Developer.....Sonic Team Publisher.....Sega Players.......1 or 2 Difficulty....Easy/Medium
NiGHTS (or NiGHTS into dreams...) is a weird game. And because Sega of America deleted that part of their site in order to usher in the Dreamcast era, I'd better explain...
Two children, Elliot and Claris, neither of which know each other, each have a traumatic day. Claris is a budding singer; she knows that she has talent, only that she needs to prove it to her family. And what better than the Twin Seeds 100 Years Anniversary "Twin Dreams" auditions on September 29th? She goes along and just as she is ready, a little voice inside her head makes her think again. They will laugh. At her. Besides which, the judges don't even look bothered. Stagefright makes her run off the stage. Elliot, on the other hand, is a very promising basketball player. He, and a few of his friends, go to the court after school. During mid-game, as his friend passes to him long down court, he takes too long figuring out what to do and one of the opponents, an older kid, steals the ball and travels the whole of the court to score. Elliot, plagued by their laughter, walks home alone.
That night, both children fall into a troubled sleep. They relive the day as it had gone before, except the dreams were more powerful and frightening that they could have imagined. As Claris is ready to sing and clenches her fists, the judges transform into huge black, laughing creatures. She is frightened, and so runs away as fast as she can. She runs down a vividly coloured passage, until a bright yet strange light fills her vision. She stops to look, and then bravely steps forth into the light. As for Elliot, the scenery melts away, and the laughing boys turn into similar creatures. He runs away, along the stony path, and sees the same light. He stretches out his arms as the light seems to envelop everything...
The children soon discover the meaning of their dreams. A strange winged being manages to make contact with them. It says that the dream world of Nightopia is under threat from a mysterious and evil force called Wizeman. Stealing precious dream energy from humans, he intends to lead his army and take over the realm, and eventually escape into the real world. He will be unstoppable. There is just one power that he needs but cannot have, courage. Elliot and Claris possess this rare energy, and the creature points out that the only thing that can stop Wizeman will be a former associate of his. An unknown entity called NiGHTS. He apparently rebelled against Wizeman and was transformed into the shape of a jester-like aerial acrobat. He is attracted to this courageous energy and the creature believes that it will enable him to help them. But NiGHTS is trapped inside a small structure called an Ideya Palace; it needs the courageous power, otherwise known as Red Ideya, to escape. In order to beat Wizeman, they'll need NiGHTS' help to find the various other Ideya which embody different positive thoughts. By forcing his minions out of the dream world, they can then take on Wizeman himself. Will they be successful..?
Now, to the game itself. NiGHTS into dreams... has six main levels, three for each character, and one final level which you can use either child on. Each level takes the form of a race. The main idea is to enter the Ideya Palace and free NiGHTS, who joins with the child in that dream, and complete the four laps around the level without running out of time and thus sending NiGHTS back to his prison. NiGHTS can be flown in all directions On every lap the player must use NiGHTS to fly around and collect twenty gems, place them in the Ideya Capture (a floating structure that stores a different Ideya), then take the Ideya which is now free back to the palace, and light one of the candles around the base of the palace. Each lap can be attempted as many times as time will allow, and extra points are awarded for getting more gems. The number of points gained determines the grade earned for that lap; the grades range from A to F. If time runs out, the specific child that is in play will fall away from NiGHTS and must find the way back to the Palace, using the helpful blue arrow provided, before a huge alarm clock tracks them down and wakes the child up. Running out of time is a big problem as far as points are concerned, because all points and all gems are lost. The gems can only be recovered for a short time, and basically the current lap will have a low grade (maybe an F). After finding the four other Ideya (hence four laps), the palace becomes a teleporter and sends NiGHTS into a Nightmare where he must defeat a second or first (in Reala's case) level Nightmaren. This must be done as quick as possible because the score from the normal level (called the Pia) is multiplied by a corresponding figure which is predetermined by the completion time of the boss stage (called the Mare). However, NiGHTS must be careful at all times; in the Pia or the Mare, an enemy hit will take five seconds off the time, and NiGHTS takes a little time to regain his poise before he can fly again. In the Mare, this can drastically reduce the final level score and, if the time is low enough, even end the dream. The final score from the level is given a grade and having all As for each character allows for bonus game endings.
The game is full of neat ideas. NiGHTS, being an acrobat, can perform about thirty different types of stunt, all by using the L and R buttons and the A or D pad. Find a circle of blue balls and NiGHTS will, instead of stars, have a golden trail. He can now perform stunts for points. The time is limited, so the player has to work fast for a good score. This is best attempted after the Ideya for that lap has been freed because points are double what they were before. NiGHTS can dash by pressing any button, and this can defeat small nightmaren with one hit. If NiGHTS touches a minor nightmaren, he will grab hold, perform a ring around it, and paraloop (a starry circle that defeats anything inside it) it away. However, dashing requires dash power, which is shown in a gauge to the bottom left of the screen. To replenish this, NiGHTS can fly through golden circles. Items that NiGHTS can pick up are blue golden gems (which turn blue after the Ideya has been freed) and stars. Paralooping groups of objects may unveil a bonus power up which could replenish NiGHTS dash gauge.
Getting lots of points is not possible unless you perform links. If you grab items and/or fly through golden circles in quick succession, you will get a link, which is displayed on screen. As with a real chain, the links are one less than the sections of the chain, so if you get 33 items the link will be 32. For a link below 11, you get ten times the number of points for the link number (a link of 5 will get 50 points, plus the points for 4, 3, 2 and 1 links). From 11 points onwards, the points for each link are 100. These totals are double if you have the current lap's Ideya. Getting huge links means you have to be quick before the link dissipates, and will get you huge points bonuses and improve your chance of a good grade for each lap and thus the total level.
However, possibly the most innovative feature is A-Life. Standing for Artificial Life, it means that the nightopian inhabitants of each dream world live and breathe, so to speak. They lay eggs, which you can hatch by holding on and pressing any button to fly off, and by protecting them from the nightmaren creatures that patrol each dreamscape will improve their mood. This has a direct effect on the music, which is made of various subsections that play depending on the overall mood of the nightopians. However, if you send a nightmaren flying as a result of a dash attack, it could actually spread its DNA over unhatched eggs and mutate the little critters into what's known as Mepians. The nightopians will tolerate them but their mood will be less positive. Also, you have to make sure that you do not paraloop a nightopian because you will kill it and certainly annoy the rest of his/her friends.
The game's graphics are initially very off-putting. Glitchy, a close draw-in distance, and an occasional drop in the frame rate. However, after playing for a while you realise - NiGHTS looks cool. Gouraud shading with multiple light sources, visual depth cueing (the polygons fade to a shade of blue in the distance, simulating the real-life nitrogen effect in the atmosphere), transparencies, lots of speed and a deluge of colour. In the main part, the glitches on NiGHTS (the only 3D character in the Pia; the other creatures are 2D sprites) are not noticeable, and there's no graphical warping in the game at all. Having the other characters as sprites is an advantage because it allows for more polygonal detail and the way that they are integrated into the game is really neat. A 3D character able to interact with 2D sprites; that's good. NiGHTS can take the form of a bobsled and a fish when the need arises, and the shading on him is exceptionally smooth. The frame rate drops are few and far between, and this game looks easily as good as the best on the Saturn. Sure, it's a while since the game was released, but it still looks the part. It's definitely different enough to attract people. Despite being Sonic Team's first Saturn project, it seems as though they've had prior experience. Compare the graphics to most games made after and draw your own conclusions...
The graphics wouldn't be the same without the soundtrack, and NiGHTS doesn't disappoint at all. Quite the opposite in fact. The sound in the Pia levels is CyberSound chip-generated sound and the tune played depends on the mood of the nightopians. The range of instruments and the happy tunes makes for a really pleasurable aural experience, possibly one of the best ever made. My personal favourite is Paternal Horn (the music for Spring Valley). When the Mare begins, like the normal presentation music, it changes to CD and it's timed to the level. Sporting various styles from jazz to rock, techno/jungle to new age, I really cannot pick faults with the sound. It's that good.
NiGHTS would not be the game it is without the playability factor, and luckily it has that by the bucketful. It will not take the average player long to complete, but getting A grades will take more time. The main pull of NiGHTS is getting better high scores. Just like in older, classic games. What's more, beating Reala (NiGHTS' evil alter-ego) will enable you to select a split-screen two-player mode from the Dream Options screen, where you and a friend, as NiGHTS and Reala, can recreate the NiGHTS vs. Reala fight as much as you wish. You have three hit points, as Reala does in the normal game, and you have to paraloop your opponent before he or she manages to do the same to you, and you have 60 seconds (half of what you get in the Pia and Mare stages). This mode is really good fun and you could spend ages playing it. For those of you who just want to look around the NiGHTS worlds, you don't have to go to the Ideya Palace at the start of each level - just walk around with the kid for that level. You could look for the nightopians and hatch their eggs by walking over them (!). If you want a quick game, you can just fly for one or two circles per lap and not bother about the score. It's up to you.
Not really. Some people bemoaned the fact that you have 360 degree movement but move on an axis around the level (you can move vertically anywhere you want but must still move left and right). This was surely intentional to make the game easy to play. Full-360 degree movement, in my view, would be insanely hard to master in a game which is this fast and dynamic. Not even flight sims have completely free movement, because you cannot control your Z distance as it is always fixed. This is what makes NiGHTS easy, which unfortunately makes the game easy to complete, but the gameplay is so compelling that you want to play over and over again, and so there can't be any complaints.
However, if you are walking around the level, you have full 360 degrees movement (including Z depth in some interior sections) but must fly to complete the levels. Besides which, the points totals gained when flying are much higher than when walking, and you can get links easier.
Some people choose to compare this to Super Mario 64 - don't. They are different. Mario's walking sections are more involved than NiGHTS', but the flying element of NiGHTS is unquestionably superior to that of Mario 64's aerial stages. What I cannot understand is the decision for people to mark the game down for being too short and too weird. NiGHTS is full to the brim with playability and lastability, so the game's length really does not matter. In addition, NiGHTS isn't weird when people actually take the time to play the thing. I did, and I love it even now. It's a true classic, bringing back old memories of games which kept you beavering away, looking for higher scores in an effort to beat your friends. 3 years down the line, it is still one of the best games ever (possibly the most playable game I've ever seen), and an analogue joypad is essential for even more enjoyment. Any way you play it, just enjoy.
Graphics: 94% Audio: 94% Originality: 85% Lastability: 94% Gameplay: 96%
Developer.....Sonic Team Publisher.....Sega Players.......1 Difficulty....Easy/Medium
Christmas NiGHTS (into dreams...) is what you might call an add-on to NiGHTS, in that some people got it from the fronts of magazines, but it is pretty much a separate game. It features Elliot and Claris again, and it's (surprise, surprise) Christmas. They see that there isn't a star atop of the Twin Seeds Tower, which has been decorated as a huge Christmas tree. They go home, thinking about this, and dream about it. Odd kids.
Anyway, this is basically a one-player game that complements its big brother. You can play the Spring Valley level, but, like the rest of the game, this has a difference - the game responds to the Saturn's internal clock, allowing for different things to happen during the year or during the Christmas days. For example, in winter, Spring Valley is covered in deep snow, and the nightopians and children wear Santa outfits. In spring, the snow has melted, and the characters are back to their NiGHTS origins. Things fall from the sky during the winter months, all according to what time of day it is, and there are special days where things happen, like Santa appearing on Christmas Day.
The basic idea of the game is to play it enough so you can open your 'Christmas presents', which are secret parts of the game that are revealed as you play. These include an image museum, a nightopian collection (this monitors the condition of all the nightopians on NiGHTS too), a karaoke of Dreams Dreams (with or without the lyrics), a link attack (around lap 1 of Frozen Bell), a time attack (around lap 1 of Spring Valley), a melody box (containing all chip-music tunes from both games, if NiGHTS is present, that you can mix to your heart's content, plus play the game to that musical choice), merchandise and even a Sonic game, where you take on Spring Valley and fight a Puffy-style Robotnik! Elliot has a backwards version of Claris' race, and when you beat Gillwing, you can open your presents by matching the cards up. The cards are never the same, luckily, and every time you clear the screen of cards, you get a close-up image of Claris, Elliot or NiGHTS, depending on which screen you have cleared. There are three screens of presents, and from screen two onwards Reala cards are placed randomly, and these will end your go. The card sequence for each new game is always random, but never changes during an established game.
This game actually graphically betters NiGHTS, with smoother movement and better lighting effects. This is especially evident on the Link Attack mode (Frozen Bell was a little jerky on NiGHTS, but not here!). The images are really good too; full of colour, and making full use of the 16-bit colour depth (24-bit would have been better but it is not really a disadvantage). The music is very jolly and features a few tunes from NiGHTS, plus a beautiful title screen melody for between March and October which must be one of the finest short pieces of music I have ever heard. Some people may have a problem with the fact that there are only a couple of levels (one level mirrored and slightly altered) but the multitude of excellent hidden features, some of which are unlocked by simply having a NiGHTS save game present, is really welcome. Also, this is really the only festive Saturn game around, but despite its demeanour, it is such a blast that I could never get bored of it, and the gimmicks really work. A classic, and probably the best add-on I have ever seen. Sure, Shining Force Premium Disc and Grandia Digital Museum are probably more extensive, but are they as fun or as cheap? I'll leave you Japanese-speaking people to work the answer out to that one.
Graphics: 95% Audio: 94% Originality: 80% Lastability: 92% Gameplay: 94%