The Sega Saturn may have been a big joke to most video game fans, but there are a small number of us that truly appreciate it. One of the many mistakes Sega made with handling this console was the absence of a brand new, completely 3-D Sonic the Hedgehog game - by far and away their mainline franchise. What we got though, is something I consider vastly better than any of our hedgehog's outings, something much more personal - NiGHTs Into Dreams. Like Sonic, the flying jester was the brainchild of Yuji Naka, but unlike Sega's hedgehog, NiGHTs was a far more original, and dare I say compelling title. Does NiGHTs into Dreams still hold up today? Read on to Find out.
This game centers around two children - Elliot and Claris. Recently their dreams have been plagued by nightmares. This is shows the coming of a group of dream creatures called the Nightmaren lead by the evil wizeman, and once they conquer the dream world they plan to take over the real one too. Unfortunately for the forces of evil, one Nightmaren has joined the side of good - a purple unisex jester named NiGHTs, and it is within their own dreams that Claris and Elliot can release it in order to fight off the Nightmaren.
The storyline isn't anything all that special - though it certainly is unique for it's time. The real highlight here is that you can get several different endings between the two different characters depending on how well you did in the main game. While these are at times incredibly cheesy they actually evoke emotion from the player which is something I can't say for most games out there. It's evident from every aspect of this game that Yuji Naka really poured his heart out in the making of NiGHTs.
NiGHTs features some very unorthodox gameplay. It trancends many different genres and it's pretty difficult to pin it down as just one. Calling it a platformer suits it the best, but it's still a pretty loose fit. Either way, you begin each level in the shoes of either Elliot or Claris with several Ideya crystals in hand. At the beginning of each level various Nightmaren steal these from your character, and it's up to either Elliot or Claris to merge with NiGHTs to get it back.
How exactly do you do that now? It's quite easy actually - NiGHTs must fly around the various levels collecting blue orbs. Upon collecting a set number he can fly to a special contraption containing one of the crystals and release it, at which point it's up to you to fly him back to the beginning of the level. Simple? Not quite.
NiGHTs Into Dreams is a side scroller. Despite the game's 3-D nature NiGHTs can only follow linear paths, and on these he can only move from left right up and down, although each Ideya crystal sends NiGHTs down a different path. The game does feature some moments when the camera will move behind NiGHTs thus offering a more 3-D perspective, but these are few and far. For these moments NiGHTs body will transform into a variety of objects which include a bobsled on the snow level, and he'll grow a tail fin for the underware segment.
What makes things more complicated is that you have a timer at the top of the screen. This counts down the entire time that you are playing, and if it runs out then you will resume control of Claris or Elliot but will lose all of your orbs, and will have to find NiGHTs again in the level to take control of it once again. Each time that you return one of the crystals to the starting point of the level the game puts more time on your clock. In this aspect the game feels slightly like Sonic, because at times you will often have to travel at top speeds in order to collect enough orbs, return the crystal, and go back to the starting point with enough time to spare.
After collecting all of the crystals NiGHTs is lifted up into the sky, and that signals that it's time for a boss fight. These boss battles are extremely well done and there's a good variety of different monsters to face off against. At the end of one level you'll come face to face with a flying dragon, in another you'll have to take out a giant balloon creature, yet in another a card throwing clown will be your opponent, and my personal favorite - NiGHTs own rival nightmaren jester named Reala. The battles are quite huge and give the game a very epic feel.
The game has a decidedly arcade feel to it. NiGHTs is much more of a pick up and play affair, but once you do it's hard to put it back down. Although at heart the game is about collecting the blue orbs and racing against the clock there are several other things thrown in which add to the arcade-y feel. NiGHTs can fly through yellow rings and travelling through several at top speeds can create chains of combos which add to your high score. You'll need to get better and better at this to get the elusive S ranking on each of the levels, and trying for better high scores is actually more fun than it sounds due to the game's unique gameplay structure.
Sega's controller for the Saturn console wasn't very well suited for this sort of game, and so the developer created an all new pad which they packaged in with it. This 3-D pad is basically a combination of the Dreamcast and Saturn controllers - featuring six face buttons, two shoulder buttons, and a digital thumb pad to allow for easier loops with less strain on your fingers in the game. While it's not essential to enjoy the game, it makes the controls feel more seamless and offers a better overall experience.
From looking at the game it's very obviously an early 3-D console game, and a Saturn one at that. The textures are extremely blocky and everything is pronounced with jagged polygons. On top of that you also have a bad framerate that drops especially bad when there's a lot of stuff on screen. The game is however, plenty colorful and sports a pretty decent and imaginative art style. The game also features some pretty cool effects, specifically I found the rubbery environments of the soft museum level to be really cool. Overall the graphics are pretty bad in this day and age, but if you can get past them you're in for a lot of fun.
NiGHTs features one of the most well done soundtracks I've ever heard. It's completely whimsical and inspired, but at times may come off as cheesy. The soundtrack perfectly conveys the surrealism of dreaming, and it's one of the most magical elements of the game. Each level features three different theme songs which can change from one to the other depending on how you interact with the level. Sound effects aren't anything special but serve their purpose perfectly well. NiGHTs into Dreams contains what is easily one of my most favorite video game soundtracks of all time.
Controls are a mixed bag. Doing loop-de-loops feels a bit mechanical, but for the most part, everything else feels pretty good. Flying through the air gives a really cool feeling of flight in this game, but the loops and other arial acrobats may constantly throw you off until you get more used to the controls. The game can also wreck havoc on your thumbs because of the nature of NiGHTs movements, and so it really helps to have the 3-D controller on hand.
NiGHTs Into Dreams is a truly magical game. You can tell just by playing it that Yuji Naka poured his heart and soul into it - much moreso than with any other game. NiGHTs is also a very addictive title with very unorthodox, but functional gameplay. This is one of the standout games from the 32-bit era, and it's also one of the greatest games of all time. Here's to hoping that it's Wii sequel lives up to the original.
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