Beautifully rendered cut-scenes welcome players to this game. Through them, we are introduced to a modern London-type city as well as the two protagonists of the game: a boy named Will, and a girl named Helen. They are both symbols of innocence, yet each has their own personal problems with which to deal with. Will has a major (and unhealthy?) attachment to his father, while Helen has a conflict between spending time with friends or her violinist mother. There is an attempt to weave these personal conflicts into the story and game-play, and we are taken on a journey the long-way-'round to resolve them. Does it sound odd? Well wait, it gets stranger still.
Disappointingly, a silly and decidedly poorly rendered owl character is the voice of reason in this title. He greats your selected character and attempts to give you a run-down on the dream-world in which you have found yourself, (even though his knowledge is far from complete). I am always let-down when these sorts of characters are used because they too are a convention, all the way down to the silly round glasses and dry, pompous English characterisation. I wonder what a bumbling, foolish and reckless owl character would come across like! Besides, after playing quality titles such as Super Mario Galaxy, you notice how inexpertly this owl has been constructed. But enough about the damn bird Once you've become NiGHTS, you can fly about the place by either aiming with the Wii remote on-screen, or by using the stick on the nunchuk controller. Most people seem to prefer the latter method due to the non-responsiveness of the former, (this seems to be the current trend for Wii titles!). It is shown side-on and it is the player's job to line it up with the inexhaustible supply of "rings" and "blue chips" that are thrown at you. Flying thorough and collecting these things quickly allows you to gain combo scores or "links" as they're called in this game. And that's about the size of the game-play you are either flying cleverly, speedily or accurately in order to fulfill whatever goal it is that they've given you at the moment. Once this goal is met, you are given grading this is on a scale between an E, (the lowest) to an A, (the highest). This gives the game some replay value, and also a kind of grading reminiscent of school reports marked by an authoritative teacher.
The difference in quality between the cut-scenes and the in-game presentation is vast. The cut-scenes are some of the best I've seen in terms of their fluidity, colour and movement. The in-game graphics are really unmemorable with disturbing amounts of bright colours and unclear scale and perspective. Sure, you're not required to perform anything too tricky when playing as NiGHTS, but it seems unfair when you come to a complete stop before you're even given a chance to react. Luckily, it achieves its high speed fairly quickly, and most interruptions can be overcome reasonably. We visit forests, ruins, cities, a Broadway district and others, but you're always doing similar things it seems. Sure, you have a few sojourns as a white-water raft (don't ask) or as Will or Helen themselves, but it somehow feels like it's missing something to me as if the level design wants you to rush past in case you notice that the world itself is a sham.
NiGHTS: Journey Into Dreams requires players to defeat bosses throughout the adventure as well. These things are (again) very unusual characterisations, and are usually brought down with a particular technique that NiGHTS allows. They range from magical chameleons to strange stems bearing evil cat-heads. NiGHTS is fairly defenseless, yet it still manages to take these guys down with the "paraloop" technique (a loop-to-loop), or a strange method where it grabs with both hands and then boosts into whatever it may be you're holding. I suppose the bosses themselves are imaginative, but they really just appear at the end of a line of missions, as if the developers themselves had given up on giving them context or meaning. Where did they come from, why are they here now, what do they want? Much of this title is inexplicable.
About halfway through this title that sense of "I've seen this before" occurred to me. I then realised that this game is the Peter Pan story/myth in disguise (in this case it's louder clothing). We have a mystical, youthful character with the ability to fly who captures the hearts and hopes of neglected children. NiGHTS gives them hope, responsibility and self-esteem in order to resolve their personal problems. It is a rite-of-passage story, decorated with magical décor in order to charm and enchant its protagonists.
But apart from that, it is only a so-so experience for a gamer. Sure, it can be satisfying linking up all of those rings and chips, but I couldn't help but feel that it was a little pointless, and I found NiGHTS the character fairly shallow and one-dimensional. I expected her to be more mischievous and reckless, rather than the clean-cut responsible figure it turned out to be. The bright pink jester outfit with a twist is a misrepresentation I think NiGHTS should be dressed like a school-teacher or librarian!
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