While SEGA’s offerings in recent years have been a varied assortment of peaks and valleys, there was a time when there was no disputing their quality. During the Saturn era Sonic Team put out several innovative games that defied genre conventions and immediately captured the hearts of the SEGA faithful. NiGHTS into Dreams has remained a beloved cult classic since it was released in 1996, and now, with the HD re-release, a whole new generation will get the chance to see why it’s held in such high regard.
Even with no prior experience with the game, it’s impossible not to be taken aback by how whimsical the experience is. Fantastical dreamscapes filled with dazzling colour draw you in, which, when coupled with the game’s charmingly jazzy and peppy soundtrack, create a special atmosphere.
Actually learning how to play unfortunately doesn’t come as easily; NiGHTS is from a time when reading a game’s instruction manual was the only way to understand the mechanics without extended sessions of trial and error. It’s easy to get confused when you’re essentially thrown into the ocean and told not to drown, but taking the time to explore and experiment is actually quite rewarding, especially if you fondly remember a time when video games didn’t hold your hand through half-hour tutorials.
NiGHTS is at its core a score attack style game. The order of the day is playing a course over and over, each time learning a new trick or manoeuvre that will help add points here and there. Each endlessly looping course has a cage that contains an Ideya belonging to one of the game’s protagonists, Claris or Elliot. They take control of NiGHTS and fly through the course to collect enough orbs to unlock the cage and move on to the next part of the stage.
While there are enemies scattered about (including giant bosses that require some thought and experimentation to best), the greatest opponent in the game is time. Running out of time rips control of NiGHTS away and sends you plummeting back to the ground as one of the kids. Good scores must be earned by making the best possible use of your laps through the course as well as using any earned bonus time wisely.
Players who cut their teeth on modern consoles will probably scoff at the limited selection of levels, but NiGHTS isn’t a game you set out to “beat”. NiGHTS is really about competing with yourself. It’s about improving your skills as a player and the sense of reward felt by beating a high score. It may ring hollow with many today, but rest assured that that the premise is a solid one backed by sound mechanics that will often have you saying, “Just one more try!”
NiGHTS contains two graphical options: the original SEGA Saturn version presented in 4:3 with sprite-based enemies, and the “Brand New Dreams” mode, which is a bit of a misnomer as it’s actually just a 16:9 HD upscale of the PS2 re-release from a few years ago. Still, NiGHTS has never looked better, taking advantage of today’s astronomical resolutions to fully realize the game’s imaginative locales.
Rounding out the package are bonus features like an art gallery, music player and Christmas NiGHTS, which was originally a standalone “expansion” disc that offered two holiday themed levels. Considering the asking price is only $9.99/£6.49 it morphs the package from a value into an absolute steal, and a quick glance at eBay is all it takes to confirm this.
NiGHTS is an important game for many reasons. Perhaps the most prevalent is that it shows creative thinking and unique ideas can create a game that is not only well-loved at its release, but also stands the test of time for future generations to enjoy. It’s been 16 years since NiGHTS was released and yet it shines as bright today as it did then, inviting players into a world that is still unlike any other game. The terribly impatient might take issue with the initial lack of direction, but those that cherished the game on their Saturn and anyone looking for an engaging testament to a simpler time are going to be overjoyed with this.