There are two people at Tokyo Game Show I feel sorry for. One of them is me, and the other is the NiGHTS woman on the SEGA stand. I feel sorry for me because I'm in the middle of an horrendous cold, with a soaring temperature, and after shaking my way through endless queues on the show floor my fingers are about as steady as tissue paper in a gale, and there's so much sweat on my forehead that - to borrow from Mitchell & Webb - I probably look like I'm in the midst of some sort of gritty smack battle.
But my plight is nothing next to the poor NiGHTS girl, clad from neck to ankle in unbroken latex, with big jester's boots rounding things off and a latex jester's hat to match. She must be wilting. As I queued for 45 minutes to get a go on the successor to Sonic Team's most fondly remembered Saturn game, she developed a sort of facial tick and eventually ran off in the direction of the lavatories wearing a look of despair and rubbing a towel against her head. Because, of course, everyone wants to take her picture - here in Makuhari, NiGHTS is a bit of a big deal.
NiGHTS is set in the dream world of Nightopia, where a pair of children are battling nightmare creatures called Nightmaren. Obviously I culled that tidbit from Wikipedia, because the intro to the TGS demo is about as comprehensible as Lindsey Lohan's continued employment. What you're faced with, as the friendly SEGA man shoves a Nunchuk and Wiimote into your hands, is a little boy trotting around on a sandy beach where little glowing blue orbs lie in wait. I didn't get much opportunity to explore this, however, as I was quickly ushered up a metal chain, transformed into NiGHTS and given rein to waft across fantastical dreamscapes.
The basic concept is somewhere between racing and action, and despite the (not particularly fancy, but certainly artistically satisfying) visuals, you move across the world along set routes, shot from the side to give the game a 2D feel. As you move left to right (often diagonally) with the analogue stick, you must collect orbs, fly through hoops (often having to loop the loop) and track down a flying bird off in the distance ahead of you. The idea is to tackle the bird, toss it out of the way and retrieve a key, which allows you to continue onto the second "lap" of the course when you complete the cycle.
As you work through each lap-based bird-chase, the route changes, sending you underwater, in-between tight rocky clusters, bouncing off clouds and even down a sort of rollercoaster. The perspective sometimes shifts to behind, giving you the job of manoeuvring across the screen to reach hoops and orbs as though you're flying down a tube. Other level objects include weird orange hanging-light things that either speed you up or change your path - I couldn't quite figure it out - and a range of obstacles, which you want to avoid contact with because they add seconds to your time, which in turn reduces the likelihood of your successfully completing a lap. On the plus side, you can press the A button to produce a burst of speed, which is useful for closing the final few metres to the gallivanting Nightmaren.
There are other levels in the TGS demo, although I hadn't the heart to queue for the rest, and once you complete one (and perhaps depending on the rank you're then given, or perhaps not) you're propelled into a boss fight. In my case, a sort of prancing magician pulled a veil over the world and there was no obvious way to reach him. Fortunately I was able to apply Special Journalism Techniques (looking at the bloke on the next pod) to extract the answer: the little stars that NiGHTS leaves in his/her wake can be used to draw circles against the veil, which creates a hole and exposes the boss. Another boss battle involves a creature in a pinball machine that has to be shoved through several gates, although by the time I witnessed that on an adjacent pod my friendly SEGA man was thrusting a NiGHTS bag into my hand and guiding me to the exit, where I almost bumped into the poor unfortunate NiGHTS girl. I returned her frail bow with an impressively timed sneeze, and then we both sort of sighed, and went on our way.
Fortunately for her, the NiGHTS demo is quite enchanting, beautifully realised and delicately scored. With any luck, the rest of the game will promote one of SEGA's forgotten legends into contemporary success.
NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams is due out exclusively on Wii in Q1. The Japanese version is due out on 13th December.