It's during the tutorial level of NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams
that you're informed that the best way to control NiGHTS is by using the magic wand IR function of the Wii remote and pointing at the screen where you want NiGHTS to fly to.
I don't know whether the developers ever tried this control method themselves, because it just doesn't work. For some reason, you're limited to pointing at a square in the middle of the screen, and the control just isn't accurate enough to be of any use.
Thankfully, the game allows you to use alternative controls, such as the analogue stick of the nunchuck or classic controller. Once you've used one of these other control methods, you'll wonder why they bothered with the pointy IR function at all.
Once you use a sensible control method, controlling NiGHTS is fairly simple. Despite the 3D look of the game, NiGHTS actually flies on rails the whole time, so you're only really controlling four directions (up/down, forward/backward).
During the course of the game, you'll visit various dream worlds within Nightopia, all accessed from a central hub area called the Dream Gate. Each world consists of about five levels, with a boss at the end of each world. Each level is graded, but it was only by accident that I found out that by scoring high grades, you'll open up secret levels. Hmm.
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Each world starts with the same two, very similar levels. The first involves you, dualized with NiGHTS, chasing Nightmaren around a course to get keys to rescue NiGHTS from a cage where he's imprisoned. Confused? Yeah, me too...
The second level introduces you to the boss character that you'll have to beat at the end of that particular world. The intervening levels are varied and range from truly exciting to downright dull. The worst level involves you wandering by foot around a maze trying to escape before the time runs out. Annoyingly, it's during these longer missions that you'll find out that there are no checkpoints or save points – so if you fail, you'll be starting right back at the beginning.
As you progress through the game, you're introduced to new abilities for NiGHTS. These are only really used in helping to beat the end of level bosses and, as with the Wii remote control method, feel like they've been tacked on to add something different from the original.
Two areas where the game does excel are with the graphics and music. For the most part, the graphics are brightly coloured with each dream world having its own unique feel. There are times during the game where the frame-rate drops, but it never affects gameplay in any way. The soundtrack is also excellent, and is very evocative, helping to increase the sense of emotion and tension.
There are also a couple of multiplayer games available, and you can choose to play offline against a local opponent or online against a remote opponent. Battle mode involves throwing balloons against your opponent, and is best forgotten. More entertaining is the race mode, where you race around levels that you have already completed. You can choose your opponent, or opt to race against a random online enemy. As you progress through the game, more levels become available for online play – this provides a nice link between the single player and multiplayer game modes.
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There is also a "My Dream" online place thingy that lets you compare creatures that you have beaten with other online players. There's no real point to this, and again just feels tacked on just to show that the Wii can do online too.
Once you get past the frankly unusable Wii remote control method, NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams
is an enjoyable enough game, although it doesn't really bring anything new to the table.
It will take between five and six hours to complete the game with both characters, and while there's some replay value in trying to unlock the secret levels, there really isn't enough to keep you coming back. Too many of the levels follow the same format, and those that deviate are often boring and tedious, serving mainly to make the game worse, not better.
Innovations and tweaks that could have made the game that little bit better, such as NiGHTS' additional abilities, the Wii control method or online play, are fumbled and at best seem tacked on. At worst they make the game unplayable. In reality, the game could probably have done with another six months development time, to spend some extra time with the level design, control and online play.
Younger players may enjoy the sometime frenetic pace and bright colours. Fans of the original may want to indulge in a nostalgia fest. As for everyone else, I'd suggest you rent or borrow the game first before you commit your hard-earned cash – otherwise NiGHTS
might just put you to sleep.