NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams

Pillaging their back catalogue is something Sega like to do quite often, but the results haven’t exactly been positive – for every Outrun 2 or Sega Rally there’s an a rancid 3D update of Alien Syndrome or Altered Beast. NiGHTS is a funny one – sequels have been rumoured for ages but it has taken Sonic Team eleven long years to get around to it. They’ve been keeping the spirit of the colourful jester alive though with numerous cameo appearances in the likes of Sonic Pinball Party, Sonic Riders, Phantasy Star Online and Billy Hatcher. Ah, Billy Hatcher – anybody know what he’s up to these days? Last we heard, he was working in a Bognor Regis KFC.

NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams WiiNiGHTS is a hard one to define, something along the lines of ‘half platformer, half racing game’. The actual flying is on-rails and takes place on a 2D plane, but before transforming into the purple fellow you’re free to run around the 3D environments. Good luck finding something to actually do though. As before the story is set inside the dreams of two children – Helen and Will – whose storylines become entwined towards the end. Inside their dreams they meet NiGHTS, whose world is being invaded by strange creatures from a nightmare realm.

Each world has five missions – the first of which is always an on-rails chase to nab a key from a winged beast, while others involve trying to chain together a 30-plus combo by flying through the orange rings and blue blobs that populate the dream worlds. NiGHTS can also transform into some hilariously absurd new forms including a boat and a rollercoaster for some race sequences, while a dolphin mask makes underwater exploration possible. There’s a distinct old school vibe – die on a boss stage and you have to replay the entire level leading up to it, while aiming for new high scores adds some much needed replay value. Five hours and you can see just about everything.

Controlling NiGHTS with the Wii Remote is simply an exercise in frustration – trying to pull off a perfect loop (a skill required for sucking up blue chips and making enemies vanish) often ends in failure and it’s just too hard to tell where the invisible walls are. Plug in a classic controller or GameCube pad though and all the memories of the Saturn classic come rushing back. There are plenty of treats for fans, such as old music and bosses with a sly wink to the original. Apart from some stupidly random battle against a chameleon that took more attempts than we would have liked, they’re an inventive and fun assortment. Which is a good thing seeing as each boss has to be fought twice in each dream world.

Arguably one of the reasons that the Saturn original has so many fans is because it showed what the fledgling console could do when tickled in the right places. In this day and age though it’s expected that Sega include flashy graphics in all of their titles and NiGHTS is no exception, although the visual quality isn’t consistent. The bosses looks brilliant and most of the levels, Helen’s glass and underwater worlds in particular, look dazzling but the hub system looks like something out of an old N64 game while the Dream Garden – where every item sucked into a paraloop ends up – looks more like a council estate dumping ground.

Something else we could have done without are the cutscenes. NiGHTS has now been ‘blessed’ with the ability to speak, talking in a female tone (the jester’s actual gender though is never revealed) and accompanied by a snooty fellow named Owl who is, well, a snooty owl. The dialogue resembles something out of a CBBC program and stupidly can’t be skipped. You even have to play through the tutorial twice.

There are also four labyrinth style levels involving just the children which feel like something out of the 32-bit era when platformers were in their infancy – you can lob the blue chips to harm foes but it’s such a poorly implemented mechanic. Still, Sonic Team got the music right – it’s a real treat for the ears – and overall it’s fun enough to recommend if you fancy something a bit different.

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