When Nights into Dreams first hit the Sega Saturn almost 20 years ago, it was essentially doomed. No matter how critically acclaimed the game was, the reality of the matter was that it’s platform was a dying breed. The Saturn provided some amazingly rendered graphics and some unparalleled gameplay for its games, and particularly NiGHTS, but its failure to capture the general market’s interest meant none of that mattered.
The game received a sequel for the Wii a few years back, and while it was warmly received by fans of the original title, the general masses that were negligent of the series’ first outing didn’t show much interest it, paradoxically paralleling the original game’s release. Perhaps to rectify this, or merely to celebrate the cult status of NiGHTS, Sega has recently remastered the game and released into the wilds of the PSN & 360.
The decision to perpetuate Nights into Dreams as a high-definition re-release is not only considerate of the game’s longstanding fanbase, but also a generous move by Sega that allows the Saturn classic to be experienced by a much wider audience for a menial price. The best news, however, is that the game retains its status as a beautifully ethereal adventure that’s still worth diving into after all these years.
For those unfamiliar with Night’s premise, it’s both simple and quirkily unique. As humans sleep, their dreams habitat one of two places: Nightopia, and Nightmare. The connotation is blatant, and the game’s antihero proves this: he, as the ruler of Nightmare, wants to take over Nightopia by stealing away dream energy.
If that’s confusing to you, it becomes no clearer as you’ll play; there’s effectively no story at all throughout the entirety of the game. As such, the nonsensical approach is perhaps the best. You’ll be put in the shoes of two kids that team up with Nights, the titular hero, in order to stop the villain from succeeding in his dastardly plans. It boils down to general simplicity in compliment to the elegant yet also simplistic gameplay; and yes, the wordplay on “Nights” infiltrates just about every aspect of the game, if you hadn’t noticed by now.
The basic gameplay is also probably confusing. The game first sets out as a 3D adventure, but you’ll quickly realize that it’s mostly set on a two-dimensional field. The essential point is to fly around the levels as the valiant Nights, attempting to collect twenty blue orbs per level (along with various other collectables that don’t progress the game) while determining your own path through the environment.
Things get a bit more confusing once you realize it’s not entirely an adventure game or a race to collect these blue orbs; you’ll simply fly through the map, pulling off slick moves and floating through hoops in a circular, four-round attempt, after which you’ll engage in a boss battle. As such, it’s kind of a racing game and a flying adventure; the faster you fly through the levels and perform exemplary stunts, the more points you’ll receive; however, each run-through of the levels prove to be vastly different, as you’ll carve new paths on your journey.
The most important thing to note, though, is that the game is still incredibly fun to play after all these years. The first time you give it a run, it might feel rough and inconsequential; the more you play it, however, the more you’ll become familiar with the style of play and the layout of the maps, and something inherently wonderful will click in your mind. The aesthetics of the game likewise remain an absolute joy to behold; given that it’s a literal dream world, the engaging, otherworldly environments and nonsensical objects & characters will no doubt capture your imagination from beginning to end. And the ending for Claris & Elliot? It’s still a clinching moment, after all these years.
It’s not without its faults, of course; a lot of people won’t bother to give the game the time it needs to develop fully, and it may end up feeling like its halfheartedly attempting its unique mechanics and generally feeling stale. Also, while boss fights remain inventive, they’re eclectic; it can be hard to tell what exactly to do, and even if you’re harming your foe or not. And, if a player doesn’t correctly time themselves as they fly through a level, it’s perfectly possible for their entire experience to be ruined as they continually watch their score fall to zero as they miss their goal by a couple of harrowing seconds. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the game is hard, especially by today’s standards.
If you’re not quite sold on the game yet, whether you already own it in another incarnation or whatever else, the addition of extras content might be enough to sway you. Sega has included a vast array of extra content to satiate fans, and to provide new gamers something of a beefier package. For instance, the relatively rare Christmas Nights is included, which adds holiday flair to the game’s dreamy levels in the form of a sidestory. There’s also a nice interview with Takashi Iizuka, the man behind the game’s design, and a theater mode in which you can watch the cut scenes at your whim.
The obvious biggest benefit, of course, is the facelift the game has received. While you can still play the game as it looked originally, and that might be nice for nostalgic purposes, you’ll want to check out the work put into the update. All the character models have been drastically updated with more polygons for a much more pleasing appearance, and the general game itself, from its background textures to its various sprites, have all been dramatically improved, whether they were recreated in 3D or merely sharpened for visual dexterity. Whatever the case, the game has held up remarkably well over the years, with no small thanks due to the efforts put in by Sega.
It doesn’t add up to a complete package, however. Notably, the multiplayer functions have been revoked, and the option to play as Sonic the Hedgehog is absent from this downloadable version. Those are, of course, small exceptions to what otherwise amounts to an admirable update to this enthralling classic. The game might not hold up as well control-wise or graphically as modern takes on the genre(s) it attempted to infiltrate and revolutionize all those years ago, but there’s no doubt that Nights is still worth playing, whether you’re wearing rose-colored glasses or approaching it for the first time.
Final Grade: B
- Sega Announces ‘NiGHTS into dreams…’ HD Re-release