"Doesn't play quite like a dream any more, but close enough."
Nights Into Dreams was a big deal for anyone who owned a Sega Saturn. It was new, it was original, and it was beautiful. It was one of those games that could probably get by on its art style alone, though it didn’t have to. It may not have the same impact these days, but it’s great to have the chance to experience it again.
Nights is about the joy of flight, and the joy of flight comes from freedom. Even flight comes with limitations in the real world, which is why Nights takes place in the world of dreams. At least, that’s the idea. In practice, our hero, the titular Nights, can’t always go where he pleases. The game is generally 2.5D, with a few overhead or on-rails 3D sections for variety. In the 16 years since the game originally launched, gamers have had many opportunities to freely fly in full 3D with total control, so Nights doesn’t really scratch that itch any more.
That’s not to say that Nights is a redundant, out-dated experience these days. Quite the opposite, in fact. Nights Into Dreams is a unique game that, except for in the case of its own Wii sequel, hasn’t been imitated since it launched.
Nights plays like a speed-focused score attack platformer without any platforms. The main goal of each stage is simple: Collect four “Ideya” (colourful orbs that represent various cheesy things like “hope” and “purity”) and defeat the stage’s boss. At the start of each level, all four Ideya are stolen by enemies, called “Nightmaren,” and locked away inside of Ideya Captures. To break an Ideya Capture, Nights needs to collect 20 blue orbs and smash into the Capture.
Simple, right? It might not seem that way at first. There are lots of other objects to interact with and power ups and moves to take advantage of. The blue chips are all you need to finish a level, but there are stars to collect and trick rings to fly through and all sorts of other optional ways to play. (These things are necessary when shooting for A ranks, but can be ignored if you’re satisfied with a C.) Nights is not a game that holds your hand, which may turn off people who are used to having tutorials force fed to them at the start of every game. Do yourself a favour and read the instructions. That’s why they’re there.
Bosses act as an annoying little bump in the road, since they aren’t always easy to figure out and defeat within the two-minute time limit. Once you know their weaknesses, they’re barely an obstacle, and are thus easy to forgive. (Use a guide, if you want. I won’t judge.)
Nights takes a little while to click, but once it does, it suddenly becomes a joy to play. With practice, you’ll be able to effortlessly achieve massive scores and endless combos of tricks, loops, and collectables.
That is, if you can compensate for the controls. Animations have always been somewhat stiff, since way back in the days of the Saturn, but this new HD version of Nights has a different problem. Its analog controls feel digital. Nights was one of the first games released to use an analog stick, so you’d think it’d feel great on a PS3 controller, but for some reason, you’re limited to moving in 12 or 16 directions. Of course, that’s not terribly limiting. The game is still perfectly playable and loads of fun. You probably won’t even notice the “problem” if you’ve never played the original version. Still, it makes paraloops (a loop-de-loop maneuver that’s used to gather items or attack enemies) a bit more difficult to pull off than they should be. Big loops end up looking like squares, but small loops still work fine.
Nights’ biggest strength is its art style, and it holds up decently in HD. The textures could use some tweaking and animations are really stiff, but the feeling of dreamy whimsy is retained. Environments are bright and colourful and boss designs are unique, even if the battles themselves feel unnecessary. The handful of human characters look awful with their weird, scrunched-up faces, but they’re only really an issue in cutscenes. The game has managed to retain its great atmosphere, but a bit more work to update certain things, such as environmental geometry, would have been appreciated.
This version of Nights comes with a few new features and bonuses. Expected features like widescreen support and online leaderboards are present. There’s a short interview film and some unlockable art galleries, along with a cutscene gallery. The whole game can be played with the newer PS2-style graphics, or the old Saturn graphics. The nicest bonus is the inclusion of a remastered version of Christmas Nights, the Christmas-themed reskinned demo that came with magazines and holiday Saturn bundles in 1996. Christmas Nights has a new opening voiceover, which is appreciated since the original version sounded like it was being read by a random child Sega kidnapped from a primary school playground. Hooray for union actors!
Nights is a game with a deservedly strong cult following, thanks in no small part to its gorgeous art and overflowing charm. Even with the relative linearity, it’s easy to get lost in the game’s world. It’s a short game, but a very replayable one. If you missed it the first time, now’s the time to jump in. If you’re an old fan, go in with an open mind about the controls and appreciate the opportunity to relive those fond memories.
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (October 13, 2012)
Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.
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