Never heard of Nights? It’s the game that came out on Sega Saturn in 1996, in which you, as a purple jester - the titular Nights - played through two children’s vivid dreams of flight and aerial acrobatics. In tow, you had the kids themselves - Elliot and Claris - and you had to fly through all manner of dreamscapes. The game concept and style of play set Nights apart as something different 12 years ago, but it’s a testament to the strength of the original recipe that, despite a slightly dodgy attempt at a sequel on Wii recently, it still feels fresh and unique. This Japan-only PS2 edition builds on the Saturn original (which is included in virtually unchanged form as an extra) by including Brand New Dream mode, which offers a version of events that has been sharpened until it beams amplified golden rays of vintage Sega glory.
Although the game is set across 3D dream worlds - ‘Nightopias’, no less - most of the time you only have control of Nights’ movement across an invisible 2D plane - so you can move through 360 degrees on a horizontal axis, but you can’t move into or away from the screen - except for occasions when levels produce midway surprises such as rollercoaster rides, toboggan runs and diving sequences.
So Nights is centered on fluency of movement and flight, tasking you to move with grace while linking stunts (which are triggered by combinations of analogue direction and shoulder button presses), carefully glide through hoops and collect anything that shines. A dash move is key to building links and benefiting from score multipliers. Do well enough, and you’ll be awarded an A grade at the end of level. Balls up and you’ll receive an F.
At first the analogue stick feels a bit too fuzzy for the job of guiding Nights through these intricately and elaborately prepared stages, but the haze soon clears. And at the end of each dream passage is a boss, typically along the lines of a freak from The Mighty Boosh - a bouncing ball of a female opera singer here, a card-dealing jackal there. There are even some bursts of free jazz in the soundtrack to the boss battles.
The only real quarrel we have with Nights is that we wish there was more to it - there are just seven main dream worlds and you can see everything the game has to offer within a few hours. But its qualities are highlighted with fluorescent markers in this update, so much so that almost any criticism falls flat against the sheer joy of dreamflight. Sparkling.
May 6, 2008