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NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams

A good night's sleep or a cold-sweat 'mare?

Writing about NiGHTS is notoriously difficult. When a NiGHTS preview or feature lands on the table, you can cut the silence in NGamer Towers with a knife.

No code snatching takes place. No dibs are called. All of a sudden those directory pages really need writing, or all the staff simultaneously remember that they left their houses on fire that morning.

It's nothing personal, mind. NiGHTS simply happens to be one of the most word-resistant titles around - a game that revels in its indescribably dreamy ways.

Even when interviewing producer Takashi Iizuka for our announcement preview, it seemed as if he himself had no control over the dream jester. He nattered on about magic, innocence and belief.

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At one point he referred to level design as Freudian in concept; no use to those of us versed only in slippy-slidey ice worlds. It's as if NiGHTS: Journey Of Dreams was the 'secret phrase' drawn in a round of Taboo, only the forbidden word list encompassed every single term ever associated with gaming. So, with all that in mind, here goes nothing:

Tender is the NiGHTS

For the most part, NiGHTS controls much as before. Soaring along 2D plains through 3D environments, NiGHTS weaves through scenery as the camera performs back flips in an attempt to disguise this single plane simplicity from our freedom loving eyes.

As far as similarities with the original go, purists may as well call it quits there. NiGHTS may move in that same perspective bamboozling way, but the journeys he/she/it makes are wildly different.

The appeal of the original lay largely in chasing hi-scores through repeat runs. Given a course to circuit three times, the skill lay in chaining together links of blue spheres and orange hoops - the latter granting dash power that would get you from one to the next without any chain breaking dallying.

That's it. No clever stories. No objectives. Just a simple string of levels to waltz through in under an hour, or perfected over a lifetime.

Booting up Journey Of Dreams is like happening upon some stolen work of art, guiltily disguised with a crude slapdash paint-job. While the chaining mechanic is there - and addictive as ever - an objectives system dashes your freedom to pursue them.

You're never given the space to simply run with it. Instead, you're chasing birds to bash a key from their grasp, or playing with the loveable octopaw, a squid that squeezes out hoops for you to link together.

Yes, you can string level-long combos together, but fundamentally that bird won't catch itself, and the octopaw challenge ends abruptly once you've had five shots at meeting your link goal.

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In the original NiGHTS the only concrete requirement for any level was that you collected the right amount of blue orbs, an action that contributed to your chain combo.

Here, your objectives are counter intuitive to your link run. Saying that, at least the bird and squid challenges - which make up two of each world's five missions - offer some echo of that distinctive NiGHTS play. Elsewhere? Errrr...

Takashi Iizuka's flying circus

Generalising the remaining challenges is a fool's errand, but to Sega's credit, they've squeezed in masses of variety.

Guide a raft-shaped NiGHTS through swirling rapids one second and glide through a bubble blowing contest the next - it's only in this schizophrenic style that you feel the mutable dream quality that Iizuka feverishly babbles about.

Only in slumber can we find ourselves thrown from an obstacle-dodging rollercoaster ride straight into a spot of volcano-set gem grabbing.

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