NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams Review
No, I didn't miss a capital letter up there in the review title, there really is a lowercase i in the game's name. Don't ask me why, I've got absolutely no clue -- it has been this way since the Sega Saturn original. I remember getting a chance to play that game near the end of the Saturn's lifespan, as my grandma had bought me a Sega Saturn from Blockbuster for a ridiculously low price. The game was really fun, and put Sega's new Analog controller to good use. Sure, things were simple -- you flew through rings for the majority of the game. But it looked pretty, the world was unique and the game was just fun to play. Now hit the fast forward button. This generation has seen a ton of remakes of older games, or continued evolutions of old franchises. It was about time for a NiGHTS resurrection.
NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams is, much like the original, a strange combination of 2D and 3D, with a heavy focus on flight. See, at first, the world you're in seems to be totally three-dimensional, and it is ridiculously good-looking. The game takes place in dreams of two young kids, and Sonic Team has really nailed down the idea of creating what feels like a dream world. It is colorful and light-hearted while the boss levels have an incredibly dark feel to them. All these beautiful 3D worlds, though, are often only seen on rails. You can move NiGHTS up and down, or turn around, but you can't explore this 3D world, as it just makes all the three-dimensional turns for you. Essentially, it is a two-dimensional platformer, save for a couple of first-person stages.
The controls are the game's weakest point. The option that the game initially pushes on you uses the Wiimote. With it, you point at the screen to direct NiGHTS around. Sounds simple, sure, but really doesn't work well at all once you actually try to put it to use. Thankfully, the game allows the option of using the Classic controller or a Gamecube controller. Even these don't feel right, though, but I think that may be a bit more of a knock on Nintendo's general analog stick design than anything else. The more I think about it, though, the more I think that this game would have done exceptionally well with a tilt-based control system much like in Excite Truck. It doesn't use many buttons, so the ones on the Wiimote are sufficient, and the movement in the world is very simple. With the original NiGHTS on the Saturn pushing a new controller for Sega, why couldn't the revival of the series push an interesting control scheme for Nintendo?
Despite the weak controls, the game is still damn fun to actually play. You'll control NiGHTS through various missions, most of them dealing with flying through tons of rings. You can link these rings for higher scores by flying through them without more than a second of time without flying through one. This is definitely the meat of the actual game -- with it taking a few hours or less to complete each of the two stories, you're going to need to go back and try to beat your last ranking in a stage to get fifty bucks of value out of this game. However, you're not going to find yourself wanting to go back to any of the stages that involve a first-person view, since the game's control problems are just amplified in these levels.
Even if the controls seem to work well in them, they are just horribly irritating. Take the NiGHTS boat level that you'll encounter within your first half hour of playing the game -- there is a ton of pop-in, and the little guys you are trying to collect are, well, little and hard to see until you're right by them. That wouldn't be too bad if you weren't fighting major currents on the river you were boating down. The attempt at a variety in gameplay is a nice gesture, but the non-flight levels feel like they need more work.
By far, NiGHTS' strongest point would be its story and the world in general. As I mentioned earlier, NiGHTS takes place in the dream world, a world called Nightopia. You're following the story of two children, Will and Helen. The story is, to say the least, fun to follow (despite your inability to skip many of the story scenes) and, more importantly, there are full voiceovers for the characters. The story does give cause for the less-fun gameplay element of controlling Will or Helen, though -- the game really seems to be focused on control of the flight stuff and not of a very basic run and jump type of thing that Will and Helen use. Why couldn't the more mundane stuff like this instead be told through a story sequence so that you could just get to doing what most people probably want to do when they pick up this game -- fly with NiGHTS?
Overall, NiGHTS is not a bad game. Flying around is still as fun as it was the first time around on the Sega Saturn, though this time it is more because of the quality of world design as opposed to the tight controls of the last edition of this game. This game does deserve a shot, if only to see the excellent world that Sonic Team has put together here -- very rarely is world design pulled off this well. Sonic Team, take note -- if there is a second NiGHTS game on the Wii, or some future system, please tighten up the controls. Also, make sure the non-flight levels are more fun to play. Do that, and the game will be much better. As it stands, NiGHTS is an overall average effort from Sonic Team.