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Nights finally makes his comeback, although it's probably not what you were waiting for...
- Adorable soundtrack.
- Nightopians remain the same.
- Wii Weather Channel integration.
- Atrocious voice work.
- New gameplay insults classic formula.
- Nights has lost the magic.
Firstly a warning. This reviewer makes no secret of his passion for the original Nights. Growing up as a SEGA fan was hard enough when Sony's upstart suddenly made the cool company uncool. Nevertheless the occasional gem such as Nights: Into Dreams made it easier to block out what Marshall Law, Cloud Strife, and Solid Snake were doing on something called the PlayStation, we had Sonic Team at their creative best.
So with a slightly exaggerated weight of expectation surrounding the return of Nights with the release of Nights: Journey of Dreams (where were they in the Saturn's final hour?), it seems as though long-suffering SEGA fans finally have the sequel they've always wanted... or maybe not!
Perhaps the key words for any Nights fan to keep in mind when considering this 'update' are comments issued to TVG during an interview with the game's producer Takashi Iizuka last year:
"We're treating this like a new IP."
Let's not forget Iizuka-san worked closely on the original Nights, so there is a glimmer of hope, even if he did establish Sonic Team's poorly received USA outfit and was chiefly responsible for Sonic's inexcusable slide of shame. For the sake of a balanced and impartial review, however, I'll put my Nights obsessed fanboy traits to one side for the time being, and treat this 'follow-up' with the objectivity it deserves... or at least try.
Much like the original, Nights: Journey of Dreams offers the choice of two characters to play as, portrayed as two entirely different storylines. The basic premise being that both Will and Helen are suffering from childhood issues, addressed by flying around surrealistic dream worlds whilst 'dualised' with a purple metrosexual-sounding jester named Nights. Believe me, that shouldn't matter! What this wafer thin premise should provide is the platform for plenty of skill-heavy, hyper reflex, racing action, one of the closest examples of a perfect, old-school, score-based, videogame.
Something Went Wrong!
When coming up with a list of the reasons why the original Nights was so enjoyable, it's hard to imagine storyline or narrative sitting anywhere near the top. The childish appearance was a likely reason behind why such a classic passed by in 1996 without anybody particularly noticing - that and Mario64. Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, storyline and dialogue are the two elements Iizuka-san and his team have decided to emphasise. Instead of the focus being squarely on the gameplay, we now have irritating cut-scenes and whiney dialogue to endure repeatedly throughout the experience. It gets worse, Nights and Reala now have voices, it's almost a shame the bustling Nightopians don't mutter like city brokers. Why Iizuka-san gave this the greenlight is beyond me, did Sonic Team never watch Tom & Jerry: The Movie?
Perhaps it's best to summarise the things that are worth mentioning in a positive light at first. Offering three different control methods (Nunchuk & Wii Remote, Wii Remote, Classic Controller/GameCube), Nights: Journey of Dreams is perhaps the first Wii title we've seen that allows players to change their setup on the fly; simply remove or add a Nunchuk and the game changes accordingly. Using the Wii Remote as a pointer to indicate the direction in which Nights flies, a little credit has got to be given to Sonic Team for at least attempting to come up with some novel uses of the Wii Remote. In actuality, this control method is just a little too loose for the main action, and doesn't fully realise the true potential that Wii brings to Nights. The closest recreation of the original setup remains with the Nunchuk/Wii Remote combo or plugging in a Classic Controller/GameCube pad. Unfortunately with their very distinctive eight directions, neither can compete with the 360 analogue pad that shipped with the original, making the effortlessly graceful controls feel significantly stilted in comparison.
Splitting the action between five different days, each comprising five different acts, the 'expanded' gameplay fails to offer anything that even begins to approach the sheer genius of Nights' original concept. Presumably in a misguided attempt to add the variety modern gamers crave, the remaining four acts are made up almost entirely of derivative and bland gameplay, whether it's rescuing Nightopians as 'Boat Nights', or traipsing around the environments in some of the worst and most dated 3D platforming we've seen circa-1996.
This Old Jester Ain't What He Used To Be!
Shamefully, whilst the action of the first stage resembles the original gameplay, there's one fundamental flaw in its design that brings the experience down like a house of cards in a force 12 gale. The original Nights was essentially a racing game, the addiction stemming from desperate attempts to squeeze in one more lap for a new high score, frantically boosting towards the finishing line with only a few seconds left on the clock. Even the sections that do mirror this premise fail to provide the same experience, simply because the challenge now revolves around catching up with a bird to collect a key, once you've attained this it's impossible to complete any further laps. The whole concept and genius of Nights has been completely broken as a result, the score based challenge and tension completely removed from the experience.
Introducing Persona Masks to the formula is one of the decisions that could have gone even way, though fortunately it's a feature that's easier to praise compared to some of the other changes on display. Opening up previously inaccessible areas with Dolphin Nights or Rocket Nights expands upon the original premise naturally, without resorting to the gimmicky nature of some other examples throughout the game - Boats Nights, we're looking at you.
Occasionally Nights: Journey of Dreams hints upon the brilliance of the original. The achingly delicate musical score teases, the irritatingly adorable Nightopians bring each world to life. But all too quickly it becomes apparent that's all there is, heck you can even wander around the environments for longer this time around - there's a good reason why the sinister alarm clock restricted the platforming to a few seconds in the original, Nights was never a platformer!
Much like the original, it's only a matter of days before you'll whiz through each of the acts on offer. Unlike the original, because the focus on score is by all accounts lost, the urge to keep coming back and improve scores is gone completely. A two-player mode and the A-Life based My Dream attempts to add some further replay value, although the two-player mode quickly grows tired and we can't imagine too many gamers becoming infatuated with raising Nightopians, even if it does change weather according to the Wii Forecast channel.
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