I had to agree to a “no squeal” rule in order to play this morning, such is NiGHTS’ power over me. I think I’d broken that rule within about five seconds of hearing the distinctive musical cue on the Wii menu, and again on the “Sonic Team” ident. This post is pretty much just squeals put into proper words.
I was actually reluctant to start NiGHTS, partially paralysed by the threat of disappointment, but there’s only so many times you can read the manual – I even read the warranty, for goodness’ sakes. I guess I just wanted to savour the whole of it like I did with the original eleven years ago. I could even go into an in-depth review of every single part of it – like how the disc itself is artistically disappointing compared to the original’s sky of blue and silver stars – but I think only I would be interested in reading it!
Gateway to your Dreams
My first impression is something akin to meeting an old friend and seeing they’ve grown up to become something they were meant for. The FMV intro is wonderful, a fluid NiGHTS sweeping over mountains and water just like old times, and the scenes in what is presumably Twin Seeds are every bit as evocative and familiar, cute bubble cars and twilit bedrooms from the first game becoming more real but just as charming. Each character’s movie even follows the same format, with their fears transforming from people into mocking ghosts who drive them towards a welcoming light.
Into the game proper, then. The “Mindsight” system that uses the Wii Remote’s pointer to lure NiGHTS towards it simply isn’t accurate enough for the tight turns and Paraloops needed to succeed. If you ask me, it seems like a secondary method that wasn’t really intended to provide the same experience as the other stick-based controls. Using a Nunchuk is a strangely disconnected feeling, without the expected heightened sensation of flight due to its lightness. Using a Gamecube controller, despite its notched stick, just feels right, particularly with tricks accessed with the triggers.
The levels themselves are classic NiGHTS – if that’s not a huge overstatement after two original games in a dozen years – with names like Pure Valley, Aqua Garden and Delight City. The most significant difference is the introduction of “missions” to widen the structure of the levels, with only the first mission usually following anything like the traditional Chips-rings-Links format, and others asking you to save or slaughter Nightopians (apparently Paralooping them sends them to “a place of relaxation”…), achieve a certain Link or defeat the level’s Nightmaren boss.
Of the four bosses I’ve encountered so far, two play like NiGHTS originals Puffy and Gillwing, asking you to Touch Dash a rotund enemy through obstacles or Paraloop a scaly creature to damage it. Not that I mind of course – these are classic enemies reworked on a larger scale – particularly when they’re more engaging than the two truly new enemies I’ve encountered, Cerberus and Chamelon. The latter is particularly frustrating – you have to Paraloop the background to reveal his hiding place, then again to damage him, but it seems so far removed from an enjoyable boss encounter it just becomes an exercise in patience. Cerberus is better, asking you to dash a connecting cable to bash the dogs’ heads together, but it’s less than gold standard.
My Dream? Not Entirely…
Nightopians are much cuter now than before, but so far seem less developed. You can hatch their eggs in the Nightopia stages, but the real interaction happens in “My Dream“, a sort of Chao Garden where Nightopians and Nightmarens co-exist, though there seems so little to do there at the moment I’m left wondering what the point is. Supposedly it uses the Wii’s Weather Channel to adapt the climate, and it changes appearance depending on the ratio of good-to-evil, but I guess these are long-term revelations. I did hatch a family of Nightopians wearing balaclavas, which is possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.
This is all coming out much more sensibly than it seems in my head. I’m trying to be rational about it rather than simply daubing “IT’S NEW NiGHTS!” everywhere, which is what I’ll be telling everyone at work tomorrow. The simple fact of the matter is I really, really like it. My major gripe with it is that there isn’t enough NiGHTS in the levels: the missions seem to detract from the core joy of flight, but they’re not flawed in themselves, perhaps just a little unsuited. Counteracting that is the sense that it’s a truly updated NiGHTS that uses technology to achieve things they couldn’t on the Saturn. Graphically it shows its lack of development time rather than the Wii’s relatively low power, but the art and design shine through, and there are still some beautiful moments – Lost Park switches from verdant greenery to broken desert at the flick of a switch, and the fishy Gillwing-like boss explodes into a cloud of brightly coloured balloons.
The very fact I can now play a second original NiGHTS is enough to send my heart churning, but I remarked to Hannah it gives me exactly the same feelings as the original did – wonder, warmth, hope; that sense you’re experiencing something special. It’s been a long twelve years, but NiGHTS has returned, and with all the excitement around it I can’t help but feel the journey has only just begun.
I’m listening to Dreams Dreams (NiGHTS) by Sonic Team, from Sonic Team Unplugged Live 2004.