A glossy, content-packed update to a classic Saturn game.
If I had to use one word to sum up Sega’s Saturn classic NiGHTS into Dreams… it would have to be unique. It’s one of those games that was displayed on kiosks in malls, in the hopes that some kid would pester their parents into bringing a Saturn home with them. I remember trying it out alongside Panzer Dragoon at Electronics Boutique (remember them?). NiGHTS was one of the most beautifully rendered, colorful games in existence when it released in1996. It shared not just the visual brilliance but also the fluidity of its competitor Super Mario 64. This little jester-looking guy(?) was one of the iconic mascots of the ill-fated Saturn, especially considering that Team Sonic never released a Sonic game for the platform. NiGHTS was also notable for being the game packaged with Saturn’s analog stick controller – previously it featured only a d-pad.
It’s hard to explain what kind of game NiGHTS is; in a way, I think even Team Sonic didn’t really know what they were creating. There’s no intro cinematic explaining things, but the basic idea is that two children, Eliot and Claris, fall asleep and enter a dreamworld, where NiGHTS has to battle evil beings trying to take over the dreamscape called Nightmaren. They’re doing the bidding of Wizeman the Wicked, who is gathering the dream energy of kids to try and take over the dream world, and eventually the real world. It’s a bit of The Matrix, Inception, and Tron all thrown together.
The premise of the gameplay is rather simple, but the first problem is that the game tells you nothing about your objectives. You’re just thrown into it, and forced to figure it out through trial and error. At least in the modern age, we can use the web to figure out these things. After a few minutes, you’ll realize that you need to gather blue spheres, and then ram into these capture units that are holding what they call Ideya. Then you’ll go back to the starting point, be rewarded with a time bonus, and do the same thing on the next 3 routes until you unlock a boss battle. The boss fights in NiGHTS are incredibly odd. The first one you’ll come up against is a fat, spherical floating opera-singing lady with rabbit ears (I can hear your collective, “What?”) who you need to throw through walls and pillars to defeat. Nothing comes up to tell you this information, and you likely won’t defeat any bosses on the first try. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but in NiGHTS, losing a boss fight means replaying the entire previous course just to make your way to a second chance fight with the boss. This may have been some measure that was implemented to extend the (admittedly short) game, but it’s a bit of frustrating gameplay design, and if you lose to a boss more than twice, it’s likely that you’ll just want to turn the game off for the day. It’s almost sure to be a decisive title – this is one of those games that you will probably either love or hate. I personally found it to be an interesting, nostalgic experience.
There are two main versions of NiGHTS included in this package- the original, low-res Sega Saturn version, and the tweaked Japan-only PS2 version that sports updated visuals. You can play between both versions; the game will remember your progress. There’s some bonus features, online leaderboards, and the unlockable, festive Christmas NiGHTS levels, which were previously exclusive to a holiday Saturn bundle. It would have been awesome to at least include a few levels from the 2007 Wii NiGHTS game, but maybe we’ll see an HD update of that as well.
Overall, NiGHTS into Dreams… HD is a solid update filled with nostalgia, lush graphics and smooth gameplay. It’s great to see that these pieces of gaming history are making their way into the digital distribution services, as these games are given a second life where they could have been lost to time – apart from players hardcore enough to still own a Saturn. Sega is on a roll right now with their HD updates like the recent Sonic Adventure 2 and Jet Set Radio – here’s hoping we see the Shenmue games in HD soon.
NiGHTS into Dreams HD is available on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. PS3 version reviewed.