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NiGHTS into Dreams, a retrospective
NiGHTS into Dreams & NiGHTS, Journey of Dreams

by Joker Wylde
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I recently finished NiGHTS, Journey of Dreams, after owning it for about 18 months. Since I was such a fan of the original, I thought I would review them both together.

NiGHTS into Dreams...

This game, although listed as a 3D platformer, is actually nearer a "flight sim" or more accurately a time trial racing game. You can play as either of two characters, a boy called Elliot, or a girl called Claris. If you watch the intro, both young teenagers are having confidence problems. The girl wants to try out as a singer for school, or something, and the boy gets thrashed on the basketball court. Both children re-live their events as nightmares that night, and find themselves in a dream world, looking at the trapped NiGHTS. The point of the game is to free nights every level, and rescue your Idea, or small coloured gems. They all represent some emotion I forget what. You can play the games as the children, and at this point the game is a 3D platformer. Each child can roam freely about the world, although they cannot fly without releasing and playing as NiGHTS. As either child, you can collect the blue gem chips, but this is much easier as NiGHTS. After a while, the clock starts to chase you, and if it catches you twice, you wake up. I heard somewhere that you can beat it by jumping on it, but I never managed. If you play as NiGHTS, you can fly around the world in one of 4 preset routes, although there is some variation in how you go about them, the basic route order and premise is always the same. you must collect a certain number of chips to break the cage. If you avoid the cage and continue to fly around the levels, going through hoops and collecting gold chips, you will rack up a huge amount of points, and get much better score. At the end of each timed level, there is a timed boss, and for each one there is a very quick but difficult to execute trick that gives you a maximum score multiplier.
The level design for this game was amazing, and despite the fact I got the Saturn quite late on (I had a PS2 at the time) I thought the graphics were great. I was told at the time that the analogue controller was one of the first made (although they were beaten by the N64, apparently it had been in production before this). This has only been partially backed up by Wikipedia. Lots of people criticised this game for being too short, and truly, it could be completed in an afternoon, but in doing so, many people missed out on the true genius of the game. It wasn't the innovative and well executed game play, or the fact that the story had been mostly unvoiced and left to your  imagination, but the fact that the music was entirely generated by your performance on the previous level, as was, I believe, your choice of boss fight. And it wasn't just the overall level music that changed depending on your performance, it changed for every route inside the level. So if you had beaten the boss quickly, the next level you played would have good music. The better you did on the first circuit, the better the second circuit's music. And all 5 parts of the level had 5 seamlessly interlocking pieces written for them (one for each grade), thats 25 tracks per level! This was for all 6 levels for both characters (I don't think the Twin Seed level did,). There was nothing in the manual about this, so the mood remained subtly linked to the change in music.  It was made apparent on the release of Christmas NiGHTS, as the music editor that you could unlock had all the pieces of music strung together. Another seemingly superfluous feature of NiGHTS, was the acrobatics. It gave you points, and apparently could make you take corners better, but wasn't necessary to finish the game at all. And it was such a joy! It made the flying seem a lot less restricted too.

Despite my childish nostalgia for this game,there were an awful lot of bad points. The game was very short, although the difficulty curve going from C to A grades was steep, and some of the bosses were fiendish enough to drag game play out for a few more hours. The graphics haven't aged well by todays standards, but I think they were great at the time. The tone of the game was horribly sugary, and all this nonsense about Idea and chasing your dreams is wholly unpalatable for me, although the lack of space or speed on this console forced there to be major cut backs on voice acting and story development, which I feel was a blessing. The major let down of this game was the ending theme. One of the earliest games to have an actual song at the end, and it was rubbish! I was shocked! The song lyrics are the usual soppy nonsense of friendship and finding someone, but it is sung by two children. Firstly I feel the theme of the song was a little mature for them to sing, and secondly: Oh my God, they are completely a-tonal! Were they related to the design team or something!? I have never heard such bad singing in all my life, its atrocious. Half way through, the adults have to take over its so bad... And this has become one of the most prominent reoccurring themes throughout all three games! It spoiled a really brilliant game, and since it was before sound compression was widely used took up so much room you could have made a whole new level... anyway, as rubbish as it was, it didn't put me off buying the eagerly and long awaited sequel...

NiGHTS, Journey of Dreams

I am in two minds about this one. While it is essentially exactly the same as the original, its also not. Its missing the carefree flying, and the brilliant music improvisation of its predecessor, but overall, its more of a remake than a sequel. This time the two children are called Will and Helen, and sadly by this point the Wii contains enough space and processing speed to have voices, and good lord, they like to talk. As far as I know, there is no way to implement my favourite trick of changing the voices to Japanese so I can't tell how bad the voice acting is. And its bad! I can't tell if they are supposed to be English or American, but they can't hold an accent down at all. And NiGHTS is so annoying . i know he's supposed to be androgynous, but that doesn't equate to mind blowingly irritating.

Fortunately the controls are an absolute joy. There are several control methods, but the only one I used lots was the nunchuck method. Like the analogue controller, the nunchuck directs movement, and the remote makes you spin etc. It can also be waved in different directions to perform the acrobatics. Its so nice to finally have a game that uses the Wiimote to full effect. Even if you hate this game, its almost worth getting just to see how all the other Wii games should be controlled.

The Level design is fairly typical Sega, with many levels being similar to NiGHTS and other Sonic games. The game play principle is almost the same, the levels are timed, and you have to fly round a track to break the cage, but this time you are chasing a bird with a key, and your score seems to be based solely on how quickly you complete the level. I think thats a shame, its not the same as perfecting your route round the level and leaving it to the last second to complete the it. Still, the bosses are very good, and most are reminiscent of the one s in the last game. I liked the chameleon best, although his battle was hard. Some of the "fun" levels weren't at all, Helen has to regain her confidence to play an instrument, and you basically circle a concert stage playing the abhorrent Dreams Dreams. Its unbelievably difficult, you have to fly at a constant speed, and if you miss 5 notes thats it! Night over, start again... thats not how you encourage a child to practice! Bad NiGHTS, be more supportive. 

The level variety has improved, and you range from circuit levels, to 3D maze levels, and the A life section seems to be much more interactive. I didn't buy into it much last time. I liked the Chaos, but the Nightopians were a bit freaky for me. Bald little singing babies, they looked a bit like coneheads and screamed if you paralooped too close to them. In this game, thats how you get them into your sandbox world, although after that I don't know what you do with them. There is also a teardrop collection game, but again its purpose passes me by somewhat.

The story I could take or leave in this game. Constraints in the last one meant they avoided lengthy storyline expansions, but they have totally gone to town over this one. It reminds me of a review of Sonic Adventure years ago, "we spent 10 years waiting for him to speak, now we can't make him shut up fast enough". I was also mildly amused to see that they got the girl back to sing the song from the original over the credits, although by now she must be a woman, and hopefully has actually learned to sing. I see they didn't get the boy back... For some inexplicable reason they thought it was complicated enough to need a tutor character, and to my horror they chose an owl! Noooooo. Owls ruined Bagpuss, Ocarina of Time, and now you've come to take NiGHTS! He pops up all the time, and is rarely helpful. He has more excruciating dialog than any of the others, and provides moral judgment on these poor children when they find out NiGHTs is a Nightmaren. Was he one in the last game? Does it even matter? And all that b****x about the Idea, and their quest to get on with their parents...Its not like they wouldn't have put it in the last game if they'd have been able to.

I haven't delved into any of the online or multiplayer aspects of this game, and I suspect there is a lot more to it that I am aware of. They have taken away some of the charm of the original, but overall I think the game is a better one in terms of playability, variety and difficulty. The stories intertwine more, even if I have grown more cynical in my appreciation of them. There aren't as many interesting quirks, but then they rarely make for a critical success, so I understand when these things are axed in favour of attempted mainstream success. They struck gold on the controls, and if you can put up with what feels like hours of tedious badly voiced dialog you'll love it as much as the first, if only because you get to play it for longer. It will never be a collectors item like the first, but I think its got a lot more going for it, even if sadly it has a lot less at the same time.

(I have been corrected by an external source. Apparently Prof. Yaffle is a woodpecker... Still, birds ugh.)

Joker Wylde, 13 May 09

Originally posted to GameSpot.

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