Created by Sonic Team / Rated E / 1-2 Players / Wii Remote + Nunchuk (or gamecube controller) / MSRP $50
Review written by Ray

NightsNights

Yuji Naka, creator of Sonic the Hedgehog, once said he would never make a sequel to his own Nights into Dreams unless it was perfect, despite numerous opportunities and offers by third-parties. Knowing this always had me very excited for a sequel, since I knew Naka wouldn’t allow for the franchise to be tainted. Eleven years after the original became such a cult classic on the Sega Saturn in ’96, the sequel has finally arrived on the Nintendo Wii. Is this Naka’s masterpiece? Of course not. He had already left SonicTeam, and as it ends up, was never involved in this sequel.

Like so many other Sonic Team games of the past few years, Nights: Journey of Dreams feels about three years old. The graphics fall somewhere between "pretty" and "borderline N64 quality" as you play a fun title that has lost its focus among a large selection of pathetic missions driven by a sad group of amateur cutscenes.

My biggest complaint comes from the gameplay’s formula being ruined. The original Nights was built on an arcade-style gameplay, filled with replay value through the quest for ridiculous chains and huge hi-scores. In this title, they’ve taken a different approach by making it more of an adventure in which you complete various missions in each dream. So why does this mean the game is ruined? The best way I can describe it is by imagining a Pac-Man sequel in which level one is "eat all of the pills on the screen," and level two is "avoid the ghosts for two minutes!" You’re still Pac-Man, you’re still eating pills, and you’re still running away from ghosts, but you’re not doing it all at once. The cause-and-effect would be lost by splitting it up, and in an effort to make the Pac-Man sequel more than a one trick pony, they would be ruining what made Pac-Man truly Pac-Man. Such is the case here.

No longer is this title about playing a course over and over trying to collect all the blue chips and competing for faster lap times – now it’s all about beating missions and moving along a story. Can the game still be fun? Of course. There’s still plenty to enjoy in this new style, but at the same time it also drops the reason why the original was so addictive. Some missions are fun, some are frustrating, and some are pure filler. A small number of levels involve running around as the children in 3D areas, jumping across floating platforms and throwing blue orbs at enemies. These specifically are, by far, the absolute worst platforming gameplay I’ve seen in the last ten years. Yes, it’s even worse than Shadow the Hedgehog. In the end it will have you wishing they would have simply stuck with the old formula.

The controls are pretty hit and miss. On one hand, I enjoy using the Wii Remote to point where Nights should fly, but I never find it incredibly accurate, so after a few minutes I always end up resorting to the Gamecube controller. While this control most resembles that of what it was on the Saturn, rubbing against the eight-cornered edges for the joystick doesn’t allow Nights to fly very smoothly. If you ask me, it’s pretty sad that SonicTeam couldn’t find a unique way to make Nights feel as effortless as it once did before.

Ok, it’s time for a direct comparison between the two games. First we’ll watch the boss fight against Clawz the cat from the original Nights into Dreams. Of course, the player nearly aces the fight, so it looks a lot easier than what it is normally. Pay special attention to the style of it all: from the oddball music to the artistic impact of the cat’s spotlight.

 

Now watch the same boss fight taking place in its sequel. Pay special attention to the frustrating physics, and sometimes harsh camera angles. Then ask yourself, "does this look like a fun game to play?"

 

So which game would you rather play? In this case, I would easily pick the original. In fact, this scenario is an excellent example of what has gone so very wrong in this sequel. They’ve tried to stay true to their fans by only updating the old game through adding new things, but these new things are not very fun and they lack any sense of wonder.

When there’s no sense of wonder in a Nights game, then a gigantic element is missing. Nights is all about experiencing your dreams, and dreams rarely ever make sense. So when you have everything you see explained to you more than once, there’s nothing left for your imagination to enjoy. The original was successful because it was vague, full of minimalism, and filled with wonder. Most didn’t understand the game, and were likely never meant to.

A great example is how each first mission begins. In the original, Nights was waiting inside a small hut called an ‘Ideya Palace’ for you to join with him. Once you walked in, you would dualize and become Nights. Your flights around the level had you collecting dream energy to be taken back to the palace. In the sequel, they’ve decided to come up with a "better" reason to have Nights waiting for you by trapping him in a cage. But then the question of, "why is Nights in a cage?" will be raised. So instead of leaving it a mystery (since it would be similar to ask why he was in an Ideya Palace) they’ve decided they need to explain it.

Their explanation? Create a boring four-minute cutscene (you can’t skip) in which we watch Nights helplessly carried into the cage by his rival, Reala. Watching this is now a requirement before each of these levels, so to keep us from getting bored, they’ve thought of different ways in which Nights is captured. Everything from being dragged into the cage by henchmen, to Reala simply snapping his fingers. Yes, Reala literally snaps his fingers and a cage engulfs Nights.

Now that he’s in a cage, you dualize with him by climbing into the cage with him. Once dualized, you just fly right out. How Nights is able to fly out of a closed caged (or how a child even climbs into one to begin with) is beyond me. So we have a lame cutscene before every level explaining a situation it takes five seconds to get out of?

What should be next is collecting the dream energy to be returned to the… oh wait, that’s right – it’s a cage. Well, we can’t return dream energy to a cage, so Sonic Team decided we should be collecting a key. Well, bringing a key back to a cage certainly makes sense, except unlocking the cage does nothing because you’ve already escaped. Since the original had you returning multiple pieces of dream energy, we can’t just stop at the return of one key. No, we’ve got to bring three keys back to three separate empty cages.

So in the end, was replacing an Ideya Palace with a cage really worth all the trouble? What was even wrong with it to begin with?

While the in-game cutscenes are incredibly unnecessary and terribly animated, the CGI cutscenes are fantastic absolutely perfect. These capture the essence of what a true Nights game should have been. I encourage you to watch the CGI introduction for Will below. If you’re brave enough to watch beyond that, you’ll get to experience some fun gameplay, poor cutscenes, strange loading spots, and the new annoying owl character.

This game isn’t quite the train-wreck other SonicTeam titles have been lately, such as Sonic the Hedgehog on Xbox360. It’s actually a fairly decent game, but it lacks the magic and wonder the original had by trying to make the title more than it really needs to be and unknowingly stripping away what made the first title so addictive. Nights: Journey of Dreams is an okay game worthy of maybe a rental for the average gamer, but otherwise it’s a pretty sad letdown for us fans who were hoping for at least more of the same.

Verdict: Fun in places, but lacking polish of every kind. The in-game cutscenes flat-out ruin this title.

7.3/10
Reviewer’s Completion: All 60 Dream-Drops Collected / All A-Ranks Earned

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