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Classic game appreciation section: NiGHTS into Dreams

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Sonic Team's main man at the time, Yuji Naka, wanted this to be a momentous occasion, and it truly is. He wanted people to say "NiGHTS is here! He can fly!" And, thanks to the Saturn Analog Controller, flying as NiGHTS felt like nothing else on Saturn or any other console. The circular directional input allows NiGHTS to arc through the skies and even to join up the trail of stars in his wake, creating a paraloop that sucks anything within it into a powerful vortex, killing enemies and collecting pick-ups.

It's at this point that everything - the plot, the game world and the controller - come together to produce some of the finest videogame mechanics ever seen. The larger the loop, the greater the vortex it creates, even sucking in blue chips and enemies from outside its confines if it's big enough.

Above: NiGHTS bursts away from a paraloop. Notice there are about 200 sprites on the screen

Some enemies 'snip' your trail of stars to stop you completing paraloops, dropping your 'link'. Oh goodness, now I have to try and explain everything, don't I? OK then, briefly:

What do I do again?

Each level consists of four 'mares', which are looped like a track through the 3D environments. NiGHTS is stuck to these tracks, meaning the game looks 3D, but it's actually played like a 2D game for the most part, a bit like Ecco the Dolphin, only faster, more spectacular and with a sense of joyous, airy freedom as opposed to claustrophobia and suffocation.

Above: Look - Ecco's trying to talk to NiGHTS. Probably asking for some chips to go with his fish

Ah yes, chips. Your initial task in each Mare is to collect 20 blue chips (little round collectibles) and deposit them in the 'ideya capture', which is where your ideya are being held. Once retrieved, you carry the ideya round the rest of the level back to where you found NiGHTS. Place the ideya on NiGHTS' podium by flying through it and then move onto the next level. Four of those and you're whisked away to fight a boss where, depending how quickly you defeat it, you can multiply your score for all of the above by up to 2x.

Not the boss of me

The bosses are some of the most imaginative and spectacular in gaming. From the frog-like winged beast Gillwing to the evil Wizeman (who brings a whole new meaning to the term 'hand/eye co-ordination' as he literally has eyes in his hands), each one has a weakness that can be exploited in mega-quick time if you're good enough.

For instance, Gillwing's head can be grabbed by NiGHTS and then thrown from his segmented body, a new head regrowing with each segment until he's all gone. But if you're good enough, you can paraloop the last part of his tail, killing him in one go. It's very difficult, but makes you look the absolute business when you get it right.

Linked in

This is one of the last AAA quality games ever to place huge importance on score, but it does so with a superlative combo system. When you collect a chip or a star, you get one second to collect another. If you do, your score multiplier increases slightly. Drop the 'link' and it gets reset. Therefore, your aim is to collect as much as possible without ever going a full second of doing nothing. That makes every single second a challenge - if you want it to be.

Above: A link of two - so join up your trail of stars and you'll have a link of 5. Simple!

And the level design is set up to reward precision and route-planning. Yuji Naka's sublime character movement (I always maintain it's his greatest trademark) allows for amazingly precise control over your character. If you find a cluster of chips, you can collect one at the top, swing back round under and up, collecting those on the periphery as you go, before boosting off towards the next cluster. The paraloop you create around the chips in the middle sucks them towards you as you fly off, keeping your link going as they reach you, and bridging the gap between clusters. No games right now are doing anything like that.

Want to see the scoring system taken to its logical extreme? Watch this guy:

Sometimes I wish I didn't have that competitive OCD that makes me want to get a new hi-score every time I load it up (although I don't think I'll be beating the above any time soon). Because there's a completely different yet equally satisfying experience to be had from just taking it slow.

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20 comments

  • DirkSteele1 - September 2, 2011 7:31 a.m.

    The primary reason I purchased a Saturn from eBay at the beginning of this year was for Panzer Dragoon Saga and NiGHTS. Both were worth every penny spent. A PSN/XBLA remake would be something I would buy despite owning the original.
  • CanadianBeaverHunter - September 1, 2011 2:59 p.m.

    That HD-upscaled video of Nights is mighty impressive.
  • Risonhighmer - September 1, 2011 2:08 p.m.

    There's a really well done updated remake that was released on PS2. It'd be worth importing from japan, I'd say. The graphics are significantly better than the saturn version, and everything else is just as fantastic.
  • ColaFlavourChewits - September 1, 2011 2:19 p.m.

    But the music in the intro is out of sync on the ps2 remake; I don't know why but that really bugs me...
  • Ded - September 1, 2011 1:43 p.m.

    Oh Justin, you disappoint. Reala doesn't say "There is no NiGHTS" (admittedly I thought he did for many years), he says "Ikuzo, NiGHTS" which means "Let's go, NiGHTS" in Japanese.
  • GR_JustinTowell - September 1, 2011 2:55 p.m.

    Sumimasen, Ded-san. Watashi wa baka desu ne. Demo... Reala ga oishi-i desu yo. Nomimasho ka?
  • GR_JustinTowell - September 1, 2011 2:57 p.m.

    I really must get back to learning Japanese. The world of 1990s-era videogames would make SO much more sense...
  • Ded - September 1, 2011 11:27 p.m.

    Nom nom, sounds good x.x I think.
  • GR_JustinTowell - September 2, 2011 1:56 a.m.

    His head does look like a candy cane.
  • thecresta - September 1, 2011 1:33 p.m.

    Sonic, Sega Rally, Panzer Dragoon Zwei, Tomb Raider, and now NiGHTS...you're writing my top-ten list out for me ;) Christmas NiGHTS was an amazing freebie, I remember getting a few copies that Christmas. HMV gave me three with Daytona CCE, along with a free 3rd party controller. I'm surprised that they're going for a pittance on ebay, but saying that I never could part with mine, or my NiGHTS/controller set. My favourite present was the music box, where you could play the tracks of the main NiGHTS game in all their possible variations. Another amazing soundtrack using the Saturn's impressive sound processor. What's next...Exhumed maybe? ;)
  • ColaFlavourChewits - September 1, 2011 2:23 p.m.

    Exhumed was great on the Saturn. Lobotomy managed some pretty impressive effects with the Saturn hardware, culminating with Quake, though I had a soft spot for Duke Nukem. I actually destroyed every toilet in the game (including the toilet-packed secret level!) in order to unlock Death Tank Zwei since I had traded my copy of Exhumed in. Speaking of Exhumed, did anyone else ever collect all the developer heads? That took me a few days. In fact I think I spent an entire day off school getting that one behind a laser maze; one of the most frustrating secrets to unlock of my gaming life.
  • thecresta - September 5, 2011 12:42 p.m.

    Yep, got all the heads - including the one at the bottom of that damn that laser maze! You struggle through the first drop only to be rewarded with another set of the damn things! And no checkpoints! Death Tank was a neat addition. The prize of flight mode was a tad disappointing though. Lets face it - if you were persistent enough to get all of the heads there was no real incentive to explore further. You could already get wherever you wanted by bomb-jumping ;-) I remember CVG re-rated the game when the PlayStation version was released, upped it from 4 to 5 stars. It was relentlessly difficult at times, but put enough time into it and it was a very rewarding experience.
  • ColaFlavourChewits - September 1, 2011 1:07 p.m.

    Oh, and I play Christmas Nights every December; gets me in the mood for mince pies and turkey sandwiches for weeks on end. I still have my original copy, given away free with the December '97 issue of Sega Saturn Magazine (Oh how I miss Rich Leadbetter!).
  • LordsOfTechno - September 1, 2011 11:17 a.m.

    Wasn't there news of SEGA creating a poll during NiGHTS' 15th anniversary to see which console fans would like to see a HD remake on? I swear I read about it somewhere... Anyway I've always wanted to play this game but sadly I've never had the chance. The closest I've been to experiencing it is sadly by watching youtube gameplay videos; come on SEGA re-release it on XBLA and/or PSN!
  • ParanoidAndroid - September 1, 2011 11:09 a.m.

    There's no way I'm buying a Saturn, but I really want to play this. Is the PS2 version worth it?
  • ColaFlavourChewits - September 1, 2011 10:53 a.m.

    I love this game; I used to keep replaying each level trying to beat my best score. More than that though, I used to love playing the last level time and again thanks to the wonderful music and the sheer joy of seeing Elliott or Claris speeding out from the abyss when a game over looked certain. Magical. Not to mention the ending; I agree wholeheartedly with Justin. The moment when the theatre dissolves to the final scene in Nightopia still brings a lump to my throat. Plus hearing "Dreams Dreams" for the first time was quite a shock for someone coming up from the Megadrive! At the time of it's release it's overall aesthetic was praised as being like a Disney film and for me at least the story and especially the ending inspires that same feeling I get when watching Snow White or Alice in Wonderland; it's like stepping back into the innocence of my childhood. Definitely my best game ever.
  • Discokingz - September 1, 2011 9:08 a.m.

    I want this on 3DS, perfect home for this game as long as the controls are right! =}
  • b-dog1991 - September 1, 2011 8:47 a.m.

    This sounds as if it would be perfect for a re-release on XBLA or PSN, otherwise I think I'm going to have a hunt down a Saturn and a copy of the game. If there is time to do that, isn't Justin saying that he prefers any other game to Sonic a sign of the apocalypse?
  • Draijan - September 1, 2011 8:43 a.m.

    Heh I use to own this game back on the saturn...don't remember much of it except the flying around bit..It had a story?

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