly as much if we failed.
I asked if they had any other games planned to give a similar treatment, and while David made a bit of a hint at another game, Alex was not interested at this point in time. They want to focus on keeping, and improving, the existing scores. On a few levels, they have been beaten a couple of time, but they promptly replayed those levels and re-acquired the best times. It is not enough to have just gotten the best, but now they must hold the best, now and forever after (or however long they feel like putting in the effort). What they really want is more competition, they want more people trying for those top scores so they would be more inclined to try harder and harder.
Alex and David did record a lot of their playthroughs and the videos are up on Youtube. I’ve included the first video below, and a link to the channel below the video if you wish to check out more.
David’s Youtube channel, where all the videos can be found is here; Decroux3000.
And his Twitch stream, which they regularly stream to when doing these world record runs, is here; twitch.tv/decroux3000.
As I mentioned earlier, they want more challengers, so go here to play the original game, get good at it, get N++ on PS4, or wait until it comes out on Steam sometime this year, and try to topple Alex and David from their lofty pedestal. I guarantee they will make it hard for you, but enjoy themselves the whole way through.