Ahh.. NiGHTS Finally Returns..

The day was in aid of the much anticipated NiGHTS sequel, Journey of Dreams, a Nintendo Wii exclusive game. Ant asked me to go down on behalf of Nintendo Life, and this is a report on the day!

The day was a chance for Takashi Iizuka and his team to spread the word of their new creation in the final months before release. A number of people from unofficial and official gaming magazines were invited down to the day. On top of magazine press, two members of the online community were invited down. These people were Nintendo Life (yours truly), and SEGANerds (in essence a Nintendo Life for SEGA).

For those of you who do not know. NiGHTS originally was a cult classic from the SEGA Saturn. The original was called NiGHTS into Dreams, and was very similar to Journey of Dreams, more on that in a bit though. Takashi Iizuka is one of the original creators of the NiGHTS series. He was one of the lead game designers on the original, and he is heading up the team that has made the sequel. Iizuka is also one of the top people in Sonic Team at the moment. In the past he has worked closely with Yuji Naka on games such as Sonic 3 on the Megadrive, and Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast.

Takashi Iizuka

Moving on, once all the people who were invited had arrived at SOE, we had a bite to eat, settled down, the day began. The first part of the day was having Iizuka and his team come in and do a presentation for us. Iizuka lead the presentation, however, he is not fluent in English so he had a translator on the side repeating everything he said to us. The presentation wasn’t any sort of flashy PowerPoint, or him just talking to us, he actually picked up a Wiimote and Nunchuck, and played the game as his presentation, talking as he played through. This really worked well as it gave us a great view on how the game is played and how it works on the Wii.

After Iizuka finished presenting the game to us it was a chance for interviews. Myself, SEGANerds, and Kevin Eva (SEGA Community Manager, there on behalf of NiGHTSintoDreams.com) were the last people to get our chance at questioning Iizuka. This worked out quiet well as we got our chance at playing the game first hand. I’ll take this chance to tell you my impressions on the game.

I never actually got to the opportunity to own the original NiGHTS game, as I didn’t get a Saturn. So, I went into this press day with the simple knowledge of the game from Wikipedia. The game layout was what I was expecting. It resembles Super Mario 64 a lot, in the way that you walk around a lobby like area picking which level/chapter to play. First off all though you have to pick which character to play as, Will or Helen. In the original there were two similar characters. In JoD, each character has a unique story to play through, with unique levels and bosses. However, the two characters do intertwine in the story, so to fully understand what is going on you must play with each child.

NiGHTS In Action #1

You start each level as the child you have chosen. You then go and release the character NiGHTS from its cage. This is where the game play starts. NiGHTS fly’s out of the cage and the game begins. You fly on a set circuit around the level, chasing some fantasy like animal for a key. The key you collect is used to open up other cages, areas, etc. Each level has 4 missions and a boss level. Playing through a level unlocks another door in the lobby to another level.

When you complete a mission (or Mare as they are called), you are scored based on time, the amount of ‘Links’ you collect, and the combo scores you collect in gaining links. All very much like the Sonic Adventure system. Iizuka and Sonic Team have taken advantage of the WiFi connection here by implementing a ranking system. You mission scores are ranked amongst all other owners of the game. You scores and positions can be view from the main menu.

While playing as NiGHTS you can use one of four different masks. These ‘Persona Masks’ are used to navigate parts of the level other masks can’t. The available masks are the Dragon, Dolphin, and Rocket mask. Dragon mask can withstand winds, the Dolphin can swim, and the Rocket can reach high speeds. There are also other masks that are only used in special levels.

NiGHTS In Action #2

They have also implemented a Multiplayer mode in JoD. In this mode you can play with either a friend on the same console, a friend over WiFi, or a random person from around the world. There are two kinds of game here. The Battle mode and Speed mode. I only got to play and see the Speed mode. This was simply a race around a levels circuit. Simple, yet entertaining.

On top of Persona Masks, Scoreboards, and Multiplayer, there is a new feature called ‘My Dream’. This feature is an ‘A-Life’ (mode from original) and Chao Garden, like mini game. Here you can house Nightopians, watch them grow, and totally manipulate the environment. We didn’t see much of all this other than the most exciting feature from it, this was the Weather. The Weather in your ‘My Dream’ is directly linked up to the Wii’s forecast channel. Therefore, the weather out you window is the weather inside the game!

A lot of games on Wii recently have really used the graphical potential really well. Examples in my eyes are Mario Galaxy, Mario & Sonic, or Resident Evil. This game is no different. Lots of bright colours, shiny objects, and smooth game play, really do make the game come of the screen. There are some really rich and colourful environments to play through.

NiGHTS In Action #3

Those people who have played the original will remember the sound track as being one of the best features about NiGHTS into Dreams. No difference here. The sound track sounds to be spot on again here. There are even some interesting track remixes for the sequel which will excite fans!

One of the things I find most interesting about this game from hearing and now playing it is that players have the opportunity to play using one of four different control methods! These are the Wiimote on its own, Wiimote and Nunchuck, Classic Controller, and GameCube Controller. I got to play with the Wiimote on its own and the Wiimote plus Nunchuck. For a beginner like me, the Nunchuck was essential to being able to play the game. The analogue stick gave much easier control. However, the Wiimote on its own really did give a sense of flying and the 3-Dimentional environment. Something worth mastering in my opinion!

In the interview we asked Iizuka about the controls, and specifically which his favourite is. He responded by saying that for the players of the original game the GameCube control should be their pick, because this depicts the Saturn’s controls accurately. He went onto say that his favourite is the Wiimote on its own because of what I just mentioned. He feels it give you a sense of flying, which is essentially what the game is known for.

The interview lasted thirty minutes (full transcript/download available here). We each got our chances to put in the questions we had come up with, over a half hour slot. In the end we came up with a good selection of questions between us, and came away with some good answers. The translator was present again. However, even though I can not understand a word of Japanese, it was clear to see over the thirty minute period that Iizuka is very passionate about what he does. It’s also very clear that he is very pleased with the outcome of JoD (and so he should be!). I already mentioned we asked Iizuka about his favourite controls. Here are a couple of other important items taken from the interview.

Recently SEGA announced that the original NiGHTS was to be released on PS2 Japan, with no news of a release anywhere else. Therefore, I was desperate to find out their plans on this, and posed the question. Iizuka responded by telling me that there are no plans to take the release out of Japan, he also noted that there were also no plans for a Virtual Console release, but, he did add to this “…yet!”. Seems we have a glimmer of hope that NiGHTS will one day find its way on the Virtual Console.

New to JoD are the different masks that NiGHTS can use to take different forms. I was interested to know which his favourite was. He started off by saying that each mask holds a different quality for different parts of the game, which I had guessed he would say. He went on to say that his favourite was in fact the Dragon mask!

Overall the day was complete success for us, and for Takashi Iizuka. From having a short play on the game and seeing it in its full glory from Iizuka, I would say SEGA are onto a winner here. The game is obviously not going to be the icon of the Wii like its original was on the Saturn. However, eleven years in the waiting have been worth it. The Wii’s controls are perfect for the unique game play, and you could almost say the original was made eleven years too early!

I am very impressed with Journey of Dreams, and now plan on purchasing it on release!