Itâ€™s entirely possible that youâ€™ve walked into a video game store, seen the box for NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams on a stand, and thought, â€˜what the heck is that?â€™ Itâ€™s a fair enough reaction, but luckily Iâ€™m here to help you decide whether itâ€™s the game for you â€“ or, more likely, your kids.
Journey of Dreams is the sequel to NiGHTS, a cult hit on the Sega Saturn back in 1996, and developed by Sonic Team (guess which games theyâ€™re responsible for). Being a huge fan of this game, I leapt at the chance to review this sequel thatâ€™s been a long time coming â€“ but unfortunately, it doesnâ€™t live up to its predecessor. Iâ€™m very wary, however, about viewing the past through rose tinted glasses, so Iâ€™ll do my best to assess Journey of Dreams under the assumption that youâ€™re new to the whole NiGHTS experience.
In essence, the core gameplay of NiGHTS is more like a 2D racing game than a 3D platformer, in spite of what screenshots might look like. As the titular androgynous jester, youâ€™ll fly left to right along a pre-determined path through a 3D level. Your goal is to catch up with a bird-like creature racing ahead of you, steal the key off its back, zoom back to a cage that had recently held you captive, and use the key to destroy it. To complicate matters, you need to achieve as high a score as possible, which can be done in two ways: by destroying the cage as quickly as possible, and by stringing together chain combos by flying through floating rings or collecting blue chips. Itâ€™s a premise that might sound confusing on paper â€“ and can certainly be puzzling if youâ€™re watching someone else play â€“ but itâ€™s easy to grasp the concept once you try it yourself.
With some changes, this gameplay is essentially the same as the original NiGHTS (although minor adjustments have minimized the amount of skill required). The fun to be had here consists simply of soaring through beautiful levels, trying to best your score by perfecting combos and memorizing level patterns. When you get into it, it can be quite engrossing and addictive, and is by far the best part of the NiGHTS package.
Itâ€™s unfortunate, then, that so much uninspired filler content surrounds the core gameplay, keeping the player from enjoying the best part about the game.
Letâ€™s start with the story. The premise in the original was simple, yet charming: two children, a boy and a girl, each have a set of fear and doubt that are haunting them. They enter the dream world of Nightopia, and with the help of NiGHTS, overcome both an invading enemy and their own personal demons. Thereâ€™s never any dialogue, and the story is only ever told at the beginning and end of the game, allowing the gameplay to be the real focus.
Journey of Dreams, on the other hand, interrupts the gameplay at every other turn with a story that is almost identical, and yet so much worse, simply because it slaps you in the face with awful dialogue and voice acting, and wonâ€™t let you skip cutscenes. Unless youâ€™re six years old, hearing the stilted conversations between NiGHTS and the children will make you cringe as youâ€™ve never cringed before.
Of course, itâ€™s obvious that Sega has tried to make this game more appealing to a younger demographic â€“ which is totally understandable, except that the gameplay isnâ€™t really something a young kid will be able to grasp easily. The result is a game that tries to appeal to a wide audience, but could easily just end up frustrating everyone.
On top of that are other tasks that must be accomplished alongside the core levels. These include platforming levels, boss fights, and other miniature tasks that arenâ€™t precisely terrible, but are certainly forgettable, and not nearly as fun as the real levels.
The graphics are a similarly mixed bag. They are put to best use in the flying missions, and itâ€™s great fun to simply watch NiGHTS soar through waterfalls, over crystal palaces, and through dark forests. On the other hand, some areas of the game â€“ particularly in the areas where you control the children â€“ look less than inspired, and bring down the look of the game somewhat. More consistent, however, is the music â€“ itâ€™s almost uniformly good, and provides an excellent accompaniment to the onscreen action.
NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams is by no means a complete write off. Its best elements retain a fair amount of what make its predecessor so fondly remembered. The problem is simply that thereâ€™s so much filler - so much decidedly average content - that surrounds the good moments. All it does is interrupt the flow of the game, and will likely wear down your patience. If you were a fan of the original, be prepared to get a bit angry at some of the changes made in this game.
But having said that, Journey of Dreams isnâ€™t really about catering to the fans â€“ itâ€™s about finding a new audience that can enjoy all that NiGHTS has to offer. The problem is that is canâ€™t quite decide who to go for â€“ young children, or more hardcore gamers who love skill and points-based arcade gameplay. If I were to take a pick, Iâ€™d say this game would be perfect to play with your son or daughter â€“ you can play the actual levels, and go make a cup of coffee while they sit and watch the cutscenes.