Now Boomers, this be an old one on the horizon! Long term Sega fans may remember this series from the Sega Saturn way back in 1996! Enough to make us Hume’s feel old I tell you. (Lucky robots don’t age; we just get better with time! ~ Megadroid)

Now back then, NiGHTS was (and still widely is) considered the best game on the Saturn by an absolute mile. It had smooth controls, a lovely backdrop, solid gameplay and a beautiful musical score. Since then it gained quite a cult following, so no doubt the new incarnation for the Wii, over ten years later, has a large standard to live up to from old fans, and indeed to break into the new fans tastes as well.

So, does NiGHTS: Journey Of Dreams live up to this?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Not even close.

The first thing to strike a player in a game is two things, the graphics and the opening presentation. To use the latter first, after (what seems to be a Sega staple thanks to their affiliation with Blur Studios) a beautifully rendered opening scene met afterwards by a massively disappointing first game area.

In this case, you are given the choice of two characters, Helen and William. After a choice is made, you enter the “hub” of the game as the child. Starting a game being flung in as an ineptly controlled child to run around feels very dull, giving the impression the game hit the ground face first rather than running. This area is where a tutorial takes place, but to do that, you must first meet up with NiGHTS, the well loved game character and primary protagonist.

Now in the past, NiGHTS was always a speechless, genderless form whom the player could (according to many circuits of players) relate with in their own way, and at first glance this “rascal” as depicted by the game gives across the image. Then NiGHTS speaks…

I don’t know who did her but she sounds fresh out of acting school with no real passion for the role at all, creating a quite irritating voice that continually bugs the player with the blaringly obvious. In my entire time playing the game the character never once came over as anything other than a few (literally) polygons and bits of programming.

This tutorial lasts for some time, and is covered by Owl. Yup, that’s just it, an owl named Owl who maintains repetitive lines such as “Oh…” and “Visitor…” every time you see a bit of dialogue. This long tutorial gives the player a chance to marvel at how gloriously bad the graphics are. Now, let it be known I am a firm supporter of the idea of “Graphics count for nothing next to gameplay” but these are truly atrocious visuals.

Throughout the game, everything seems to be made of flat colour rather than any form of texturing or pattern, characters are sharp edged and lack any real appearance design, backgrounds have an age old feeling of “a small area confined with an art backdrop.” Although many games still do this, they at least do it well…NiGHTS however just offends completely with its simply awful visual design.

In motion things start to look slightly better, in the same essence of Sonic Riders (Which had awful visuals, but in movement looked pretty nice) it blurs things slightly in order to get across the essence of speed. However this isn’t entirely successful when the environments are so crammed to the brim with every colour available, creating a mess of colours and designs that allow little real appreciation of anything being created.

Now, it’s all been downhill thus far, so moving into a more defined area for every gamer, regardless of expectation, the actual gameplay itself.

It’s always hard to define NiGHTS to a genre. I sat for four minutes before coming up with adventure as the best suiting one. Essentially, the game is played out pseudo-2D style, 2D movement and restrictions but moving in a 3D world and on 3D axis of travel. NiGHTS flies up and down the screen, as controlled by you (more on that later) and occasionally boosting to gain speed to maintain a combo (gained by passing through rings and a myriad of other such tasks). Now this gameplay mechanic does work somewhat, at first it felt nice and fluid, like really flying with good physics and no real limits. However this was only in the open tutorial area. Once obstacles and rings are introduced, it quickly becomes a much more challenging prospect to get through the items without messing up. A key gameplay element is the act of looping around an enemy (called a paraloop) in order to kill them and, again, maintain your combo. This works somewhat, however the apparent trail to keep an eye on your potential paraloop’s progress is very easily lost in the mass of colour and movement that is the background of NiGHTS. And since a short delay kills your combo, if you miss due to this and lose out on a great score, it can be very frustrating.

Now this forms the basis of the gameplay as NiGHTS, but each mission has separate objectives to accomplish in much the same way as you do anything else, by paralooping around things. A mission to catch three birds with keys? Paraloop them. A (very annoying, badly designed mission) mission to catch flyaway civilians who get trapped in a vortex? Paraloop them. Occasionally a new segment opened up to offer the player a different experience, such as rafting on top of NiGHTS down a river to rescue more of these little creatures. The controls however, tend to be clunky and overly simple here, leading to a generic experience.

Now this is not to say that the entire gameplay experience is just horror after tragic horror, but rather it just doesn’t seem to really go anywhere as such. There is also a lack of refinement that was present in the original, for example, you will often find yourself driving into a rock face unsure as to where to go now. The game does a wonderful job of not making objectives clear, and despite being a large fan of having to figure out many ideas yourself, some things should always be clear.

There are however the occasional few gems to be found in the muck however. If you get a good combo going and flow nicely around a track, despite the awful looking movement of it all with the background, you feel good about the achievement. Also, some of the boss battles can be quite fun, until they start getting ridiculously generic/repetitive that is…

More than likely experienced NiGHTS players may find this more accessible due to a mind already adapted to the style of play, whereas newcomers will no doubt feel a little weirded out by the bizarre method of play. For controlling there are three methods, of which, sadly, only one is even worth considering. The Wii-Remote is used to point to the left and right and to the top and bottom in order to move NiGHTS. However this is inaccurate and sluggish at the best of times, in addition, precise movements can be very awkward. This method is not even worth looking at, it’s that simple.

The Nunchuck is slightly better, allowing for a more classic analogue movement. Although it defeats the purpose of having motion sensing, not every game has to use that I feel. It controls fairly well, however the 8-sided stick of the joypad can occasionally make the experience feel very set in stone as to direction rather than a smooth curve. The third method is the Gamecube controller, its smoother controls allow for an easier method that is far more controllable.

Perhaps it’s just cynicism talking when I feel at least, that being forced to use an old controller is somewhat missing the point of good controls entirely…

However, we do have a good point at last! The music and sound! Just like its predecessor, NiGHTS is brilliantly designed audio wise, everything NiGHTS does carries a soft whispering sound rather than a harsh noise, creating a somewhat dreamlike impression on the player, it’s just unfortunate the rest didn’t live up to this immersion. The music is another great success, as it suits every scene, setting a mood and pace well. Notable tracks are the dreamlike hub area and the more ecstatic boss fights.

It is hard to go into specifics with NiGHTS outside of the general areas, the characters are very cliché, the story is…weird, the extras are unnecessary to a formula that already worked…

Online multiplayer is a nice touch, considering the Wii’s almost complete lack of support thus far, the trouble naturally would be finding someone else, and in a game so based on fluidity and smooth curves, any sort of lag could be rather crippling.

Looking at the game as a whole, it is not a good one. It’s not even “just not as good as the original.” It truly is bad. The experience feels stale and without proper polish, I haven’t even gone into things like how you have to play the tutorial twice, one for each character! Hardcore NiGHTS fans may find something in here, but overall, it’s just a waste of a glorious opportunity.

Final Countdown!
Great music and audio.
Terrible graphics.
Stilted gameplay.
Wasted potential.