REVIEWS -- NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams -- Wii
From Nightmares to Dreams
by Jacob Crites
Fun factor: Average
Worth to: Buy
ĎNiGHTSí often swoops from soaring heights to awkward lows, but its unique, charming gameplay and stellar soundtrack make it an updated classic well worth playing.
I think Iíve figured out Sonic Teamís game plan. No really, Iíve figured it out. What they do is they make a really good game -- something with classic gameplay elements, some unique, new stuff thrown in there, all very polished and impressive looking -- then, they do everything in their power to make said game as mediocre as possible. They keep all the stuff from the great game, but they bury it in a heap of mediocre junk. Gimmicks -- gotta have a gimmick. Preferably one that adds nothing to the experience, or ideally, subtracts from it. Bad voice acting: now, this is key. Itís tricky, too, because it canít just be bad; it has to be really bad. Grating. Just offensively terrible. Then wrap it all in a convoluted, unnecessary story with lengthy, overproduced cutscenes that canít be skipped.
Works like a charm, too. Itís worked for such classics as Sonic and the Secret Rings, Sonic: Unleashed, and Sonic and the Black Knight -- the flagship titles of mediocrity. And it almost worked for NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams, too. But Sega screwed up: they accidentally added a little thing called charm. Not only that, but they added one of the most incredible soundtracks in gaming history, some wonderfully whimsical and inventive levels, and some of the most unique gameplay on the console. Yes, despite Segaís attempts to destroy it, they accidentally made a pretty great game.
Plays like a Dream (most of the time)
Iím cynical, if you couldnít tell, because I simply donít understand why Sega -- more specifically Sonic Team -- insists on taking fantastic games and ruining them. Look at Sonic: Unleashed. The daytime levels in that game? Outstanding. 3D Sonic at its absolute best. Why didnít they make a whole game with just the amazing daytime levels? Because they had to add in some worthless WhereHog gimmick to distract from the experience, apparently. NiGHTS suffers from the same syndrome, but thankfully the result is something thatís still well worth playing.
NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams is a reboot of the cult-classic game NiGHTS: Into Dreams for the Sega Saturn. I was only a young lad when the game came out, so I didnít play it, nor to this day, but itís the foundation for this Wii effort here. Whatís different this time around is the structure; you follow the story of a young child. You choose either Will or Helen whoís been transported to the strange world of Nightopia -- the place one goes during a dream, apparently.
You team up with NiGHTS, the gender-confused purpleish creature you see on the box art (and the main character of the game, obviously) as you try to save Nightopia from some generic villain named Wizeman and his henchman, Reala. The story is silly, but charming in a child-like, clichť sort of way. But the story is neither here nor there, because itís really the gameplay that makes the game shine.
Itís a bit difficult trying to explain what NiGHTS ďisĒ, because the core gameplay is really unlike anything youíve ever played before. You control NiGHTS (whose name is getting increasingly annoying to type) as he/she/it flies through beautiful, lush environments; controlling it (weíll just call NiGHTS an ďitĒ for continuityís sake) slickly with the control stick along a mostly 2.5D plane. Simply controlling NiGHTS through these wonderfully designed fantasy worlds is enough to recommend a purchase, but as it turns out thereís actually a game here, and itís a darn fun one at that.
Spread throughout the levels are hundreds of rings which you can fly through, and flying through several rings within a second nets you some combo points. So the key here is to try to rack up as many combo points as possible, while preferably looking stylish at the same time. Most of the flight-based levels have a goal aside from simply getting points, of course -- usually youíll be chasing a giant bird-type creature who is holding a key. Catch up to it and get the key, and you can unlock the next section of the level and move on. It may sound simplistic and easy, but NiGHTS offers a pretty good challenge, and youíll likely want to replay the flight levels again and again to try to beat your high score (or just to fly around and enjoy the scenery)
Now the irritating, distracting and questionable parts
If Sonic Team would have focused solely on the brilliant levels where youíre controlling NiGHTS, the game would have been a classic, without question. But, as youíll recall, this is Sonic Team, and apparently they want to try to bury all the savory goodness with mediocre crap. And so they did. The game has quite a few generic platforming levels in which you control one of the two children. Thereís nothing overtly bad about these platforming sections, but there isnít anything praiseworthy about them either. Although they advance the plot in a few areas, the plot itself isnít really necessary to begin with. These platforming levels really serve no other purpose than to bring down the overall experience of the game.
The boss battles are also a mixed bag. On one hand theyíre almost always conceptually interesting and clever in their design, but on the other hand theyíre also wildly out of place and donít always work as well as they should. Bosses appear at the end of the first and last levels in any given world, but they pop up randomly without any explanation and never have anything to do with whatever level youíre in. Even more frustrating, the game never gives you a very good idea of what you have to do to beat them. Sure, you can go to the pause menu and get a little hint, but you shouldnít have to do this.
NiGHTS contains quite a bit of voice-acting, though Iím hesitant to call it that. I think ďunqualified people reading poorly written lines in the most irritating way possibleĒ would be a better way to put it. It wouldnít have been such an issue if there was an option to turn the voices off and put subtitles on, but there isnít. So youíll have sit there in agony while these cutscenes play, wondering how on earth these people got hired as voice actors.
Visually, the game is stunning from an artistic standpoint, but sometimes underwhelming in terms of sheer pixels and textures. The flight levels are always visually and aesthetically impressive affairs, but itís clear that the overworld and platforming levels got a little less attention. Certain areas just need a little more polish, a problem that could have been fixed with a bit more time in development. Itís surprising that this is the case, given that Sega is known for pushing the Wii to its limits as far as presentation is concerned.
I have nothing but praise about the soundtrack, however, which is quite simply one of the best Iíve ever heard in a videogame. Every tune in the game is a grand one, and always perfectly suits the environment that youíre in. Aside from the opening title theme, itís not orchestrated, which is a shame, but itís hard to complain when the result is this superb. Itís a darn shame this game didnít sell better because more people really need to hear the wonderful work that went into its soundtrack.
NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams is far from perfect. Sonic Team has once again unnecessarily thrown quite a few mediocre elements into the game that prevent it from being wholly recommendable.
But still, thereís something undeniably magnetic about NiGHTSí experience. Perhaps itís the wonderfully compelling and unique flight-based levels that serve as the backbone of the game. Perhaps itís the impressive art direction and brilliant level design (in the flight levels, that is), or maybe itís the masterful soundtrack. But most likely, itís because despite all of its problems, Sonic Team did one thing absolutely right that they canít seem to get down with Sonic: NiGHTS has a heart. Forget the guns and violence, forget the HD graphics, forget the ďhardcoreĒ for just a minute; NiGHTS is a reminder that a little bit of charm and lighthearted fun can go a long way. And for that, it gets my utmost respect.
Release Date: December 18, 2007
Review Date: 10-01-2010
Numbers of Players: 1-2
Players Online: 2
Though certain areas lack a little polish, itís an artistically stunning game and a step above most 3rd party Wii efforts.
This is a tough one, because the flight levels are all 100ís, but the boss fights and platforming sections are 50ís and 60ís. However, thereís less emphasis on the latter two, and I feel that the good vastly outweighs the bad.
A ton of time and effort were clearly put into the cutscenes and flight levels, and the soundtrack is one of the best Iíve ever heard. But the horrid voice acting and mediocre platforming sections bring the score down.
If only the voice acting wasnít so darned terrible this would have been a perfect 100, because the soundtrack is classic in ways you just wouldnít believe.
Going back and trying to beat your high score on the flight levels is a blast, but the other levels arenít worth playing a second time (or really a first time, for that matter).