The basic concept of N is simple: you control a stickman who must open the exit to the next level and then get to that exit. Sound like Lode Runner? Well, it's a lot like that, but with some machine gun bullet dodging, some wall-jumping, some homing-missile avoiding, and an incredibly smooth physics system.
If fame and fortune is any measurement of merit, consider that N has won the Audience Choice Award at two large game competitions/festivals and has now been developed into the game "N+", available on such prominent gaming consoles as the Xbox, Nintendo DS, and the PSP.
The gameplay experience of N depends heavily on the level design. One level could be race-against-the-clock puzzle-solving, another could be an intense edge-of-your-seat parkour-style bullet dodger, and yet another could be a hold-your-breath-and-wait-for-an-opportunity Splinter Cell experience. What they all have in common, however, is incredible fun. Five levels make up one Episode, which must be completed within 90 seconds (not including gold collected within levels, which gives 2 seconds/piece) to unlock the next episode and save progress. This win-quick or die-quick approach makes it an excellent coffee-break game.
Don't let the fact that this is a good game for a coffee-break fool you. It is by no means easy. The sheer amount of episodes available provides a very smooth learning curve, but completing the entire game is a very, very, very difficult task. The reviewer has played this game since its release in 2004, and has now only managed to complete approximately 60% of the game. A reasonable comparison would be to the Jumper series.
N offers a total of 100 episodes, with 5 levels each, 60% of which took the reviewer more than 4 years to complete. That is a lot of replayability. While some players may set the game aside for extended periods of time due to the frustration of not being able to get past that one single level, it is almost guaranteed that they will go back to it at some point. If the core levels aren't enough, the game comes equipped with a level editor, as well as a thriving editing community. The fact that all best times are recorded gives a score-beating element that adds even more replayability.
Simple graphics, as would be expected of a stickman platformer. However, the smoothness is beyond description. Just think: if it is good enough for a stickman game to make use of Xbox graphics, how bad can it possibly be?
No music. The use of sound is appropriate (for example, the crunch when the player breaks an ankle is sufficiently satisfying) and polished, without causing any annoyance.
1. A user-made level. The player is soaring through the combined firepower of a laser drone, five machine gun drones, two sniper bots, and two homing missile launchers.
2. Title screen with the demo of a core level playing in the background.
3. The replay of the top online score for the very last of the core levels. Notice how the dusts along the walls are still settling from walljumping, and the gold has not entirely vanished and compare them to the stickman's current location. This gives an indication of how fast-paced everything actually is.
Note that screenshots can not in any way do this game justice, since the beauty of the game lies in motion, and static pictures effectively destroy this. It is also very difficult to explain the overwhelming joy in being able to change your stickman to another color after beating 10 Episodes without experiencing the process yourself. So download the game already!