N+

The played-out mythos of the ninja entails many clichés, from their silent, philosophical killing style to their real, ultimate power. The way of the ninja would seem to have nothing to do with leaping through austere high-tech fortresses, scaling steel walls, and avoiding robotic enemies—not one of whom you can kill—while grabbing armfuls of gold. But in another sense, N+ is a perfectly Zen game. A minimalist platformer first released as an addictive Flash game, it has spare graphics and no narrative distractions. It offers nothing but challenge: Players have to accomplish such platforming staples as making precise jumps, timing a dash past missiles and electrified robots, and jumping all the way up a wall with perfect grace.

And nothing less than perfect grace will get you through the game. A series of simpler maps warms you up for the knuckle-bending, expletive-urging controller-breakers, where the failures add up and the frustration feels insurmountable. When that happens, the developers recommend you take a walk in the woods, have a beer, and try again. If you can relax enough to forget your hands, release your tension, and just let the wall-jumps flow, you can conquer the greatest obstacle of all: yourself.

Beyond the game: While N+ has a more fluid control system (try the triggers instead of the "A" button) and more elegant maps than the original N, plus head-to-head and co-op games, you can still get the first game free, for PC, Mac, or Linux, at thewayoftheninja.org/n.html.

Worth playing for: You'll win an achievement after you die 1,000 times. This may easily be one of the first achievements you pick up.

Frustration sets in when: You're always running against the clock, and the only way to buy more time is by picking up gold around the map. But the mechanism is poorly tuned: Usually, you can skip the extra gold unless you're shooting for a high score, and then you may be surprised when you suddenly run out of time.