NiGHTS into Dreams HD was developed and published by Sega. A XBLA version was provided by the publisher for review purposes
In the year 1996, NiGHTS into Dream came out on the Sega Saturn and became a critical darling in Sega’s history. The problem was I never had a Sega Saturn growing up, only reading articles wide-eyed and bummed that I’d never be able to play it. In Japan, they ported it over to the PlayStation 2, which surprisingly never came out here. Now only 16 years later, it’s finally released for the downloadable market.
My 8-year-old self would be stoked to know that my 24-year-old self would play it. But, maybe he should have played it then as opposed to now. That’s the feeling I get from playing it in 2012.
NiGHTS has a pretty weird plot that’s not described superbly well. Basically, every time you dream, there are two different worlds – Nightopia & Nightmare. The former takes a more positive spin on things while Nightmare is …well …a nightmare. An evil ruler of Nightmare is trying to take all the energy from dreamers to take over Nightopia.
You control two children named Elliot and Claris, but no matter what, you’ll summon the power of NiGHTS – a flying jester who’s incredibly acrobatic. It’s up to the three of you to stop the evil ruler trying to control Nightopia and save everyone’s dreams from becoming nightmares.
Now that we’ve got most of the plot out of the way, what’s the game play like? NiGHTS has been described as a 3D flyer of sorts. It’s best to compare it to a racing game. You’re not really in a 3D world, but instead racing around a sphere of a world.
You start a level as Elliot or Claris, and each time, you’ll get knocked out and have precious crystals taken away from you. Once in control of NiGHTS, you have a time limit to collect as many blue orbs (usually 20) to unlock bonus mode then race to the start of the level. Every level is played up to four times and in each instance, you’ll be flying somewhere different. You’ll be graded after each flight to see how well you loop-de-loop, too.
Flying in the game is a joy. It’s super simple to pick up and even if you don’t collect all the gems, you can loop around them to absorb them all. The art and music in the game is what people commend the most about this game and it shows. The beautiful landscapes you go through might not look amazing nowadays, but thanks to its art, the style shines through.
After four times of flying through, you’ll get into a boss battle which will be pretty huge and bombastic. Simple cases of just running up to the enemies to attack or making sure bombs explode when the boss hits them make up for some pretty crazy, archaic gameplay decisions. But some of the designs in this game do falter from age.
While the game is from 1996, it fails to give you any sort of direction. More modern games smartly point you to the exit, so it’s kind of a bummer when you’re forced to figure it out with little to no help. People who have played NiGHTS before will know exactly what to do, but a newcomer will probably have problems jumping in fresh.
For the impatient, they might not like getting badly graded all the time. Be prepared to see a lot of C and D grades when you’re going through some of these levels. NiGHTS demands that you learn the level perfectly so you know where the bonuses and extra points are, and you won’t know that on your first playthrough.
Another thing they don’t properly teach you are the boss stages. You’re set with a time limit and forced to just figured it out alone. Boss battles of the 90s did often, such as what we saw in Super Mario 64, but that N64 classic let you know the tactics in your arsenal is how you have to take down the boss. In NiGHTS, you’ll be sometimes in a random environment with precious time. If you fail the boss, you have to start all over from the beginning of the level, making everything worse.
NiGHTS does have some nice bonuses for people who’ve loved the franchise forever. It’s got some great behind-the-scenes videos with members of Sonic Team, the entire Saturn version if you want it more polygonal and Christmas NiGHTS for free. That was usually hard to find and only in specific video-game magazines.
I just can’t help but love the world, too. It’s great to fly around in, and the tunes are fantastic to haer. But, sadly, it’s kind of boring to play. I don’t know if that’s an age thing, but I just couldn’t shake that feeling when I played it. Doing the same flying task over and over feels menial at the end of my playthrough.
Fans of the nostalgia in NiGHTS already know they love the game and will buy it regardless of this review. But for people who’ve never played it before, try it out before you buy it. There’ll be a lot of little things you might dislike about it and it might feel super antiquated to you.
NiGHTS into Dreams… HD was developed and published by Sega. An Xbox 360 copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of review.