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The Homo Neanderthalensis Issue

NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed the original NiGHTS Into Dreams on the Saturn until I played this, which is saying something because I thought I remembered enjoying the original a lot, but it turns out I enjoyed it even more than that.
SL
Κείμενο Stephen Lea Sheppard
01 Μάρτιος 2008, 12:00am

NiGHTS: JOURNEY OF DREAMS

Publisher: Sega Platform: Wii

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed the original

NiGHTS Into Dreams

on the Saturn until I played this, which is saying something because I thought I remembered enjoying the original a lot, but it turns out I enjoyed it even more than that.

NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams

gets a qualified thumbs-up from me, qualified because, while I enjoyed it immensely, I’m not sure how I’d evaluate it without the nostalgia working in its favor.

Photo by Dan Siney

The author with his favorite beverage. “Some people drink a variety of soft drinks. I drink Jolt.”

For those of you unaware, both

NiGHTS

games are about two kids who enter the land of dreams, where they encounter a denizen in a purple jester costume named NiGHTS, who can fly around and who’s engaged in a conflict with Wizeman the Wicked, ruler of the land of nightmares.

NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams

has a different pair of kids than

NiGHTS Into Dreams

did, but the stories are otherwise similar. The first game was released at around the same time as

Super Mario 64

and was widely hailed as its near equal—though, in retrospect,

Super Mario 64

was far more influential, setting the groundwork for almost all 3-D platformers to follow, while

NiGHTS

vanished into obscurity when Sonic Team got hung up on a seemingly endless series of failed prototypes for the next Sonic the Hedgehog game.

Enough history.

The controls could use some refining. The primary method of control, using the remote to point at a spot on the screen and have NiGHTS fly toward it, I could not make work to my satisfaction. The alternative method of control, using the nunchuck, classic controller, or GameCube controller to fly around with the analog stick, is hampered by Nintendo’s decision to set their analog sticks in octagonal rather than circular sockets. The octagons make certain trajectories more awkward than they need to be, and put me off on the game until I’d stuck to it for a bit. Places where precise flying is required don’t play as well as they should.

Likewise, in some sequences you play not as NiGHTS but as one of the two kids, and those bits are full of low-rent platforming, with floaty jumps and dodgy collision detection—at one point, I fell through an elevator floor and had to climb back up to the elevator and wait for it to come down for me again. This did not endear the game to me. (Incidentally, play through William’s campaign first. It introduces a few game concepts that Hellen’s campaign treats as givens.)

Once I got into the groove of the game, though, I really enjoyed myself. Flying around, collecting blue chips, and passing through rings making links was great gameplay 11 years ago and is great gameplay now. The story is supposed to be uplifting and lacks the sort of cynicism I normally enjoy, but as it turns out, when it comes to NiGHTS I’m a big wuss, so I was cheering at the end anyway.

KINGDOM UNDER FIRE: CIRCLE OF DOOM

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios Platform: Xbox 360

If this game has strengths, they’re in the multiplayer. But I didn’t play the multiplayer because I don’t know anyone else who has it and the single player is sufficiently bad as to rule out recommending it to anyone. Is this a tragedy; does it make for an unjust review? I’m not sure. The game experience leaves me annoyed enough to not really care. I hate this game so much.

There is no real game here—it lacks the requisite framework and presentation. For each character, the opening cut scene is a 30-second-long non sequitur. From context and some research on the internet, I get that they’re all the big heroes of a war from the previous games in the series and they’ve all been sucked into the dimension of an evil god. Each character has dream figments offering them advice, and so they wander around the randomly generated landscape and kill monsters. I’ve already given you a clearer summary of the story than the game does.

The graphics are beautiful for some values of beautiful—the models are good and the textures are OK, but both serve only to draw attention to the mediocre animation. The landscape looks nice but is irrelevant—just various skins attached to endlessly repeating hallways. And you can’t even step off the path, whether that path is through a forest or a mansion. Oddly, the music is

great

. Wish I had a better game to play while listening to it.

As for the gameplay, it revolves around killing monsters and completing quests, in the manner of

Diablo II

and many MMOs, with most quests involving killing large numbers of specific enemies or finding baubles. The storyline, too, is quest-based—get new cut scenes by talking to your dream figment and learning you need to kill X enemies or collect Y baubles or talk to Z vendor (who will give you another quest involving killing X enemies or collecting Y baubles). The actual experience of play is shallow—there are lots of small monsters and a few big monsters. Kill the small monsters by wading in and hitting the attack button. Kill the big monsters by doing the same. Nothing within this game could be described as

fun

(except for abusing the physics engine to make a kusarigama swing around my character like a small orbiting planetoid, which you can do in the demo). And don’t get me wrong—I like a good beat-’em-up.

Diablo II

had polish, and the

Dynasty Warriors

games at least have a block button to inject some small measure of strategy into the combat. (Also, I can use

Dynasty Warriors

games to help me keep characters straight when reading

Three Kingdoms

.)

Maybe if you’ve got three friends with this game, Live accounts, and some fondness for the characters from previous

Kingdom Under Fire

games, it could be a worthwhile endeavor. In any other situation, no.