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Classic game appreciation section: NiGHTS into Dreams

For instance, at top speed, the only really useful application for your airbrakes (mapped to the left and right triggers) is performing tighter paraloops. But at lower speeds, they make you perform elegant pirouettes. It has no impact on the game itself, but feels sublime.

The one time these little twists and turns do affect the game is when you pick up the stunt ribbon. We named the stunt ribbon one of our 101 greatest gaming moments years ago, but I still think it's up there with the Sonic Adventure killer whale or the Psycho Mantis fight as one of gaming's most memorable moments. You get ten seconds to perform as many tricks as possible with a golden ribbon in your wake.

Above: A genuine 'wow' moment when you first see it. Stunt Ribbon FTW

It's absolutely priceless when used properly, although its effect is spoiled by a bug that lets you scrappily rub against the scenery tapping L and R, cutting tricks short but still getting the score, as seen in the last video back there.

The game is full of innovations, many of which have never been seen since. The A-Life system, where the inhabitants of the levels (Nightopians) evolve as you mate them with enemies by crashing them into each other. The soundtrack changes depending on how happy the A-Life is in the level you're in. The flowery clock in the Splash Garden level tells the actual time, as it's set in your Saturn's internal clock.

Accidentally killing a Nightopian makes the bonus fella with the star board at the end go away so you can't cash in your stars on the final mare. Again, it's the game's universe reacting to your actions and giving you tangible results that affect your score as well as your heartstrings.

Showing off

Then there's the sheer technical achievement. The game uses the Saturn's 2D and 3D processors in tandem to produce fluid, yet intricately detailed game worlds at 30fps - something the advertisements at the time picked up on. The PSone only has one processor, so while it may have been a little naive to say it couldn't do 3D flight ("fly, PlayThing, fly"), PSone would genuinely have struggled to run NiGHTS due to its heavy use of the Saturn's extra 2D processor.

Some boss stages even feature true transparency effects, which the Saturn simply shouldn't be able to produce. And the old print advert that said 'Puffy the Opera Singer delivers a deadly aria only to head backwards through a wall (only in your wildest dreams)' is spot-on. It's still one of the best boss fights on any system and truly a dream moment for the 3D generation.

Even on the limited hardware, it was as though anything was possible when Puffy was bouncing around in that 3D room, brilliantly spherical and singing at you with CD quality sound. Even the music stands up to scrutiny in its own right, and fits the astonishing aesthetic perfectly.

In contrast, the Wii version's retread with the Gonbalon boss fight was typical of that game's lack of forward-thinking - always imitating the first game, but never improving on the old formula. Rubbish by comparison, yet impressive enough in isolation. It's easy to look impressive when you're standing on the shoulders of a giant.

1996 - year of Mario 64?

I don't think Sonic Team was right to bow to the pressure of Super Mario 64 and allow you to explore the levels on foot as the children. The NiGHTS 3D engine uses many small polygons with a severely short draw distance to create its scenery - fine when NiGHTS is in the air and the camera is pointing at what the designers want you to see, but on foot, when the draw distance doesn't even fill up to the edge of the screen in front of you, it frankly looks a mess.

This video is from Christmas NiGHTS where you get to play as Sonic, but it's the best example I can find of how awful the game is when you're running around it instead of flying:

That's the only time this wondrous game really shows its age and looks like... well, a Saturn game. The PS2 version is better, sure, but that version doesn't quite feel the same as the classic original. Nothing does. 

Dream delight

I finished the original version again recently from start to finish on my Saturn, with the 3D pad - and it's still as magical as it was when I was poring over the previews in Sega Saturn Magazine, imagining what it would be like to own a Saturn and play this amazing game. Now I know it like the back of my hand, you'd think it would be boring, wouldn't you? But it isn't. And when that final scene in the theatre dissolves into Claris and Elliot standing alone on the hill in Spring Valley, I'm still utterly captivated. It's pure innocence.

Above: I don't think the 1990s were necessarily a more innocent time, but I can't imagine this being the end sequence for a game now

NiGHTS into Dreams is 15 years old now...but fresher than ever. And if ever a video could make you realise just how good NiGHTS could be on 360 or PS3, check out this HD-upscaled video of the Japanese-only PS2 version (emulated on PC). 

Given to the right team, a new NiGHTS could be incredible. But until then, we'll always have the original. If you've never played it, do seek it out. As I say, it's better than Sonic.

01 Sep, 2011



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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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