Nights: Journey of Dreams Update

We check out a near-final version of Sega's sequel to the beloved Saturn classic Nights: Into Dreams.

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Sega's Nights: Journey of Dreams is the sequel to the Saturn classic Nights: Into Dreams, a stylish action adventure game released in 1996. The original game struck a chord with Sega fans, who have pined for a sequel ever since. Earlier this year, Sega and Sonic Team finally announced a Wii-exclusive sequel, Nights: Journey of Dreams, and the game has quickly become one of the most anticipated titles out of Sega this year. Having logged in more than our fair share of time with early builds of the new game, we've been eager to see more than the limited demos Sega has shown off. Our curiosity has finally been sated thanks to a recent visit from Sega, who brought along a near-final version of the game for us to check out. We were able to check out nearly all the modes and features in the game, although Sega reps noted there are a few more feature and content revelations to come before the game's December release.

For those out there who don't know what Nights is all about, here's a quick primer. The original game centered around two children, Eliot Edwards and Claris Sinclair, who team up with Nights, a fanciful purple-tights-wearing androgynous being (no, not Prince), to save the dream world of Nightopia, which is threatened by the evil Wizeman. The gameplay revolved around freeing Nights and then flying around surreal levels as the magical creature, collecting orbs and facing off against various bosses on your way to the final confrontation with Wizeman.

Journey of Dreams' gameplay will feel instantly familiar for fans of the the first game.
Journey of Dreams' gameplay will feel instantly familiar for fans of the the first game.

For 2008 the game's story hasn't changed too drastically. Much like Mario, Zelda, and the other old-school franchises, Nights: Journey of Dreams' story finds the Danskin-wearing fancy lad back to save Nightopia from Wizeman with the aid of two new kids, Helen and William. The action, once again, revolves around finding and freeing Nights on a level and then using him to fly around to collect orbs and defeat enemies. Once again, your goal is to reach Wizeman and defeat him. The journey to Wizeman is quite a bit different this time out, thanks to quite a bit of variety in the levels and gameplay.

Nights has roughly the same abilities as before, so you'll find yourself flying though levels on a 2D plane. As you clear markers in each level, you'll switch tracks and take paths through different sections of the themed levels. There's a greater variety and overall sense of scale to the levels now--everything has a bigger feel to it. Also new to the mix is the ability to transform Nights into different forms. You'll gain the ability to change into one of three forms, a dragon, a dolphin, or a rocket, on the fly over the course of the game. In addition, some levels will offer specialized transformations, such as a river raft or roller coaster, and even specific collection challenges you'll need in order to clear them.

Another element that's not directly tied to the single-player adventure but is affected by it is "My Garden," a virtual sandbox that evolves over the course of your adventure. You'll access your virtual plot of land via the game's hub and be able to check on its development throughout your adventure. You'll populate it by doing loops around friends and foes in the proper game, who'll then be transported in your hub. The garden has a Viva Piñata-esque feel to it in that you'll want to be careful who winds up in your virtual plot of land. Have too many enemies (Nightmarens) in your garden, and it will change to reflect the residents. If you populate your virtual hood with the friendly Nightopians, your garden will be a happy place just asking to be visited by unicorns and puppies. If you really want to spend a lot of time obsessing over the garden you can get a mix of both going, even breeding Nightopians and Nightmarens to create some disturbing hybrids. Besides affecting the general look of your garden, your residents can even take some initiative and build structures to spruce the place up.

Sega also revealed that Nights will support the WiiConnect24 feature on the way, allowing the weather to be affected by the weather channel and providing seasonal content based on well-known holidays such as Christmas, as well as regional fare such as Thanksgiving in the US that will affect character appearances (of course, we'll have to wait until next year to see what gets included). Above and beyond the single-player game, you'll have a multiplayer mode that lets you take on a friend in a versus race offline or online, or a competitive battle mode that lets you take on a friend in an offline object-throwing smackdown.

The visuals in the game are in the same spirit as the original Saturn game, albeit much cleaner thanks to the Wii hardware. There's a respectable level of detail to be seen on the characters and environments. There's also a nice, bright color palette that suits the various levels. The boss battles and enemy levels use an appropriately darker palette, since your average boss tends to be way less intimidating if he's colored up like a Teletubby (although they're scary for entirely different reasons). The game's frame rate isn't as smooth as we'd like it to be, so we're hoping that gets tightened up.

The Wii game's visuals are faithful to those on the Saturn, though clearly improved.
The Wii game's visuals are faithful to those on the Saturn, though clearly improved.

The audio in the game covers all its bases but isn't terribly remarkable right now. Longtime fans will recognize various sound effects from the original game. Fans may also be a bit taken aback to see Nights actually speak in the game--which, as much as we're all for more audio in Wii games, we probably could have done without. Rather than being the mysterious, silent, purple-clad stranger who came to save the day, Nights speaks his mind now. You'll also hear the kids and a helpful owl speak in the game, all of which pretty much fit the game's slightly younger skew. The soundtrack hasn't grabbed us yet, though we haven't heard a ton of the music in the game. The music definitely aims to stay true to the feel of the original game but, so far, hasn't matched the bouncy and breezy tunes from the Saturn game.

Based on what we've seen, we're holding out hope that Sega is able to tighten up the whole Nights package. The pieces are all basically there, the gameplay is pretty solid, albeit retro (aside from the aforementioned rough spots), the visuals are good but could still use some polish, and the metric ton of extras being crammed into the game for variety is a nice touch. As it stands now, Nights: Journey of Dreams needs some tightening and polish to bring it closer to matching its predecessor. Fans of the series will want to keep an eye out for the game when it ships this December.

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