Crispy Gamer

Games for Lunch: NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams

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0:00 Despite having played the Saturn original many times at a Toys 'R' Us kiosk, I never understood the maniacal devotion some fans have for the game. This sequel puts the whole legacy at stake, in my mind.

0:01 A Big Ben-style clock tower appears over a highly fictionalized version of the London skyline. A boy sleeps soundly with a soccer ball in his arms. A girl in another flat does the same, albeit without a soccer ball. Twinkling stardust and the jester-like NiGHTS alights atop the clock tower. The title appears briefly, then NiGHTS is flying with seabirds a few inches above a river. Now he's reaching out to the boy in a deserted meadow. The girl's dreamworld is full of crystal, for some reason (Is she Shirley MacLane?). Jump cut to an evil-looking red jester, then more acrobatic flying cut scene, then the menu screen. Not bad, as intros go.

0:03 There are four potential control schemes: Remote, remote and Nunchuk, classic controller or GameCube controller. This is a worrisome sign to me. It seems as if they couldn't decide on one good control scheme, so they went for four mediocre ones.

0:04 I choose Will's dream first. He's practicing soccer on a dirty field with... his dad? It's unclear. Suddenly everything gets foggy. His dad (confirmed now by Will) is driving away in a car that turns into a plane. His soccer pals start laughing maniacally from a black void, then turn into wispy, red-eyed wraiths and chase Will. The poor boy is saved by a bright white light. Everything is suitably ethereal and dreamlike. Charming, really.

0:06 Into the actual game. It looks ... a lot worse than the cut scenes. Very blocky and rough... original PlayStation-level graphics, almost. I walk an entire 10 steps before another cut scene.

0:07 "I am Owl. I have lived here since... well, since long before you were born." I get it. He's old. Besides the blockiness, the choppy animation is pretty distracting, as well. Owl explains that this is the world where people go when they dream. Blah blah blah.

0:08 "That carefree little rascal" NiGHTS flies in. He has an incredibly feminine British voice. Reminds me of Mary Martin's Peter Pan. Owl explains "Dualizing." Blah blah blah.

0:09 Back in control for two whole seconds, then ANOTHER cut scene. Apparently "Dualizing" means "turning into NiGHTS." Well, why didn't you just say so!

0:10 I decide to try out the Nunchuk controls first. It's as easy as ever to make NiGHTS do beautiful loops with the analog stick, but it's hard to tell where he'll go because the 2-D movement plane keeps moving around the 3-D backgrounds. We'll see if it impacts the actual gameplay.

0:13 Learning the "drill dash" and flying through rings. I can't go in the water because "Will's body couldn't take it." Lame!

0:15 Learning how to make loops in the air to get items and destroy enemies. It's a bit annoying because, with the camera is so close, I can't see the start of the loop by the time I'm in the middle. Very annoying.

0:16 "You must never go near the dark ocean. It is a world of chaos and void." So it's like every other game? Weird dual-NiGHTS/Will in this cut scene.

0:17 "That red light. That's the Ideya of Courage." Is that anything like the Triforce of Courage? Also, door to Nightopia, which is a "paradise." Boy, there's nothing that can go wrong with that setup.

0:19 The little angelic Nightopians are SO CUTE! But then the red-jester Reala comes in and attacks/nags NiGHTS. "Seize the traitor! ... Go and lock up the prisoner. I'll be back shortly." Ugh... does this mean I have to control Will for a while? Owl: "Red Ideya, Dualize, blah blah blah."

0:21 Sure enough, I have to walk as Will. But not for long... NiGHTS is trapped in the cage about five feet in front of me. I touch him and we're off and flying!

0:23 I have to chase a bird through a section full of blue collect-a-balls and rings. I get a D because I don't really know what I'm trying to do until halfway through. The controls ride the fine line between responsive and touchy. It's slightly out-of-control, but in a good way... very smooth.

0:27 Focusing on speed in the next section, I get a C. It's hard to see what's coming up, though, meaning it's hard to plan ahead unless you memorize the stage -- which I guess is the appeal for some.

0:28 The perspective briefly changes here to a behind-the-back, Star Fox style, which kind of ruins the point. NiGHTS can't do loops, just follow a set path. Still, I can see where I'm going, so in a way I enjoy it more.

0:30 Another C on Section 3. I think I've figured out why the controls are so tough: the constantly changing perspective. I keep unconsciously trying to correct for it, so I teeter up or down slightly. Would be better as a true side-scroller, I think.

0:31 Boss time... a big jester-ball... thing. I have to tap him and dash to get him to the top of a tower. More constant perspective changes and a camera that refuses to zoom out make it tougher than it should be. I get a C. I know, excuses, excuses, but it really feels like gameplay took a backseat to stylish camera angles and presentation, here. It's not unplayable; it's just not as playable as it could be.

0:34 Owl: "Ideya Nightopia Ideya blah blah blah."

0:38 I stumble into the "My Dream" area: a big, mostly empty field populated with the few enemies I've beaten so far. I'm not impressed. The boss isn't even here, and he was by far the most interesting enemy so far, visually.

0:41 Octopaw expels rings. How convenient. "Come on Will. Shall we have some fun." NiGHTS gave off a creepy, Michael Jackson vibe just there.

0:43 The point of this level is to follow Octopaw's trail of rings and keep your combo going quickly. Reminds me a bit of Piltowings. The goal is to get a 30 string. I get 93 without breaking a sweat. Still only ranks a B. Most fun I've had yet, though. It's all about fluidity of motion, here.

0:45 Argh. I accidentally touch NiGHTS in the dreamgate hub area and it takes me through flying lessons again. There's no way to get out except to QUIT THE GAME. Boo. Bad design.

0:47 I'm liking the music. It's soothing in a Katamari-ish way. NiGHTS and Will talk father issues, but then the Nightopians are getting sucked into a vortex. Paraloops can save them, so off we go.

0:50 Again, the super-zoomed-in view means it's hard to find the little buggers I'm supposed to be saving. There's a radar of sorts, but I can't make head nor tail of it. NIGHT OVER. I accidentally hit "Quit" instead of "Retry" -- argh!

0:52 Will and NiGHTS talk father issues again. ARGH -- UNSKIPPABLE CUT SCENE I'VE SEEN ALREADY -- MAKE IT STOP -- GRAAAAAH!

0:56 Much better this time around as I learn to look ahead of my position and dash to where the guys are. I get a B for my trouble.

0:58 "It's just, the river made me think of my dad. He always used to take me there when I was little." More daddy issues... ugh. Meanwhile, the Nightopians get swept away by the river. I have to help them. NiGHTS turns into BOAT NiGHTS!

1:01 The boat is very slow to handle... it goes left to right much slower than forward. I know that's the point of the fast river, but it's annoying. It all feels like it came from a different, worse game, and the random perspective changes still make it hard to line up with what's coming. Grumble.

Would I play this game for more than an hour: Yes.

Why? Despite some flaws and uneven game types, there's fun to be found when you get into the swing of things. I don't know how long it will last, though.

This column is based on a retail copy of the game rented from GameFly.

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