NiGHTS into dreams... Review

By Michelle Balsan, 4 years ago
A lot has changed in the 16 years since NiGHTS into dreams... was released. If we just talk about the gaming landscape, a couple of generations of consoles have come and gone, Microsoft entered first party development, and Sega exited. Sega has, of course, managed to maintain relevancy due to its stable of established, and some may argue aging, franchises. Sonic may have seen better days, but there's no doubting that Sega's nod to its former successes via its Heritage series of downloadable titles has proved successful for the developer.

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Last week saw the launch of not one, but two of these Heritage titles. Up for consideration in this review is NiGHTS into dreams, a 1996 release on the Sega Saturn. At its heart, NiGHTS is, somewhat deceptively, an arcade style 2D platformer. You may take a quick look at the game and state "well that's not true! Seems 3D to me," but that's a product of Sega cleverly developing gorgeous environments for the game's protagonist, Nights, to travel across. The question at this point is, of course, is this new HD port worth re-visiting for those of us who played the game before and is this game worth a look for those of you who never had an opportunity to play it.

Let me just start by just briefly covering why everything in the game is happening. Elliot and Claris, two children in the city of Twin Seeds, both had, essentially, very bad days. Claris, who wishes to become a famed singer, tries out for a stage production only to suffer stage-fright so bad that the judges can't hear just how talented a singer she is. Elliot, on the other hand, wants to be a basketball star until some on-the-court bullies put him in his place. As a result of their misfortunes, the both have nightmares, but thankfully they encounter the Harlequin-like Nights who can help them reach their dreams, but who is unfortunately held captive by the evil Wizeman.

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When the children travel to the realm of dreams, they do so holding five orbs. Nightmarens, the underlings of Wizeman, promptly steal all but one, the red orb of courage that the Nightmarens can't steal, and lock them in devices called Ideya captures. Thankfully, the sole orb the children hold is enough to free Nights, who was designed as an intentionally androgynous character, and send him on his way to collect the other orbs and free that realm of the nightmares occupying it.

Given the game type we're dealing with here it's probably not surprising that NiGHTS doesn't have a grand depth of story. In fact, within the game itself, it's completely possibly to play and never know the motivations behind the characters. This isn't a major detriment as knowing the story isn't essential to enjoying the game, but if that's a motivating factor for you, you'd best be aware of it.

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Now that you know what's happening, this better explains how the gameplay is set up. Each level begins with the child you're playing as walking around a 3D landscape holding onto five orbs. Your goal in these brief sections, is to travel to Nights and set him on his course collecting orbs. Though the gameplay once you have control of Nights looks to be 3D, it's really cleverly disguised 2D in that everything happens on a flat plane of action. This is one of those elements of the game that may not seem impressive today, but given the limitations of the Saturn – a system that was more intended for 2D development, it was quite a feat to behold back in 1996. The control in NiGHTS is responsive, though Saturn-era gamers will note that Nights no longer flies in any direction, but rather is locked into the eight typical directional points on an analog stick. This isn't a major problem by any means, but it was jarring to take note of it at first. It does take a bit to get used to performing paraloops (simply complete a circle while in flight) and managing your boost, but once you do, you'll find yourself disappointed that you often won't have time to do one more loop around the stage, unfortunately having to return to the checkpoint before your flight ends.

If you do happen to find yourself running out of time before reaching a checkpoint, you’ll be pulled out of the sky and left to control Elliot or Claris again. You’ll want to run to the checkpoint before the Nightmarens catch you not only because that would cause your dream to end, but it means more time wandering around in the 3D section of the game, which frankly isn’t all that fun or exciting. The characters move slowly and traversing the environment is marred by strange terrain upon which you may or may not be able to land.

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The HD update for the game is definitely a strength of a port. The character models are bigger and sharper, the depth of color is a clear difference, and the widescreen presentation really lets you take in the details of the worlds that you fly through. If you want to compare the two easily for yourself, load up any of the game’s boss encounters in the HD mode, and then check out the Saturn edition. While you can look at the game and see how it was impressive in its time, the look definitely shows signs of aging. The HD port, however, looks crisp and vibrant, which makes returning to and exploring these old worlds somehow magical again. NiGHTS' score, composed by Naofumi Hataya, Tomoko Sasaki, and Fumie Kumatani is still a delight to listen to, including the potentially cheesy (depending on how you view such things) ending theme.

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The achievement list on NiGHTS is not all that exciting. For those of you who are fond of this site’s method of calculating completion, you’ll be happy to know that 8 of the game’s 13 achievements are given to you just for playing through the story and for completing Christmas NiGHTS, which opens up once you’ve completed the core game stages. The remainder of the achievements are earned for either earning all ‘A’ ranks or doing level-specific tasks. If you look at completion from a total GamerScore earned point of view, the weighting is really bizarre. Completing the game will earn you less than half of the game’s 400G. One achievement, for paralooping an enemy’s tail, is worth a whopping 100G all on its own.

Ultimately, one’s enjoyment of NiGHTS is going to boil down to whether or not you had a fondness for it going in. In today’s landscape, it’s an average to slightly-above-average platformer that still carries its unique flying twist. For those who grew up with it, it’s a well-crafted upgrade of a title that let us see into 3D on a console that technically had little business doing so. As someone who falls into the category of one who played the Saturn version, I’m rewarding it the half point higher for a four-star rating, but, again, be forewarned that my history with the game definitely impacts my impression of it. The inclusion of Christmas NiGHTS is a plus, as this was previously only available through a couple of promotions held a decade and a half ago, and will definitely be another perk for those familiar with the franchise. All told, if you remember and loved NiGHTS, don't hesitate to pick this one up. If not, definitely demo it and keep in mind that the game is short (we're talking all the stages can be completed in 3 or 4 hours short), so if the game isn't immediately appealing to you, you're going to want to hold off on it for now.
Michelle Balsan
Written by Michelle Balsan
Michelle is the Assistant Manager of the Newshounds at TrueAchievements and has been a member of staff since 2010. When not contributing to gaming websites, she makes her living as a mild-mannered librarian. She can be compelled to play just about anything if there's a co-op component, and has been playing games with friends and siblings since the Atari 2600. As it's reportedly healthy to have hobbies outside of gaming, she also roots for some of the most difficult sporting franchises to root for, the New York Mets and New York Jets, but offsets that by rooting for the New Jersey Devils. She's also seen pretty much none of the movies you have, but she's working on that.