NiGHTS: Journey Of Dreams Wii Review
A lot has changed at SEGA since the original NiGHTS and their decision to make a sequel – Journey of Dreams. For starters, they no longer develop hardware, they’ve become a leading publisher and their mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog, has made a somewhat lacklustre jump to three dimensions, before appearing alongside – of all people – Mario, in – of all things – a sports game. A lot has changed in games, too. Generations have passed, the HD era is upon us, and Nintendo have been to the top, the bottom and back to the top again. Things have changed, and is there still a place for a new NiGHTS?
NiGHTS has a fiercely loyal fanbase, and ever since the sequel was announced, one which has frequently mentioned its concerns about the title being developed by Sonic Team USA – the team behind the very poor Shadow the Hedgehog, a few years back. Perhaps a reasonable worry, but it’s worth mentioning that NiGHTS was a game that featured a lot of the things that made “classic SEGA” so good. Vibrant colours, blue skies, memorable characters and unmatched arcade gameplay where finishing a game was a whole world apart from actually mastering it. It was those who could see the difference between the two that truly fell in love with NiGHTS and the gameplay that still holds up well today.
After the initial hit of nostalgia has passed, brought on by hearing that file select music, it’s a worrying feeling of disappointment that sums up NiGHTS‘ opening moments. First of all, it looks UGLY as hell. Jagged edges, low quality textures – it looks less a Saturn sequel and looks more a Saturn game. It is gloomy and there is a strange, angular owl talking to you, which brings us to point two. You’ll find yourself skipping through an awful lot of dialogue that is largely rubbish – the original NiGHTS being far from a cinematic epic, but the dialogue here is truly atrocious. Nights, the character, now talks and is rather annoying while the owl, imaginatively named “Owl”, pops up to chat periodically to change the pace from “dead slow” to “stop”.
It brings up memories of modern Sonic games, where the things that people loved about the series were forgotten in place of awkward cinematics.
Perhaps the most disappointing part is the Wiimote controls. The ability to soar through the skies using the pointer sounds incredible in press releases, but the reality is, sadly, nowhere near as much fun as it should be. You point the cursor around NiGHTS and hold A to accelerate in the desired direction, which does work, but is nowhere near as precise as you need to gain the higher ranks. Remember kids, Saturn NiGHTS was packed with an analogue controller, such is the importance of control to the game.
So, I plug in a classic controller and begin the first “real” stage. Now, bearing in mind all you have read above, imagine my surprise when everything that made the original so good suddenly appeared on screen, ready to play. It was like Yuji Naka himself had scooped out my ugly, fleshy, grey brain matter and replaced it with candy, rainbows and that music. Using the classic controller, a remote and nunchuck or even a GameCube pad almost instantly fixes the control issues and allows for a much more intuitive experience. It even LOOKS like a different game, all bright and vibrant. The polygon count is still quite low, but the level design and colour palette more than hides this.
Most importantly, it becomes clear that the classic NiGHTS gameplay IS here and has stood the test of time surprisingly well.
It has a simple structure – each stage is split into three small sections, followed by a boss battle. You soar through the skies chasing after a large bird-like creature holding a key. Chasing it down can take a few laps, as each section is on its own set of rails, but taking this key to the end will take you to the next section. Catching this enemy is fairly easy, but the real skill is in getting the biggest “chain” you can on the way. Flying through hoops, collecting orbs and circling around enemies all add to your chain total, which a lack of addition to the total for more than a second or so will end it and drop the count back to zero. You’ll find yourself seeing the optimum route through each section, then using the precise analogue controls to perfect it, using the limited boost to go from place to place before your combo drops.
It’s the way you feel you can always go “one better” that made the original such a compelling classic. It is refreshing to see it still holds that appeal, where so many sequels have failed.
Unfortunately, much like that time you were having that dream about boffing that girl who works in the shoe department, only to wake up and realise that not only are you late for work, but she HATES you, you are unceremoniously dumped back into the hub system, full of cutscenes, ugliness and tedium – not to mention that goddamn owl. Who knew such utter monotony could exist in a world of dreams? The entire area is made all the worse by the ill-judged platforming and puzzles sometimes needed to be solved in order to reach the next area, when all you want to do is return to the sweet arcade action.
The music in that area is ace, though.
There are a few new features in NiGHTS that don’t leave a bad taste. You can now change form in the main game using “persona masks”. These allow you to access previously inaccessible areas by turning into different “personas” – such as underwater sections by turning NiGHTS into a dolphin. Although they sound like this would only complicate the pure gameplay, they actually add a little more depth to it, as switching form to find the best route is the way to get the best scores. The inclusion of multiplayer is a nice bonus, even if it is on the Wii, which means it is far from full featured. It is, however, a nice little distraction which involves racing a friend or hurling stuff at them in a “battle” mode.
Another interesting feature is the “My Dream” garden, where enemies and Nytopians found during the game are added to when paralooped, with the much talked about A-Life system from the Saturn version getting shown off. Nightmarens and Nytopians exist together in a strange habitat that grows depending on what you let them get away with. If a Nightmaren attacks a Nightopian, you can step in and stop it. It’s like a Viva Pinata-lite, and something that could keep you drawn in long after you’ve finished all the stages. It even syncs with the Wii Weather Channel, providing you with various weather effects depending on how lovely or awful the day you’re having.
It’s an odd one, this. Most of the stuff added to “modernise” the game – cutscenes, plot, hub system etc. – all make the game feel a bit of a flabby mess. Stripped of these, Sega may have ran the risk of releasing something perhaps too “old school” or “traditional” for the current market, but NiGHTS was always a niche title, and a more focused sequel would have appealed a lot more to the already existing fanbase who waited years for this.
Your average Call of Duty 4 player will find little here, but for fans of the original, or just fans of classic gaming, will enjoy the trip down memory lane to a time where skill and scores where far more important than assault rifles. At times, there are parts of Nights: Journey of Dreams that are at odds with everything great about the original, but the gameplay alone ensures that although they have soured the experience, it hasn’t been completely ruined.
So, how about Burning Rangers next?
A revisited classic that isn’t completely awful. Take note, George Lucas.