Like many gamers who grew up in the 8 and 16 bit eras, there are a number of long neglected properties that I'd love to see given sequels: Strider, Alex Kidd, Star Tropics, Phantasy Star (that online nonsense doesn't count). But when it comes to bringing back old or long neglected franchises, there is a right way and a wrong way to tap into gamer nostalgia. Contra IV, Bionic Commando and Megaman 9 (I hope) do it right; they look, feel and play much like the games we know and love. It's as if they were sent forward from an alternate 1988 by some NES loving Marty McFly.
When it comes to doing it wrong, nobody can touch Sega. Remember Altered Beast? It was a shallow but fun Genesis side scroller that involved punching monsters in ancient Greece, turning into a werewolf and then punching more monsters. They made a sequel for PS2 a few years back that never made it to the States. I've played it. It was awful. Werewolves aside, it also had precious little to do with the original game.
Remeber Shinobi? Sega brought him back a few years ago for a thoroughly forgettable
3-D adventure. The less said about any Sonic games made after the Genesis era the better.
So against my better judgment I bought NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams for the Wii on the basis of my love for the original. The first NiGHTS, which came out for the Saturn back in 1996, was a simple but unique on-rails platformer (kind of) in quasi 3D. Gameplay consisted of flying through gold hoops, avoiding obstacles and beating a time limit in order to advance to a boss fight. It doesn't sound terribly involved, and it wasn't. But it was fun. It looked great (for the time), had wonderful music, and, I can't emphasize this enough, felt fresh and totally unique. It was the work of Yuji Naka at the top of his creative game and it shows.
It should have ended here.
The people responsible for the Wii sequel (a group that does not include Yuji Naka) looked at the simple but addictive arcade styled gameplay of the original and decided that it should be relegated to a minor role. See that owl? He just keeps talking, and talking...
In Journey of Dreams each level is divided into five sections of which only the first and fifth are reminiscent of the original game. Each level begins with a ring chase which plays just like the original (with the addition of poorly tacked on Wii controls) and ends with a boss fight. Wedged between these slices of fun are three slabs of awful. There's a kayaking level that plays like a poorly designed Mario Kart track, some truly dull on-foot platforming, and a whole lot of cutscenes. Long, unskippable cutscenes. I remember the original games as having only the barest trace of a plot; two kids fly around as a purple jester while they are dreaming and thereby save dreamland, or something like that. The sequel has much the same story only now the particulars are spelled out in excruciating detail by a talking owl who drones on and on.
As a whole, the game isn't awful. It certainly isn't the worst thing on the Wii, and at least they didn't give NiGHTS a poochy styled Shadow the Hedgehog makeover. It isn't set in a post apocalyptic dystopia or anything like that. So the tone feels right, but the game as a whole begs the question of why designers would steer clear from a winning formula and deliver a sequel that all but ignores the strengths that made the original a cult favorite in the first place. I'd been hoping for a NiGHTS sequel for some time and am now reminded to be careful what I wish for when it comes to franchise resurrection. Still, I'll buy the new Kid Icarus the day it comes out. The original wasn't that great in the first place.