This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column
examines online reaction to NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams
, the long-awaited sequel to a classic Sega Saturn action title that critics say is "one of the most diverse and controversial titles on Nintendo's system."
Timed and positioned in such a way as to compete directly with the release of Super Mario 64
in 1996, the Sega Saturn's NiGHTS Into Dreams
failed to achieve the level of popularity Nintendo's title found in the wake of the debut of the Nintendo 64. NiGHTS
still managed to cultivate its share of avid fans thanks to its flight-based, skill-intensive gameplay, however, and the game is remembered fondly by many as one of the Sega Saturn's finest moments.
Despite its acclaimed gameplay, NiGHTS
remained without a sequel for more than a decade. Fans were surprised when Sega announced the release of NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams
for the Nintendo Wii earlier this year, though many wondered if the original's charm could be duplicated in a follow-up. Journey of Dreams
has received somewhat of a mixed reaction from reviewers thus far, earning a Metacritic-averaged score of 74 out of 100
GameZone's Louis Bedigian rates NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams
at 8 out of 10
. "Nights Into Dreams
[...] was an inspired adventure without the typical two-dimensional limitations," he says of the Sega Saturn original. "Considered an instant classic from day one, Nights Into Dreams
has been one of those games that spent years (over a decade!) on the 'Will we ever get a sequel?' list."
Bedigian notes that those who have been waiting a decade for a sequel to NiGHTS
will be pleased to find that Journey of Dreams
does little to change the original title's core gameplay. "Nights: Journey of Dreams
contains the same kind of two-dimensional aerial gameplay that was featured in the original," he writes. "There isn’t much of a learning curve involved, especially if you’re used to navigating 3D worlds. This game doesn’t contain actual 3D gameplay, just the perception
of it, along with some of the best 2D designs in the biz."
However, some aspects of Journey of Dreams
may frustrate players. Bedigian cites long stages and a lack of mid-level checkpoints as being particularly troublesome, and says that the new Wii-specific control setups don't work as well as others. "While the original Nights
game was innovative for its time, you won’t find anything groundbreaking in this sequel," he says. "The Wii remote motion controls don’t feel right, and with multiple control options available (including the option to use a GameCube controller), I must not be the only one who noticed."
"Nights: Journey of Dreams
isn’t the perfect, Mario-class game that the original was in 1996," Bedigian concludes. "But it’s a mostly fun experience with inspired levels, amazing camera tricks, and excellent controls (if you exclude the motion elements, which don’t have to be used)."
Kevin VanOrd at GameSpot is quick to point out Journey of Dreams
' shortcomings in his 7.5-out-of-10
review. "You'll probably smile much of the time you play, thanks to all of [its] good-natured charm," he begins. "But you won't be all smiles: Journey of Dreams
, for all its visual dreaminess and elegant simplicity, trips itself up with some surprisingly awkward levels and a Wii-centric control option that detracts from the game rather than enhances it."
"The game will keep you in a good mood, though," VanOrd continues, "so forgiving its faults is an easy task in light of its breezy gameplay and a handful of excellent boss fights."
VanOrd feels that Journey of Dreams
is at its worst when it attempts to deviate from the gameplay style of the original Sega Saturn NiGHTS
. "The chase levels and boss fights are mostly great," he says. "The intermittent levels...well, not so much. In some cases, they're obvious filler, like trying to fly through the rings an octopaw leaves behind. Others are boring, such as the traditional (and bland) platforming levels in which you directly control Will and Ellen."
VanOrd explains: "A prime example is the on-foot Broadway level, in which you play as Will and must lead Ellen across a tedious, annoying sequence of jumping and orb-switching. And in some cases, such as an infuriating level where you have to play a tune by hitting musical notes, things get downright frustrating."
"It's admirable that developer Sonic Team tried to throw in variety," VanOrd admits, "but the game too often veers from its obvious and impressive strengths and journeys into mediocrity."
"Yet despite these issues and other minor quirks that will have purists up in arms," VanOrd writes, "NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams
is a good, enjoyable romp through a clever collection of beautiful worlds. Playing it makes you feel warm and cozy, a nice treat indeed for the holiday season."
IGN's Mark Bozon is less positive in his review. Scoring the game at 6.5 out of 10
, Bozon feels that NiGHTS Into Dreams
might have been better off without a sequel. "While we're sure this will be one of the most diverse and controversial titles on Nintendo's system for a long, long time," he says, "we can't help but wish the series would have stayed safely stored in the back corners of our memories, rather than attempting a second go over a decade later."
[...] isn't faulted for staying stagnant, rather it progresses in an odd way that really doesn't fit the game's core design," Bozon explains. "For starters, there's no way to skip story sequences, so should you want to pass them up and get into some quick action, you're stuck. This compounds greatly when you throw in the odd restart system, having players not only replay the stage they failed, but the entire chapter as well, complete with story sequences."
The result? "By the end of the game you'll be playing through three full chase stages (a few minutes a piece), watching multiple story cuts, and then fighting a boss," says Bozon. "Fail on that boss, and a retry sends you all the way back, complete with all loads, all story sequences, and every stage within that level. Talk about a momentum killer."
Bozon lists numerous other problems as well. "Story sections make odd cuts, oftentimes throwing in a quick scripted sequence that tells a chunk of story, and then all of a sudden throws the player into an odd area that makes very little sense," he criticizes. In addition: "This lack of overall polish can be found in virtually any area, whether it's a lack of normalizing for VO, a lack of explanation for new control sections, or abrupt endings to levels that have you constantly rebounding off invisible walls before the actual results come on-screen to actually end the stage."
"The core game has its fun moments; it's just very, very rough," Bozon emphasizes. "With some polish, a more focused design, and some refined flight control we could see Nights
making a true return. It'll need a pretty sizeable overhaul from what Wii gamers are getting with Journey of Dreams
though, which ends up appealing only to the most die-hard (and extremely forgiving) of its original fan base."
While critics feel that NiGHTS
' core gameplay remains as solid as it has ever been, Journey of Dreams
introduces several mediocre elements to the formula in an attempt at adding variety. Fans may be disappointed by these additions, but if its problematic areas can be overlooked, Journey of Dreams
could otherwise prove to be a worthwhile experience.