tempest in a teacup

the pointless musings of a strange recluse

A Journey with some turbulence

Our price on NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams dropped to $30 recently, and I decided to go ahead and get it. So far I've put in a couple of hours, and played the first two levels of Helen's story (and have yet to finish the first level of Will's story).

How is it, do you ask? Well, it's definitely not what I'd call “bad.” It does have rough spots, though. For some reason, Sonic Team decided that the mission-based level approach from Sonic and the Secret Rings was awesome enough to be replicated (Hint: it wasn't). As a result of this, each “level” actually consists of five disparate missions, only two of which actually involve flying. The first mission is always a standard flying mission followed by a boss fight (much in the vein of classic NiGHTS), but the others can vary quite a bit. My favourite of the lot are the Octopaw missions, which are essentially a race to see how many links you can get in a given time limit. The standard flying missions as well as the boss fights are also really fun. The experience of collecting chips, flying through rings and trying to rack up ridiculous link chains remains as addictive as it was 12 years ago.

The other missions types are…not quite as fun. Some involve platforming with the two children (who control pretty sluggishly), and others have you flying around trying to paraloop Nightopians, or collecting water bubbles in a round arena, or something along those lines. The bottom line is, they're not really developed as well as the main game, and feel out of place. Much like in Secret Rings, it feels like a lot of the missions were put in for silly reasons (story, most of the time), and I think the game would be better off without them, even if the result is shorter length.

The classic flying levels have also seen a bit of a change since the original game. Instead of collecting enough blue chips to break open the Ideya capture, you now have to steal keys from giant birds flying around each level. I don't mind the change too much, although it does make it tempting to focus on the bird flying away from you with the key and forget about trying to get links. The new levels I've seen so far look pretty nice – an Alpine area with snow-capped peaks and balloons, an underwater area and a castle surrounded by large crystals. The graphics are serviceable, although framerate dips do occur from time to time. The music is also really nice, but that's really to be expected – if there's anything Sega has done right in the past few years, it's the sound production on their games.

Oh, and there's voice acting.

It's actually not THAT bad – better than the shitty voice acting typical of most Sonic games, but it's not going to win any awards. I have to say, though…something about NiGHTS talking seems so…off. It's not a dealbreaker by any means, but I thought NiGHTS' lack of a voice added to the mysterious, playful appeal of the character. Here, he/she/it has a weird British accent, which works alright, I suppose. Of course, now that all the characters can talk, Sonic Team has gone and thrown in a whole bunch of cutscenes to bookend the levels. The pre-rendered stuff is stunning as always, but the in-engine cutscenes make my eyes bleed. On top of that the game is very inconsistent about whether it'll let you skip cutscenes or not, which is kind of irritating when the designated helper character (an owl with a British accent, creatively named “Owl”) keeps jabbering on and on about the storyline, oblivious of the fact that I just want to start playing already.

There are a bunch of control options – not being a masochist, I opted for the classic controller straight away. It's definitely the best of the options I've tried, but I have one gripe with it, and it may be a problem in the longer run. The Wii's analog stick is 8-way, much like the GameCube, and this restricts NiGHTS' flying motions to the 8 cardinal directions with no granularity in between. You can get used to it in time, but it still doesn't feel quite “right,” in the same way that it didn't quite feel right to have to hold down the 2 button to jump properly in Sonic and the Secret Rings (I'm still not used to that, by the way). As a caveat, I never got to play the original NiGHTS into Dreams with the Saturn analog stick, so I have no idea if the game had a full 360 degree range of motion. Still, if there's any game out there that would benefit from something like that, it's this one.

At this point, I'm not regretting my purchase – I was hesitant to buy it for full price since I had heard about the issues, but at $30 it's a pretty good buy. I'd really like to compare it to the recently-released NiGHTS remake for PS2, especially since the PS2's controller may resolve the control oddities I mentioned above.

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