Okay, I'm going to level with you right now, before I get this article started. My experience with the original NiGHTS for the Saturn is limited at best. I know all about it, of course, but I only played it very little several years ago when it came out. I never had a Saturn growing up, so I never really got much of a chance to play it. However, if Journey of Dreams is any indication, I missed out on quite an experience. Many were unsure of how Journey of Dreams would turn out, seeing as it was developed by Sonic Team USA, who don't exactly have the greatest track record (Shadow the Hedgehog, anyone?). However, in my eyes at least, NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams redeems Sonic Team USA for Shadow the Hedgehog, and them some.
The story in NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams revolves around two children, Will and Helen, and their visit to Nightopia, which is a world that people can only visit in their sleep. While there they meet NiGHTS, an androgynous jester, and get caught up in a battle to save Nightopia from the Nightmarens and their evil leader Wizeman. The whole thing feels like a Disney movie, with the characters learning important lessons about trust and themselves along the way. The story is told through fully voiced (and sadly, unskippable) cutscenes that somehow manage to look worse than the in-game graphics. The voices all have a British quality to them, especially NiGHTS, who has a VERY feminine voice. There's also a very creepy quality to the characters, like their heads are far too large for their bodies. Or maybe that's all in my imagination, who knows.
When I first started up Journey of Dreams, I was greeted with the option to use one of four control schemes. The Wii Remote + Nunchuk, the Wii Remote by itself, the Classic Controller, or the GameCube controller. Initially, I decided to try out using the Wii Remote. However, this didn't feel right for some reason, so I switched to the Classic Controller, which I used for the remainder of the game. Oh, I did try out the Wii Remote and Nunchuk control scheme once, but it just didn't work well at all. Using the Wii Remote's pointer function to guide NiGHTS works horribly, as there seems to be lag between your motions and the game reacting to them. It's really another case of having motion controls just for the sake of having them. Thankfully though, you can use a standard control scheme, which works far better.
There's several gameplay elements in Journey of Dreams, but the main attraction here is the flying. Being basically new to NiGHTS, I was confused at first when trying to get the hang of flying. I didn't realize that the flying wasn't really 3D, but 2D masquerading as 3D. You can only move in the 2D plane. Still, even with this, flying just feels great. There's a real sense of freedom to it. Dashing, doing stunts, and looping in the air feels wonderful. The main flying levels consist of chasing down a bird who holds the key to a cage. You'll actually do this three times, each time with a different path through the stage. Aside from these main flying stages, there's several other types of stages as well. Some are fun, such as the levels where you have to fly through as many rings in a row as possible. Others are…not so fun, namely the stages where you don't play as NiGHTS. In particular there's a level in Will's story where you have to help Helen find her way back to her dream. This stage is simply horrible, and can get very frustrating. Other stages fall somewhere inbetween, like the stage where NiGHTS turns into a rollercoaster car, or the stage where you ride a boat-shaped NiGHTS down a rushing river. While not the pure fun of the flying stages, they're not nearly as bad as the stages where you control the kids.
The presentation in Journey of Dreams is a mixed bag. The pre-rendered cutscenes look great, but the in-game cutscenes look absolutely awful. Like, early PS2-era awful. The in-game graphics are very nice though, and while they don't push the Wii's capabilities in any way, the art direction makes up for this greatly. The worlds in NiGHTS are a joy to behold. Colorful and bright, the worlds really give off a sense of joy and happiness. While I know this might not be appealing to all gamers, anyone whose heart isn't made of stone will really love the atmosphere the game puts out. And the music…Let's put it this way. I could do a whole article on the music in Journey of Dreams. It's simply wonderful. Ranging from dreamy, ethereal IDM/ambient inspired stuff to sweeping, majestic orchestral pieces, this game's soundtrack is one of the best I've ever experienced. The only minor blemish is the song that plays during the end credits. It's a vocal piece with about three different singers, and well…Ever heard that "I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas" song, sung by Gayla Peevy? Yeah, the prominent singer in the end credits song sounds just like her. Her voice basically makes me want to jam icepicks in my ears so I can never hear her sing ever again. It's got about the same "what the hell is this song doing in this game?" quality as the end credits song in Symphony of the Night. Other than this, though, the soundtrack is absolutely perfect. And I mean that, too. It's on the same level as the Baroque soundtrack in my eyes. It's just that good.
The game also (perhaps unexpectedly) features Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection support. There's actually two ways the game utilizes this. The first is called "My Dream", kind of a hybrid of Animal Crossing and the Chao raising parts of Sonic Adventure 2. As you rescue Nightopians throughout the game, they'll appear in your My Dream world. Over time, they'll start planting trees, building various things, and all sorts of other interesting stuff. No two My Dream worlds will be alike. Using Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, you can visit other My Dream worlds. There's really very little you can do here, aside from look at other people's worlds and communicate through preset emoticon-like symbols, but it's still a neat feature. The other Wi-Fi mode is a two player race, which you can play with random opponents or people on your friends list. This is exactly like it sounds, a race between two players in one of the game's various stages. One player controls NiGHTS, the other his evil counterpart Reala. This mode plays very smoothly, and I experienced no lag at all. Overall the Wi-Fi support in NiGHTS is kinda limited, but still a nice addition.
How does NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams stack up to the original? Honestly I can't say. I went into this game with no expectations, not holding it up to any preset standard, and I was surprised with just how much fun I had with it. Hardcore fans of the original game might dislike some of the additions to the NiGHTS formula. And admittedly some of them are unnecessary. But most players who aren't holding this game up to the original won't mind these. Overall, NiGHTS is great fun. It has a very dreamlike, happy feel to it, that gamers of all ages should enjoy. Between unlocking things, trying to break your records, and just going back and replaying stages for fun, there's enough here to keep you coming back long after you've finished the game, and if you're anything like me, you'll enjoy every minute of it.